Office of Ethics
United States Department of Agriculture

10 Simple Tips to Make the 278 Filing Process Easier


The tips below, as well as the guidance in the OGE Form 278e electronic filing systems, should reduce the likelihood of follow-up inquiries from ethics advisors, the number of inquiries, and the overall time spent responding to such inquiries. Please do not hesitate to contact the Office of Ethics at DAEO.ethics@oe.usda.gov if you need assistance completing your OGE Form 278e. Please also review our web site to learn about STOCK Act requirements:

https://ethics.usda.gov/rules/stockact.htm.

IMPORTANT: It is your legal responsibility to fill out the OGE 278e Public Financial Disclosure Report completely and accurately. While ethics advisors are available to assist you with this requirement, the ultimate responsibility for preparing the form correctly is yours.

10 SIMPLE STEPS:

1. Spousal employment:

  • DO list the NAME of the employer or name of business (if spouse is self-employed), the city and state of the employer or business and the type of business (if the employer is not a publicly-traded company);
  • DO identify your spouse’s position or title; but
  • DO NOT report the AMOUNT of a spouse’s earned income; but report the amount of a spouse’s honoraria over $200.
  • DO NOT report your spouse’s employment with another U.S. Government agency

2. Mutual Funds, Unit Investment Trusts, and Similar Investments.   List the full name of the investment (e.g., Fidelity Aggressive Growth Fund). [Failure to list the names of specific funds (not just the name of the fund family) is probably the greatest cause for unnecessary follow-up inquiries.] DO NOT report funds in your or your spouse’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) or Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) accounts.

3. IRA, 401(k), 403(b), 453, Keogh, etc.  You must report any UNDERLYING assets that you would be required to report if held individually rather than as part of the plan. For example, let’s assume that your Merrill Lynch 401k is worth $15,001 to $50,000 and within the plan you had three underlying assets, AIM International Fund, Fidelity Magellan Fund and Exxon-Mobil stock, each valued between $1,001 and $15,000.


INCORRECT REPORTING:
Name of Asset
Merrill Lynch 401(k)

Value of Asset
$15,001-$50,000

CORRECT REPORTING: Name of Asset
Merrill Lynch 401(k) containing:
AIM International Fund
Fidelity Magellan Fund
Exxon-Mobil (common stock)
Value of Asset

$1,001-$15,000
$1,001-$15,000
$1,001-$15,000

4. Managed Account.

For you, your spouse, and your dependent children, report each underlying asset of a managed account that individually was worth more than $1,000 at the end of the reporting period or that individually produced more than $200 in income during the reporting period. A managed account (also called "separately managed account" or "controlled account") is an account that is owned by the investor but managed for a fee by a financial advisor. Although some managed accounts may appear similar to mutual funds, they are not mutual funds and do not qualify for the same treatment as mutual funds under conflicts of interest laws. The investor gives the financial advisor the discretion to buy, sell and trade investments on behalf of the investor. A managed account is not an "excepted investment fund." Even if the investor may select an established portfolio of investment choices, the managed account is not an excepted investment fund. In fact, the managed account is not an investment fund at all. The investor has not "pooled" the investor’s money with other investors. Although the account manager may have offered the option of selecting a predetermined "portfolio" of assets, the investor owns each of these assets individually and directly in the investor’s own name. For this reason, as well as other reasons, the investor must disclose each asset as a separate line item on the financial disclosure report.

5. Income Valuation. In determining whether an asset value meets the reporting threshold, you would include earnings that are “rolled back” into the asset. For example, during the course of the year your IBM stock valued at $950 on January 1st earned $150.00 in dividends that were rolled back over the course of the year. The new stock value at the end of the year is $1,100. This value meets the income threshold for purposes of the OGE Form 278e and should be reported on the annual report due in May of the following year.

6. Assets/Transactions

If, on Parts 2, 5 or 6, you:

  • List an asset for the first time this year; or
  • Do not list an asset that was listed last year; or
  • Have a substantial change in the value of an asset
  • you should check to see whether a related transaction (sale / purchase / exchange) needs to be reported on Part 7. Normally, a change on Part 1, 5 or 6 will require a transaction to be reported on Part 7. If no transaction needs to be reported on Part 7, you may wish to add a comment on your OGE 278e. It will save us having to contact you to confirm this fact.

If, on Part 7, you:

  • List a purchase of an asset not previously reported, or an exchange that results in your receiving a new asset for a previously reported asset, please check to see whether there should be a listing for a new asset on Part 2, 5 or 6.
  • Note a sale or exchange of a previously reported asset, you should also check to see whether there needs to be a corresponding listing on Part 1, 5 or 6.

NOTE: An "exchange" for reporting purposes is rare. The term is only used where there is a trade of one asset for another. For example, Company XYZ acquires Company ABC, recalls the Company ABC stock and issues you Company XYZ stock in exchange for your stock in Company ABC. The term, "exchange," does NOT encompass a situation where one asset is sold and another is purchased with the proceeds. Use two separate transactions for this common occurrence.

7. Total Liquidation of Asset. If you totally liquidated an asset during the reporting period and earned in excess of $200 in income from that asset (i.e., dividends, capital gains, interest, etc.), report the asset on Parts 2, 5 or 6. Include the income type and income amount earned in Field 4 and 6 and check the "None (or less than $1,001)" box. If you liquidated with a loss (sorry), report the "asset" in Part 1 and select the "None (or less than $201)" category for the Value. Also report this transaction in Part 7. For example, a complete sale of a stock that earned both dividends (while held) and capital gains (upon sale) would be listed as follows:

Assets and Income Value Income Type Income Amount
Colgate Palmolive Stock "None (or less than $201)" category "X" for dividends and capital gains Check applicable income range for capital gains and dividends earned or "None (or less than $201)" category if a loss.

8. Former Employment and Seeking Employment. If you are new to Federal service, report the source and actual amount of earned income exceeding $200 from any former non-Federal employer(s). If you have a retirement plan, savings plan, stock purchase option, severance payment, or other plan with a former employer, this needs to be reported on both Part 2 and Part 3. Also, if you are planning to leave USDA employment in the near future and have reached an agreement with a prospective employer, you must report this under Part 3, immediately disqualify yourself from any USDA matters involving this potential employer, and file a Notification of Post-Government Employment or Compensation Negotiation or Agreement and Recusal Statement with the Office of Ethics. The Notification is available at:
https://ethics.usda.gov/rules/STOCK Act Files/USDA Notification of PostEmployment Negotiation Form (May 2014)_vers2.pdf. Agreements for future employment are especially common on termination reports.

9. Other Income. If you have salary income, farm income, or other income that is NOT covered in the “Types of Income” options on the OGE 278e, you report in the "Other Income" column both:

  • The exact amount of the income; and
  • The nature of the income.

For example: "Sale of corn, $25,573."

10. Financial Relationships and Official Dealings. If you believe you may take official action that involves or directly affects any entities recorded on your report, please contact us immediately by phone (202-720-2251) or email (DAEO.ethics@usda.gov). If you are sure that your official duties have no connection either to a financial interest or outside activity, annotate that fact in the comments portion of the front page of the form.

NOTE: If you own a financial interest in a farm, or engage in farming activities, see "Farming Interests," in the "Financial Disclosure" section of Rules of the Road, on our website, for further guidance on reporting those interests.