STORY: Sharing resources, research and ideas are fundamental to the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) mission. Many NCI employees are invited to participate in activities outside of typical job duties, such as teaching a class at a university or editing an article in a scientific journal. However, government employees must be careful about how ideas and research are shared outside the workplace and, depending on the type of activity, that information must be disclosed to the NCI Ethics Office.
Distinguishing Between an Outside Activity and an Official Duty
As a rule, an employee cannot receive compensation from any part of an activity pertaining to official duties. (To do so would be considered a supplementation of salary and a violation of standards of conduct.) An employee may be compensated for work performed outside of official duties which is not related to those official duties.
First, the distinction between an outside activity and official duty depends on:
- the reason an employee received the request;
- whether the employee has any current official duties which affect the outside entity; and
- whether the topic involves an announced policy or program of NIH.
Second, approval by both the supervisor and NCI Ethics Office ensures there is no conflict of interest between an employee’s duties and the activity to be performed with an outside agency. This approval also maintains the integrity of NCI research and work. Supervisors should review the NIH policy on how to review a 520 request.
Employees are required to seek approval for any outside activity that involves consultative or professional services; teaching, speaking or writing related to the employee’s official duties; outside professional practice; and service as a board member to a non-Federal entity. For help in assessing potential conflicts with proposed official duty activities, visit http://ethics.od.nih.gov/topics/ODA/1-COI-Assessment.pdf .
Seeking Approval to Participate in an Outside Activity
Before an employee can participate in an outside activity, he or she needs prior approval from the supervisor and the NCI Ethics Office. The supervisor must review the activity request to ensure that the employee’s official duties will not be affected. If a supervisor says “no,” the employee cannot participate in the activity.
To participate in an outside activity, an employee must:
- Conduct the activity on personal, not government, time.
- Seek a remedy such as recusal on any official duty matter involving the outside entity.
- Submit the request at least eight weeks (two months) prior to the proposed start date.
- Submit a request online through the NIH Enterprise Ethics System (NEES) if serving in an FTE (full time equivalent) position. Non-FTEs are subject to a different approval process.
In addition, an employee must NOT:
- Use an official title or represent the government in any official capacity.
- Use government resources, including e-mail and phones, to conduct business pertaining to the outside activity.
- Participate in an activity that conflicts with official duties.
- Engage in the activity without NCI Ethics Office clearance.
- Accept a gift, office, title or emolument from any foreign government except as authorized by Congress. A Federal employee cannot act as an agent of a foreign government, corporation or person. (For more information, see Standards of Conduct and the Foreign Activity Questionnaire. )
Preparing an Outside Activity Request Package
Supervisors are asked to review and forward the outside activity request package for NCI Deputy Ethics Counselor review within five days of receipt. The package, which should be prepared by the employee or his or her assistant, must include:
- Information about the proposed Outside Activity, such as an invitation letter, a copyright statement, a syllabus, agenda or outline, and a description of the requested activity in language as clear and concise as possible.
- A description of current official duties, such as a position description or equivalent (i.e., appointment letter for Title 42 appointees), a description of office function, or other material that will explain official duties.
- An explanation of how the requested activity relates to official duties. If the answer is “no relatedness,” the employee must be specific about why there is no relation.
- A signed memo of disqualification, stating that the employee will be recused from any matter involving the outside entity for the activity.
- Any possible compensation which may be received as part of the activity.
- Other information as described in the HHS-520 Request for Approval of Outside Activity How-To Guide.
- Complete Form NIH-2657, Supplement to the HHS-520, for activities involving consulting, legal consulting/testimony/practice and health care practice.
Approval of an outside activity request is granted for no more than one year at a time. Employees must submit a renewal request each year to continue participating in the activity. If compensation for the activity exceeds $10,000 either in a year or cumulatively over 6 years, approval by the NIH Ethics Advisory committee is required.
In addition, employees who have an approved HHS-520 on file are required to submit an HHS 521 – Annual Report of Outside Activities. This report, due annually on February 28th, encompasses the entire calendar year (for example, 1/1/09-12/31/09.)