Bill to prevent online posting of disclosure forms passes Congress

April 12, 2013
(Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
(Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Congress has passed a bill to prevent financial disclosure forms filed by many senior career federal employees from being posted online.

The Senate on Thursday and the House on Friday passed on short-cut procedures a bill that indefinitely delays, and effectively repeals, a controversial provision of the Stock (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act enacted a year ago. That law mainly addressed conflict-of-interest policies for members of Congress and their staffs, but it also included a requirement that the financial disclosure forms filed by some 28,000 high-ranking federal employees be posted online.

While those forms are public records, they must be requested individually from employing agencies. The Stock Act called for online posting, first on agency sites and later in a central, searchable database.

That provision was delayed three times last year out of concerns about the potential for identity theft and other crimes against career employees, as well as security risks to the government. The latest delay was set to expire Monday.

The bill says the posting requirement “shall not be effective” for persons other than top political Executive Branch officials, members of Congress and congressional candidates — whose disclosure forms already are available online.

“It doesn’t use the word repeal, but in our eyes it’s basically the same thing,” said Jenny Mattingley, director of government affairs for the Senior Executives Association. “It’s not going into effect. For us, it’s encouraging.”

SEA is a sponsor of a lawsuit against the requirement and had asked the judge in that case to issue a temporary injunction if Congress did not act before the deadline. The bill now goes to President Obama.

“In December, when we extended the Stock Act deadline for public disclosure of financial disclosures, we required a study by the nonpartisan and independent National Academy of Public Administration,” Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said in an e-mail. “This was their recommendation, and the House and Senate agreed it was the best course of action for the time being.”

That report, released in late March, recommended an indefinite suspension, saying the heightened risk to employees and the government would outweigh the public benefit of online posting.

The Office of Government Ethics endorsed that recommendation, noting that under current policy the reports are publicly available and saying that they are examined closely by agencies’ ethics officials for potential conflicts of interest or other ethical violations.

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