Heavy hitters strike at Stock Act employee provisions

Columnist

Just like the weather, two ongoing controversies involving federal employees are getting hotter.

Some heavy hitters have joined the opposition to potentially harmful public disclosure provisions of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, better known as the Stock Act.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns. View Archive

In a letter to members of Congress, 14 former top-level government officials said provisions requiring the posting of employees' personal financial data on the Internet could impair their safety and national security.

Those arguments also have been made by employee organizations, but this letter has the heft provided by some really big names.

The bipartisan signers include: Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state; John B. Bellinger III, former State Department and National Security Council legal adviser; Joel Brenner, former National Counterintelligence Executive official and National Security Agency inspector general; Michael Chertoff, former secretary of homeland security; Jamie Gorelick, former deputy attorney general; and John Hamre, former defense deputy secretary.

Michael Chertoff, former secretary of homeland security, is one of the heavy hitters who has joined the opposition to potentially harmful public disclosure provisions of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, better known as the Stock Act. Chertoff is among several high-profile folks who have strong national security pedigrees that makes their opposition to the provisions all the more potent. (Jonathan Alcorn/BLOOMBERG)

Also signing were: Michael Hayden, former CIA director; Mike McConnell, former director of national intelligence; Michael B. Mukasey, former U.S. attorney general; John Negroponte, former deputy secretary of state and former director of national intelligence; Thomas Pickering, former under secretary of state; Frances Townsend, former assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism; Kenneth L. Wainstein, former assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism; and Juan Zarate, former deputy national security adviser.

These are high-profile folks who have strong national security pedigrees. That makes their opposition to the provisions all the more potent. The law was designed to blunt insider trading by members of Congress and their staffs. The provisions affecting 28,000 federal employees were tacked on during the sausage-making process, which sometimes passes for legislating, without a public hearing.

“We believe that this new uncontrolled disclosure scheme for executive branch officials will create significant threats to the national security and to the personal safety and financial security of executive branch officials and their families, especially career employees,” the letter says.

“Placing complete personal financial information of all senior officials on the Internet would be a jackpot for enemies of the United States intent on finding security vulnerabilities they can exploit.”

In addition to the employee organizations we wrote about this week, the union representing certain Congressional Research Service employees and Social Security administrative law judges and immigration judges also has objected to the law. The International Federation of Professional and Technical Employees said the Stock Act poses “a serious threat to the safety and security [of employees], not to mention the unwarranted invasion of their privacy.”

Leslie Phillips, a spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), said, “He is very concerned about the risks described in the letters and is considering possible ways to address the situation.”

Lieberman was the prime sponsor of the Stock Act but did not favor the amendment about the public posting of employee financial information.

No legislation revising those provisions has been introduced, but it is unlikely that Congress will be able to ignore the growing and hefty opposition to them.

LePage’s IRS remarks

The other controversy still generating heat involves a remark by Maine Gov. Paul LePage that linked the Internal Revenue Service to the Gestapo.

LePage, a Republican, issued an apology that appeared to be directed to the Jewish community. But as we reported last week, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) is upset because he did not apologize to IRS workers.

The NTEU is not alone.

Now, the Professional Managers Association (PMA), which includes supervisors at the IRS and other agencies, has called on LePage to recant his comments and apologize “to the hardworking employees of the IRS.”

LePage was criticizing the Supreme Court decision that generally upheld the Affordable Care Act when he said in a July 7 radio address: “This decision has made America less free. We the people have been told there is no choice. You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo — the IRS.”

Later, “Seven Days,” a Vermont media organization, reported that LePage said the IRS is not as bad as the Gestapo “yet,” then added: “They’re headed in that direction.”

This understandably makes IRS employees and their representatives as hot as a 100-degree day.

“This insinuation that the IRS would commit horrific acts such as those committed by the Gestapo is reprehensible,” Thomas R. Burger, PMA’s executive director, said in a letter to LePage on Thursday.

LePage’s office did not reply to a request for comment.

Burger reminded the governor of a 2010 attack in Austin in which an IRS employee was killed when a man flew his plane into an IRS office.

“Rhetoric such as you employed . . . fuels this anti-IRS sentiment and potentially places IRS employees in harm’s way,” Burger told LePage. “I urge you to use your position to set an example of ceasing the use of derogatory and inflammatory rhetoric.”

For previous columns by Joe Davidson, go to wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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