[Federal Register Volume 64, Number 132 (Monday, July 12, 1999)]
[Notices]
[Pages 37536-37539]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 99-17528]


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OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS


Proposed Collection; Comment Request: Proposed Moderately Revised 
SF 278 Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report

AGENCY: Office of Government Ethics (OGE).

ACTION: Notice.

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SUMMARY: After this first round notice and public comment period, OGE 
plans to submit a proposed moderately revised version of the Standard 
Form (SF) 278 which it sponsors under its existing executive branch 
public financial disclosure regulations for review and three-year 
approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under the 
Paperwork Reduction Act. The future revised edition of the

[[Page 37537]]

form will replace the editions currently in use.

DATES: Comments on this proposed extension should be received by 
September 27, 1999.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be sent to William E. Gressman, Senior 
Associate General Counsel, or Michael J. Lewandowski, Records 
Management Officer, Office of Government Ethics, Suite 500, 1201 New 
York Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20005-3917. Comments may also be sent 
electronically to OGE's Internet E-mail address at usoge@oge.gov (for 
E-mail messages, the subject line should include the following 
reference--``SF 278 paperwork comment'').

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Gressman or Mr. Lewandowski at the 
Office of Government Ethics; telephone: 202-208-8000, extensions 1110 
or 1185; TDD: 202-208-8025; FAX: 202-208-8037. A mark-up copy of the SF 
278 form as proposed for revision may be obtained, without charge, by 
contacting either Mr. Gressman or Mr. Lewandowski.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Office of Government Ethics is planning 
to submit, after this notice and comment period (with any modifications 
that may appear warranted), a proposed moderately revised version of 
the SF 278 Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure 
Report (OMB control number 3209-0001) for a three-year approval 
(extension) by OMB under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 
chapter 35). Most of the proposed changes result from OGE's own 
experience and review for updating, though some come from agency 
suggestions received from time to time. Moreover, upon consideration, 
OGE has decided to retain the same basic form design and to keep the 
Public Financial Disclosure Report as a standard form. As part of that 
consideration, OGE has reviewed the form and determined that it clearly 
and plainly, to the extent feasible, explains the reporting 
requirements of the rather complex financial disclosure provisions of 
the Ethics in Government Act (the Ethics Act), 5 U.S.C. appendix, and 
OGE's implementing executive branchwide regulations at 5 CFR part 2634. 
The current paperwork approval for the SF 278 is scheduled to expire at 
the end of September 1999. Since modifications to the standard form are 
being proposed, OGE will also seek General Services Administration 
(GSA) clearance for the modified form once OMB paperwork approval for 
it is received. The original printed forms of the new edition will be 
stocked through GSA (see below) and will have a yellow or green 
background shading to help distinguish them from the current edition 
forms they will replace.
    The Office of Government Ethics, as the supervising ethics office 
for the executive branch of the Federal Government under the Ethics in 
Government Act (the Ethics Act), is the sponsoring agency for the 
Standard Form 278, the most recent edition of which is that of June 
1994. The prior January 1991 edition has also remained usable until 
supplies are exhausted. The forthcoming new 1999 edition of the SF 278 
report form will replace those prior editions. In accordance with 
section 102 of the Ethics in Government Act, 5 U.S.C. appendix, section 
102, and OGE's implementing financial disclosure regulations at 5 CFR 
part 2634, the SF 278 collects pertinent financial information from 
certain officers and high-level employees in the executive branch for 
conflicts of interest review and public disclosure. The financial 
information collected under the statute and regulations relates to: 
assets and income; transactions; gifts, reimbursements and travel 
expenses; liabilities; agreements or arrangements; outside positions; 
and compensation over $5,000 paid by a source--all subject to various 
reporting thresholds and exclusions.
    The SF 278 is completed by candidates, nominees, new entrants, 
incumbents and terminees of certain high-level positions in the 
executive branch of the Federal Government. The Office of Government 
Ethics, along with the agencies concerned, conducts the review of the 
SF 278 reports of Presidential nominees subject to Senate confirmation. 
This group of nominee reports forms, together with those of terminees 
from such positions who may file after leaving the Government, forms 
the basis for OGE's paperwork estimates in this notice. In light of 
OGE's experience over the past three years (1996-1998), the estimate of 
the total number, on average, of such nominees' SF 278 forms expected 
to be filed annually at OGE by members of the public (as opposed to 
current Federal employees), is being somewhat reduced to 260. This 
estimated number is based primarily on the forms processed at OGE by 
private citizen Presidential nominees to positions subject to Senate 
confirmation (and their private representatives--lawyers, accountants, 
brokers and bankers) and those who file termination reports from such 
positions after their Government service ends, as well as Presidential 
and Vice Presidential candidates who are private citizens. The OGE 
estimate covers the next three years, 1999-2001, including a 
significant increase in reports anticipated with the fall 2000 
Presidential election and following transition. The prior paperwork 
burden estimate was 280 forms per year. The estimated average amount of 
time to complete the report form, including review of the instructions 
and gathering of needed information, remains the same at three hours. 
Thus, the overall estimated annual public burden for the SF 278 for the 
private citizen/representative nominee and terminee report forms 
processed at the Office of Government Ethics is being reduced to 780 
(from 840) hours. Moreover, OGE estimates, based on the agency ethics 
program questionnaire responses for 1996-1998, that some 21,500 SF 278 
report forms are filed annually at departments and agencies throughout 
the executive branch. Most of those executive branch filers are current 
Federal employees at the time they file, but certain candidates for 
President and Vice President, nominees, new entrants and terminees 
complete the form either before or after their Government service. The 
percentage of private citizen filers branchwide is estimated at no more 
than 5% to 10%, or some 1,050 to 2,100 per year at most.
    Among the new modifications proposed to the SF 278 is the 
incorporation into the form of certain changes in the reporting law as 
regards higher-category (over $1,000,000) assets, income and 
liabilities. To date, OGE has asked executive branch departments and 
agencies in a series of DAEOgrams over the years to so notify filers. 
Moreover, OGE has now determined, for the first time, that transactions 
are included in the higher-category reporting requirement; that new 
inclusion will only affect future reports once the proposed modified 
form receives its final paperwork approval and is made available by OGE 
and GSA. As noted in the mark-up copy of the SF 278 as proposed for 
revision available from OGE (see the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT 
section above), these higher categories for items of filers (including 
items jointly held with a spouse or dependent children) will be 
specified in new notes proposed on page 11 of the form instructions as 
well as on Schedules A, B and C of the report. The new higher 
categories, and the letter codes representing them that would be 
indicated, are for assets, transactions and liabilities: $1,000,001 to 
$5,000,000--A; $5,000,001 to $25,000,000--B; $25,000,001 to 
$50,000,000--C; and over $50,000,000--D. For income, the new higher

[[Page 37538]]

categories and letter codes are: $1,000,001 to $5,000,000--a; and over 
$5,000,000--b. For any such items solely held by a spouse or dependent 
children, only the traditional ``over $1,000,000'' column would need to 
be checked. In addition, OGE proposes to include on page 5 of the form 
instructions a notice of a similar modification as to reportable trust 
interests for those filers who have qualified blind trusts. In such 
instances, OGE advises concerned filers and their agencies of the 
application of this provision, which does not apply to trusts executed 
prior to July 24, 1995, that preclude the beneficiary from receiving 
information on the total cash value of any such trust interest. See 
sections 20 and 22 of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, Pub. L. 104-
65, which amended section 102(a)(1)(B), (d)(1) and (e)(1) and added new 
section 102(a)(8) of the Ethics Act, 5 U.S.C. appendix, section 
102(a)(1)(B), (a)(8), (d)(1) and (e)(1).
    Moreover, OGE is proposing to include an adjustment of the gifts/
travel reimbursements reporting thresholds for the SF 278 that needs to 
be made since GSA recently raised ``minimal value'' to $260 or less for 
the three-year period 1999-2001 (from the prior level of $245 or less) 
under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, 5 U.S.C. 7342. See 64 FR 
13700-13701 (March 22, 1999), revising the GSA foreign gifts regulation 
at 41 CFR 101-49.001-5. Because the foreign gifts ``minimal value'' is 
now over $250, the Ethics Act financial disclosure gifts/reimbursements 
reporting thresholds, at 5 U.S.C. appendix, section 102(a)(2)(A) and 
(B), which are pegged to any such increase are being adjusted to ``more 
than $260'' for the aggregation level of reporting and ``$104 or less'' 
for gifts and reimbursements which do not have to be counted in the 
aggregate threshold. In a forthcoming rulemaking, OGE will revise those 
reporting thresholds as found at 5 CFR 2634.304(a), (b) and (d). Since 
OGE expects that GSA will adjust ``minimal value'' every three years, 
the ethics reporting thresholds for gifts and reimbursements will now 
likely have to be adjusted every three years as well (as coordinated 
with paperwork renewals, as nearly as possible).
    Moreover, as noted on the mark-up copy of the form as proposed to 
be revised, OGE proposes in the future to adjust the referenced civil 
monetary penalty, on page 11 of the instructions, for prohibited uses 
of an SF 278 report to which access has been gained. The penalty under 
section 104(a) of the Ethics Act, 5 U.S.C. appendix, section 104(a), 
will be raised from $10,000 to $11,000 once OGE and the Department of 
Justice issue their respective inflation adjustment rulemakings under 
the 1996 Debt Collection Improvement Act revisions to the 1990 Federal 
Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act, at 28 U.S.C. 2461 note. The 
OGE rulemaking will, in pertinent part, revise 5 CFR 2634.703 of the 
executive branchwide financial disclosure regulation. The Office of 
Government Ethics will request permission from OMB to revise the SF 278 
reference once the inflation adjustment takes effect without further 
paperwork clearance, even if that adjustment occurs after the paperwork 
reclearance of the moderately revised form (with notice and 
distribution to the agencies and OMB at that time). In addition, any 
periodic future adjustments to that civil monetary penalty pursuant to 
further rulemakings by OGE and the Justice Department (every three 
years or so) under the inflation adjustment law will also be reflected 
in future editions of the SF 278.
    Also on page 11 of the instructions, OGE would parenthetically 
reference the extra time grantable pursuant to a filing extension--up 
to 45 days by the filer's agency and up to an additional 45 days by 
OGE. See 5 U.S.C. appendix, section 101(g)(1) of the Ethics Act and 5 
C.F.R. 2634.201(f) of OGE's regulations thereunder. In addition, OGE is 
adding a new check-off box in the reviewing officials comments box on 
the bottom of the front page of the SF 278 report form itself to show 
whether any filing extension has been granted and, if so, the number of 
days.
    Another important change OGE is proposing is the addition of a new 
continuation page for part I of Schedule B on transactions. In OGE's 
experience, many filers need more than the five spaces currently 
provided in that part to indicate their reportable purchases, sales and 
transactions. The new continuation page would add sixteen more spaces 
for such entries, and duplicates of that page would allow for any 
further entries needed.
    Various other, minor changes are being proposed. The Office of 
Government Ethics would include in the Schedule A (assets and income), 
Block C column for indicating the type of ``other'' income a new cross-
reference to the additional column calling for the actual amount of any 
such income. In Block A of Schedule A, OGE would add reference to the 
requirement for reporting the source, but not the amount, of any earned 
income of a spouse over $1,000 (over $200 for honoraria). Further, OGE 
proposes to add a clarification that no earned income of dependent 
children need be reported. Also in Block A, OGE would include a new 
reminder that any reportable income received from assets prior to sale 
or exchange should be shown. The Office of Government Ethics proposes 
to provide a corresponding cross-reference reminder in Part I of 
Schedule B (transactions), together with a note that any remaining 
asset value also needs to be shown on Schedule A (none or less than 
$1,001 if a total sale or exchange). New Sentences in Part II of 
Schedule C (agreements or arrangements) and Part I of Schedule D 
(outside positions) would remind incumbent filers that the reporting 
period for those items is the preceding calendar year and the filing 
year up to the date of filing. In addition, OGE proposes to add a 
further reminder to Part II of Schedule C to the effect that any 
reportable financial arrangement also needs to be shown on Schedule A. 
Moreover, a new indication would be added on page 5 of the instructions 
of the general requirement to show on the form any reportable interests 
in a trust as to which the filer serves as trustee.
    Another revision that OGE proposes would add express mention, in 
the public burden information notice on page 11 of the instructions, of 
a statement pursuant to the 1995 amendments to the paperwork law to the 
effect that ``an agency may not conduct or sponsor, and no person is 
required to respond to, a collection of information unless it displays 
a currently valid OMB control number,'' together with a parenthetical 
mention that such number is displayed in the upper right-hand corner of 
the front page of the form. In that notice, OGE also proposes to drop 
the reference to OMB as a further point of contact for information 
collection comments on the SF 278. Pursuant to current procedures, OGE 
will be indicated from now on as the sole contact point for such 
comments on the form, on which OGE will coordinate with OMB if 
necessary. Furthermore, OGE proposes to slightly modify the wording 
regarding the sixth numbered routine use under the Privacy Act 
statement (also on page 11 of the instructions). The modified wording 
will reflect the application to pending judicial or administrative 
proceedings of the underlying routine use h. in the OGE/GOVT-1 
executive branchwide system of records. See 55 FR 6327-6331 (February 
22, 1990).
    Finally, various minor proposed style, format and updating changes 
to certain parts of the instructions and the report form are proposed, 
including indication of the new 1999 edition date.

[[Page 37539]]

    Once finally cleared by OMB and GSA and printed by the Government 
Printing Office, the paper original of the new 1999 edition of the SF 
278 report form will be stocked and available for purchase by 
departments and agencies nationwide from the GSA Federal Supply Service 
Customer Service Centers.
    In addition, OGE already has placed on its Internet Web site 
(Uniform Resource Locator (URL) address: http://www.usoge.gov) a 
viewable and downloadable Portable Document Format (PDF) version of the 
current 6/94 edition of the SF 278 and is also working on a fillable 
version of the 6/94 edition. A fillable version of the SF 278 is 
available from GSA's Web site electronic library of standard and 
optional forms (URL address: http://www.gsa.gov/forms/). Moreover, OGE 
will develop both PDF and fillable versions of the new 1999 edition of 
the SF 278 once it is finally cleared and issued later this year. Those 
electronic versions of the SF 278 form have been and will continue to 
be made available free-of-charge to executive branch departments and 
agencies and their employees. In addition, the forthcoming 1999 edition 
of the form will be included in future editions of The Ethics CD-ROM. 
Departments and agencies can also electronically duplicate the SF 278 
without standard form exception clearance, provided that the 
duplication precisely parallels the original paper form to the extent 
technically feasible, producing a ``mirror image'' print-out thereof.
    Furthermore, OGE is considering the paperwork and technical issues 
relating to development of so-called ``smart'' electronic forms, 
including the SF 278, which employ a question and answer format to 
elicit information on reportable interests and funnel the responses 
onto the various schedules of the report forms. Various agencies 
including OGE are interested in this area, and OGE is reviewing the 
executive branchwide aspects of these initiatives.
    For now, OGE notes that even with all of these electronic 
initiatives, the SF 278 reports, once completed by individual filers, 
will still need to be printed out and signed manually. Electronic 
filing is not authorized at the present time for SF 278 reports. 
However, OGE is monitoring developments under the Government Paperwork 
Elimination Act and the draft OMB guidelines, under which appropriate 
electronic availability and filing of various Government forms will 
generally be phased in by 2003.
    Public comment is invited on each aspect of the proposed moderately 
revised SF 278 Public Financial Disclosure Report as set forth in this 
notice, including specifically views on the need for and practical 
utility of this collection of information, the accuracy of OGE's burden 
estimate, the potential for enhancement of quality, utility and clarity 
of the information collected, and the minimization of burden (including 
the use of information technology).
    Any comments received in response to this notice will be summarized 
for, and may be included with, OGE's request for extension of OMB 
paperwork approval for this information collection. Comments will also 
become a matter of public record.

    Approved: July 6, 1999.
Stephen D. Potts,
Director, Office of Government Ethics.
[FR Doc. 99-17528 Filed 7-9-99; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 6345-01-P