Bill calls for more delay on forcing federal workers’ online financial disclosures

September 25, 2012

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 that the Senate passed just before recessing and that the House may approve even though it also is in recess.

The Senate early Saturday morning 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 are public information but 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 for all except the president, the vice president, members of Congress, candidates for Congress and Senate-confirmed political appointees at 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 families. The report would be due in six months.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he hopes the House will pass the bill through unanimous consent, a shortcut procedure reserved for non-controversial bills.

Rory Cooper, communications director for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said 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. The House did not address the issue Tuesday and is next scheduled to meet pro forma on Friday.

The Senate bill “protects almost all of President Obama’s appointees from disclosure before the election,” Cooper said. “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.

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 this year.

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