Group calls disclosure law ‘intrusive’

April 18, 2012

An organization representing senior career federal employees is asking for the repeal of several newly enacted financial disclosure policies that it calls “burdensome, complex, and most important, unnecessarily invasive of personal privacy.”

The Senior Executives Association on Tuesday sent letters to congressional leaders on civil service issues, saying that “intrusive requirements” of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act “are already having a chilling effect on the recruitment and retention of career executives.”

The STOCK Act, while mainly aimed at members of Congress and their staffs, contains provisions affecting many senior executive branch officials, both careerists and political appointees. For example, it requires that the annual public financial disclosures filed by about 28,000 of them be posted on agency Web sites by Aug. 31. That led to a warning by the Energy Department against the government-wide practice of employees including on the form additional information that is not required but which could be used for identity theft.

The STOCK Act, signed this month, calls for the eventual creation of a central database that would be searchable by the public. Even the posting on agency sites in the meantime will make the forms more readily accessible by the public, since many agencies require paper-based requests for access.

The SEA said that it has heard from employees at the General Schedule grade 14 and 15 levels — senior mid-level managers from whom the senior executive ranks commonly are drawn — that the change in disclosure practices “has caused them to abandon plans to join the Senior Executive Service. In addition, many current senior executives are considering retirement or falling back to a GS-15 in light of the new rules.”

The SEA also is seeking repeal of a provision requiring that certain financial transactions be reported within 30 days, rather than annually. Someone who uses a financial adviser or portfolio manager might not be able to meet the tighter deadline and could violate the law inadvertently, the letters say. “Our members are already expressing deep concern over this rule, and many have written to say that it will jeopardize their ability to plan effectively for retirement,” the organization said.

The SEA said it raised similar objections before the law was passed, arguing that the traditional rules provided enough oversight of the finances of senior career employees. It added that it “understands the desire to bring transparency to the financial disclosures of publicly elected officials. What we do not agree with is applying such broad standards to career federal employees.”

The STOCK Act further requires those who file public financial disclosures to notify their agencies within three days and withdraw from certain decisions if they enter discussions for an outside job. It also calls for putting the confidential disclosure forms of more than 300,000 other federal employees in the planned central database, although those forms would not be publicly viewable.

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