FAQs for U.S. Government Employees on Foreign Government-Sponsored Exchange Programs Authorized under Section 108A of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961
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What is a MECEA Section 108A program?

The Constitution prohibits federal government officials from accepting a gift from a foreign government without the consent of Congress. In the mid-1970s, Congress established a mechanism to allow a foreign government to fund the travel of U.S. federal employees on a cultural exchange program that has been authorized under Section 108A of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (MECEA) through the U.S. Department of State. Foreign governments with approved MECEA Section 108A programs can invite and fund the participation of U.S. federal employees, including Members of Congress and congressional staff, for travel, lodging, meals, and activities as specified in their approved program. These expenses are to be paid by the sponsoring foreign government; no trip expenses may be paid by a private source.  In general, no funds or other support are provided by the U.S. government. 

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Who can be invited on a MECEA Section 108A program?

Foreign governments with approved MECEA Section 108A programs can invite and fund the participation of U.S. federal employees, including Members of Congress and congressional staff, as specified in their approved programs.

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How do I accept participation in a foreign government-sponsored exchange program?

Federal employees who receive an invitation under an approved program may not accept the offer unless they have first received a statement of no objection from their own employing agency. Once that statement has been received, the employee may accept the invitation.

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Can I accept an invitation from a foreign government for travel and/or activities within the United States under an approved Section 108A program?

No. Travel and activities conducted as part of an approved foreign government-sponsored program are only allowed in the country, countries, and/or territory as defined within the program request presented to and approved by the U.S. Department of State.

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Is an offer for participation in a foreign government-sponsored exchange program a gift?

Congress has consented to the acceptance of certain gifts from foreign governments, including travel, in limited circumstances. The provisions of MECEA Section 108A enable the U.S. Department of State to consider approval of a foreign government’s cultural exchange program so that U.S. federal employees may accept an invitation to participate in that program, which can include travel, meals, lodging, and activities, as may be authorized. Under 22 C.F.R. § 64.10, a grant made under an approved program shall not constitute a gift for purposes of the relevant sections of the United States Code (see 22 CFR § 10.735–203 and 5 U.S.C. § 7342)..

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Can I bring a member of my family or my household on an approved MECEA Section 108A program?

Under MECEA Section 108A and its implementing regulations, foreign governments may not provide funding for any expenses incurred by or for any member of the family or household of participating federal employees. Additionally, no program expenses may be paid by a private source. Members of the employee’s family or household may accompany the employee, with approval of the sponsoring foreign government, but all related travel expenses must be borne by the employee personally.

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Does the U.S. Department of State approve individual trips?

While the U.S. Department of State has specific responsibility for initial program approval under MECEA Section 108A, it does not approve the individual trips conducted under an approved MECEA Section 108A program.

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What are the start and end dates of an approved MECEA Section 108A program?

Typically, participation starts with departure from the United Sates on travel funded by the sponsoring government and ends upon return to the United States after participation on the approved foreign government funded program.

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What is my responsibility as a participant on a Section 108A program?

It is the responsibility of all federal employees who participate on a MECEA Section 108A program to follow all federal ethics and other rules and regulations that may apply, and to comport themselves appropriately as a representative of the U.S. Government and as a guest of the sponsoring foreign government.

It is also the responsibility of all federal employees who participate on a MECEA Section 108A program to follow all federal ethics and other rules and regulations that may apply to their employment.

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While on an approved MECEA Section 108A exchange program, can I travel and conduct activities in addition to those that were originally approved?

A foreign government with an approved MECEA Section 108A exchange program is responsible for program implementation in compliance with the terms of their approved program and related regulations. All travel must be to the destination(s) originally approved for the program which, unless otherwise defined and/or approved by the Department, is within the internationally recognized borders of the country, countries, and/or territory named in that approved program. In addition, participants on an approved MECEA Section 108A program are expected to travel and participate on program visits only as designed by the sponsoring foreign government in accordance with the approved terms of that MECEA Section 108A program.

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What kind of oversight does the U.S. Department of State provide on MECEA Section 108A foreign government-sponsored exchange programs?

The Department does not monitor or track individual trips conducted under approved programs. The onus is on the sponsoring foreign government and the employee to comply with the regulations and the terms of their approved program in the conduct of all aspects of program planning and implementation. If at any time it appears that the purpose of an approved program has been changed so that it no longer meets the regulatory criteria, or that the program is being misused, the Secretary of State may terminate program approval, or suspend such approval pending receipt of additional information.

Should a sponsoring government have questions about program implementation, it is incumbent on that foreign government to contact the U.S. Department of State as far in advance of travel as practicable to afford sufficient time to address questions and resolve any issues properly

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Can participants request leave and/or other changes in travel plans on approved foreign government sponsored MECEA Section 108A programs for personal reasons?

In general, such a request may only be considered for modifications to travel that would take place prior to the official start or after the end of the planned formal program activities of an approved MECEA Section 108A program, contingent on approval by the participant’s agency for any leave, and support by the sponsoring government for such request, to include any changes to flights, including arrival and/or departure dates. If approved, any additional cost or burden due to changes in flights, including all lodging, meals, or other activity while on leave, will be the personal responsibility of the U.S. Government employee.

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May I request changes to travel and/or activities to be conducted as part of the formal program on which I have been invited?

A foreign government may choose to invite participant input in the planning of a MECEA Section 108A program visit, but the sponsoring government still determines final visit plans. Furthermore, a foreign government with an approved program must comply with MECEA Section 108A regulations and does not have the authority to conduct unrestricted travel or other activities outside the scope of its approved program.

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How do I prepare myself for participation in a MECEA Section 108A exchange program?

U.S. Government employees who have been invited to participate on an approved foreign government-sponsored exchange program may contact the U.S. Department of State, via the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, to arrange for a pre-trip briefing on the country and/or region to which they will be travelling. The specific desk(s) or office(s) that would provide such a briefing will vary, depending on the country or countries to which travel is anticipated. Such briefings often help provide context on issues of U.S. foreign policy and/or other considerations, as well as provide further background on cultural considerations such as appropriate conduct or expectations due to prevailing customs. At least one month’s advance notice prior to departure abroad is preferred to afford sufficient time for Department staff to prepare and set aside time for such a briefing.

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What if I did not receive a pre-trip briefing from the State Department or have post-trip questions?

U.S. Government employees are welcome to request a post-trip briefing from the U.S. Department of State, via the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, even if they received a pre-trip briefing. A post-trip briefing enables participants to ask questions or express any concerns about what they saw or experienced in the country or countries they visited, and to receive nuanced feedback, which can provide added perspective within the context of U.S. foreign policy and/or other considerations.

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Do I need to report my participation on a MECEA Section 108A exchange program?

Congressional Members and eligible staff who participate on an approved MECEA Section 108A program must disclose all MECEA travel on an annual Financial Disclosure Statement provided by the House and Senate Ethics Committees and filed with the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate, respectively. They and other U.S. Government participants should follow any other reporting requirements as may be defined by their own agency..

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If I wish to assist a foreign government in getting a program considered under MECEA Section 108A, what should I know?

The Department of State administers Section 108A MECEA requests under regulations set forth in 22 CFR Part 64. Foreign governments interested in conducting cultural exchange programs under MECEA Section 108A must follow those regulations and submit a letter of request to the U.S. Department of State for approval of the proposed program. A request must include specific information on the proposed exchange, as outlined in the regulations and requested by the Department of State. Under the regulations, a foreign government is defined as “a foreign government and an official agent or representative thereof; a group of governments and an official agent or representative thereof; an international organization composed of governments, and an official agent or representative thereof.” The U.S. Department of State retains the right to determine the eligibility of a requester and the discretion to approve or deny such request. This process is conducted by designated staff in the Office of Policy in the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

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Who can I contact at the U.S. Department of State on questions related to foreign government-sponsored exchange programs under MECEA Section 108A?

Questions related to Section 108A of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 may be addressed to Office of Policy staff in the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs via the following email address: MeceaSection108A@state.gov.