Federal employee financial disclosures to remain offline

President Obama has signed into law a bill reversing a requirement enacted in April 2012, but never carried out, that federal agencies post online the financial disclosure forms of some 28,000 of their employees.

Congress last week took up and quickly passed the bill just before the latest in a series of delays in the requirement was set to expire Monday. Both the House and Senate accepted the bill without debate or objection.WhiteHousephoto

The measure in effect repeals a provision of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or Stock Act, which mainly addressed conflict of interest policies affecting members of Congress and their staff.

The forms, most of which are filed by senior executives and other high-level careerists, are public records but must be requested individually from employing agencies.

“We are pleased that, without compromising the conflicts of interest program, the legislation addresses concerns about posting the personal finances of nearly 28,000 federal employees and their families on the Internet,” Office of Government Ethics spokesman Vincent Salamone said in an e-mail.

“Executive branch agencies will continue to conduct intensive, multi-level review of the financial disclosure reports of these employees to resolve any conflicts of interest. These reports will remain fully available to the public, as they have been since enactment of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978,” he said.

A report by the National Academy of Public Administration had recommended indefinitely suspending the online posting requirement. It cited heightened risk of identity theft and other crimes against employees, as well as security concerns for the government.

“I’m pleased that Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle took the policy recommendations of the NAPA report seriously,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in a statement following House passage of the bill Friday. “Today’s legislation preserves the important principles of accountability and transparency while avoiding unwarranted risk to national security, agency mission, and identity theft.”

Financial disclosures of some 1,200 top Executive Branch political officials are available through the OGE site, while disclosure forms of members of Congress are available online through separate sites operated by the House and Senate.

Several other provisions affecting career employees in the Stock Act, as it was later amended, have been put into effect. They tightened policies governing discussions that could lead to job offers from certain outside parties and required faster disclosures of transactions while including those involving assets owned by spouses or dependent children.

“We will continue to implement the Stock Act, including an electronic filing system that will strengthen the process for collecting and reviewing these reports for conflicts of interest,” Salamone said.

More than 360,000 other, less senior, federal employees file a separate type of financial disclosure that is held confidentially by employing agencies.

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