A requirement for online posting of financial disclosure forms filed by senior federal officials, including many career employees, may be delayed again, under a bill the Senate passed just before recessing and that the House may approve even though it also now is in recess.
The Senate early Saturday morning took up and passed with no debate a bill that would delay that aspect of the Stock Act until Dec. 8, while ordering an outside review of the potential effects of making those reports so readily available.
Some 28,000 senior career federal employees, political appointees and high-ranking military officers annually file financial disclosure reports that, while public information, now generally may be reviewed only on individual request. The online posting requirement originally was to have taken effect Aug. 30 but was delayed until Sept. 30 by an earlier temporary law. More recently, a federal court considering a lawsuit against the requirement ordered a further delay through October.
The Senate-passed bill would delay the posting requirement except for the president, vice president, members of Congress, candidates for Congress, and Senate-confirmed political appointees at the Cabinet secretary, deputy secretary and comparable levels.
The bill further would order the Office of Personnel Management to contract with the National Academy of Public Administration to study the potential harm to national security, law enforcement or other government missions, as well as the personal safety and financial security risks to employees and their family members. The report would be due in six months.
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking Republican Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine sponsored the bill. A spokeswoman for Lieberman said he hopes the House will pass the bill through a shortcut procedure reserved for noncontroversial bills called unanimous consent.
Rory Cooper, communications director for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said that the House could take up the bill under that procedure even though it is in recess, since it is continuing to hold informal, or “pro forma,” sessions.
Cooper said the Senate bill “protects almost all of President Obama’s appointees from disclosure before the election. We were working with Democratic lawmakers in good faith to come up with a solution. The desire by some in the Senate to kick the can down the road and shield political appointees from immediate disclosure is disappointing and the House will continue to fight for greater transparency.”
He added, though, that the House leadership shares the concern about the potential security implications of public posting. “This [bill] is not our preferred option but right now it is the only option,” he said.
Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, noted that under the bill, the report wouldn’t be due until well after the delay would have expired. “The obvious assumption is that they would revisit this during the lame duck session” after the November election, she said. “I look forward to that. We’re going to have to continue this conversation in the lame duck.”
Also possible, she added, is further court action in the lawsuit—brought by SEA and other associations representing affected employees—to delay or overturn the posting requirement for career employees. “Whether [that requirement] dies an appropriate death by the court or by the Congress, we’ll be extremely happy. We’d just like to see it happen one way or the other,” Bonosaro said.
The requirement for agencies to post the disclosure forms on their Web sites was designed as a first step toward creating a publicly searchable government-wide database of those forms also mandated by the Stock Act, which was enacted earlier this year.
This story has been updated.