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What Constitutes Senior Status Under Ethics Rules?

The term "senior employee" is used in multiple contexts in the ethics rules, i.e., financial interests, outside activities, and post-employment prohibitions. The various contexts and which employees are affected are detailed below.

Senior NIH Employee *

* Note: Employee means those in a Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) position. It does not apply to contractors, Visiting Fellows, IRTAs, or anyone not paid by the NIH, except those on an IPA agreement who are functioning in a covered position.


"NIH Senior" employee is defined in the HHS Supplemental Standards of Ethical Conduct at 5 CFR 5501.110(b)(1) (GPO web site) and includes:

  • NIH Director and Deputy Directors
  • NIH Office of the Director (OD) staff who report to the NIH Director
  • The following Institute/Center (IC) staff:
    • Director
    • Deputy Director
    • Scientific Director
    • Clinical Director
    • Extramural program officials who report directorly to the IC Director and manage, either directly or through a subordinate, research grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements.

The definition excludes other staff, even if they report directly to the IC Director, e.g., executive officers, directors of science and policy offices, planning offices, and other similar administrative offices.

Note: The term "Top 5" is synonymous with "senior employee."

Reporting Financial Interests   All NIH senior employees are required to file a financial disclosure report, either the public (OGE-278) or confidential (OGE-450) report. In addition, using form HHS-717-1, senior NIH employees are required to report all financial interests in substantially affected organizations (SAO) when they become financial disclosure report filers, and to report all SAO interests when they acquire an interest in an SAO, either through purchase, inheritance, gift, reinvestment of dividends, or other means. The acquisition report is due within 30 days of acquiring the interest. See 5 CFR 5502.107 (GPO web site).
Prohibited Financial Interests   The HHS Supplemental Standards of Ethical Conduct prohibit senior NIH employees from holding a financial interest in an SAO, except as permitted by the exceptions. This prohibition applies only to those employees designated as NIH Senior, as listed above. See 5 CFR 5501.110 (GPO web site)
NEAC Review (Outside Activities and Certain Awards)   For NIH senior employees, all outside activity requests (HHS-520) and all requests for approval to accept gifts associated with an award from an outside organization which require use of the award form (NIH-2854) must be reviewed by the NIH Ethics Advisory Committee (NEAC), with final determination made by the NIH Deputy Ethics Counselor (DEC). See the NEAC jurisdiction summary.
Post-Employment   The post-employment statute (18 USC § 207) uses the term "senior" to designate a different group of Federal employees. For post-employment purposes, senior status is determined by salary. Senior in this case means an employee in the Senior Executive Service (SES) or an employee in another pay system whose annual rate of basic pay, excluding locality adjustment, is equal to or greater than 86.5% of the Executive Schedule Level II salary. See the Summary of Post-Employment Restrictions for the current rate.

OGC/GW 4/25/06

Updated: 2/2/15