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Equal Classification Requests

The NIH Ethics Office (NEO) coordinates periodic equivalency determination requests with the Office of the General Counsel, Ethics Division (OGC/E). ICO DECs/ECs may request to add, change, or remove positions from their filer list at any time by submitting a determination request to NEO. NEO will compile ICO requests into one NIH-wide request and submit it to OGC/E. Once the determination package is returned, NEO will provide an update and advise ICOs of any resulting actions required (for example, designating a filer status in NEES/EMIS, notifying filer of status change, etc.).

About Equal Classification

About Public Financial Disclosure Reports and Equal Classification

The purpose of a financial disclosure report is to permit ethics officials to identify any personal or imputed financial interests or outside relationships of the filing employee which may be affected by their official duties or otherwise result in the violation of an applicable ethical conduct rule. Pursuant to 5 C.F.R. § 2634.202 (Public Filer Defined), certain employees are obligated to file a Public Financial Disclosure Report (OGE Form 278e). In addition to the enumerated senior level positions, OGE may agree that a position has responsibilities equivalent to other OGE Form 278e filing positions. If OGE agrees, then the position is deemed equally classified, and any individual occupying the position on an acting or permanent basis must file an OGE Form 278e regardless of hiring authority or pay plan (e.g. Title 42). 

About the Equal Classification Process

NEO, through OGC/E, obtains approval from OGE for every position that is equally classified. NEO requests this approval through a formal justification memo, periodically submitted through OGC/E. The justification memo explains why the NIH considers the position to have equivalent responsibilities to those of other OGE Form 278e filing positions. OGE’s determination provides NIH with the authority to request an OGE Form 278e from incumbents of newly designated filing positions, and from subsequent new entrants to any designated filing position. Once OGE determines that a position is equivalent, it remains an OGE Form 278e filing position until the position is formally abolished or NEO requests and receives OGE’s approval to remove the position from the OGE Form 278e filer list. 

Types of Justifications

To streamline the process, OGE recognizes 14 categories of positions that were previously determined to have responsibilities equivalent to other OGE Form 278e filing positions. Accordingly, NIH employees occupying positions in these categories must file an OGE Form 278e once their position has been added to the list by OGE and until they no longer occupy a listed position or their position is abolished and removed from the list by OGE. To justify the removal of an existing position, a detailed description of changes in the position should be provided that demonstrates equivalent responsibilities are not retained.

The categories are:

  • NIH Deputy Directors;
  • Office of the Director Senior Staff who report directly to the NIH Director or the NIH Deputy Directors;
  • IC Directors;
  • IC Deputy Directors;
  • IC Scientific Directors;
  • IC Deputy Scientific Directors;
  • IC Clinical Directors;
  • Associate and Deputy Directors for Management, Administration and/or Operations, and Executive Officers;
  • Managers Reporting Directly to the IC Director or Deputy Director;
  • Senior Extramural Staff within an IC who report directly to the IC Director or Deputy Director;
  • Deputy Division Directors (Extramural);
  • Extramural Program Directors;
  • Intramural Lab/Branch Chiefs; and
  • Clinical Center Department/Division Heads.

Other reasons to justify equal classification

In addition to the 14 categories above, a position may be equally classified for other reasons. If an IC believes a position that does not fall into one of the 14 categories above should be equally classified, a detailed justification must be provided. The request for a case-by-case consideration must include information detailing the senior executive responsibilities. The following is a summary of some the factors, beyond the position description and title, that have been used in past determinations.

Factor Description/Questions Example
Responsibilities and Duties
  • What duties involve executive, policy-making activities comparable to an SES position in breadth, scope and executive requirements?
  • A position that assists others in these activities is not sufficient.
  • This position is responsible for NIH-wide initiatives related to…
Scope of Duties and Authority Associate with the Position/ Supervision
  • Does the position involve providing substantive direction over other agency employees?
  • Do the scope of duties and authority associated with the position require frequent interaction with high level persons such as the agency head, foreign governments or private sector executives?
  • A title alone is not conclusive.
  • The incumbent manages a program budget and oversees a staff; is responsible for interactions with the foreign governments, and serves as the liaison with the private sector executives.
Standing in Agency Organization Chart
  • To whom does the potential filer report?


  • This position reports to the Senior Advisor to the Director, NIH.
  • This position reports to the IC Director.   


Prior Incumbents
  • Has the position been previously filed by a member of the SES or an employee at a higher pay grade?
  • This positon was previously filed by a member of the SES.
Pay Grade Equivalency and special qualifications
  • What is the hiring authority and rate of pay?
  • Were there unsuccessful attempts to fill the position at a higher level because of grade ceiling or other factors?
  • Are there special qualification requirements?
  • Although this position was classified to the SES by OPM earlier this year, the current incumbent is a Title 42 appointee and earns more than 120% of the rate of basic pay for a GS-15.
Actual Pay Level
  • Description of the pay level as compared to other equivalent positions.


  • The current incumbent is a Title 42 appointee, and earns more than 120% of the rate of basic pay for a GS-15.
Other Employees at a Comparable Level
  • Are there other employees in the particular pay system that are paid at a comparably high level who are not public filers?
  • If so, why is the position distinguishable from those other positions?


Special circumstances
  • Are there special circumstances such as high-visibility of the position or the significant potential for conflict?

1) OGE Legal Advisory DO-07-029 (Aug. 20, 2007) details the categories of positions in the executive branch that are typically filled by employees in executive level positions.

2) An OGE 2002 advisory letter (Dec. 9, 2002) provides helpful background about equal classification determinations.