HHS employees, including special Government employees (SGE) serving as subject-matter experts on Federal advisory committees (committees), play an influential role in the Federal Government’s public health policies. HHS employees may have conflicts of interest that prohibit them from participating in certain official Government matters affecting their personal financial interests. These interests may include outside employment, grants, and stock ownership.
The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) promulgates Governmentwide Federal ethics regulations for all Executive Branch employees and oversees all Federal agencies’ ethics programs. With oversight and guidance from the HHS Office of the General Counsel (OGC), an HHS Operating Division (OPDIV) or Staff Division (STAFFDIV) may grant conflict-of-interest waivers to its employees if the OPDIV or STAFFDIV determines that the conflict is not likely to affect the integrity of the employees’ services to the Government. For SGEs on committees, in particular, an OPDIV or STAFFDIV may grant a waiver if the need for an SGE’s services outweighs the potential for a conflict of interest. Waivers permit employees who have conflicts of interest to act in an official Government capacity on matters in which they would otherwise be prohibited from participating. In 2009, HHS granted 342 waivers; 334 waivers were granted to SGEs on committees.