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Federal Eye
Posted at 04:37 PM ET, 07/09/2012

Federal scientist group protests wider access to financial disclosure reports

A group representing senior federal scientists and researchers has joined in the call for Congress to delay or repeal a requirement scheduled to take effect next month creating easier access to the publicly available financial disclosure reports filed by some federal employees.

The letter to Senate civil service leaders from the Assembly of Scientists comes as a separate provision of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act has taken effect — requiring more frequent reporting of many financial transactions by those who file those reports.

The STOCK Act, enacted earlier this year, primarily was aimed at ethical policies for Congress. However, it also revised several executive branch policies, mainly affecting about 28,000 senior career, political and military personnel who file public financial disclosures.

Under the law, agencies are to post those disclosures on their Web sites by the end of August, and eventually the forms are to be put in a central database that will be publicly searchable and sortable. Currently, while the disclosures are publicly available, most are kept only at individual employing agencies and must be requested individually.

Online access will make them much more readily available and raises concerns about increased vulnerability to identity theft and cyber crime, the association said.

“We believe that this indiscriminate disclosure puts filers at the mercy of anyone who wishes to harm or defraud us or our families,” the letter said. “Many senior employees, faced with diminished privacy rights, are discussing leaving the government for the private sector. Colleagues at universities are concerned and less likely to accept positions at national laboratories, thereby putting U.S. institutions at a disadvantage in recruiting and retaining the nation’s most prominent and creative scientists.”

The group, primarily consisting of scientists and physicians engaged in research at the National Institutes of Health, noted that its members already are limited to having only minimal financial interests in companies connected to their work, and that the disclosure forms are examined by agency ethics officers.

The Senior Executives Association recently raised many similar concerns about the law and also asked for at least a delay in the Web posting requirement.

More than 300,000 less senior federal employees file confidential financial disclosure reports, which will remain shielded from public view.

Meanwhile, the Office of Government Ethics has issued guidance on a separate aspect of the Stock Act that took effect July 3. That provision generally requires that employees who file public disclosures must report within 30 days — rather than annually, as under prior law — transactions above $1,000 involving stocks, bonds, and certain other forms of securities.

Transactions involving the 401(k)-style Thrift Savings Plan and certain other types of investments are exempt from the requirement, as are purchases or sales by a spouse or dependent child, unless the employee also owns the asset.

By  |  04:37 PM ET, 07/09/2012

 
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