STOCK Act foes may gain ally

Joe Davidson
Columnist July 24, 2012

The public financial disclosures required of federal employees under the recently enacted Stock Act are akin to punishing the children for the sins of the parents.

The law’s full name, the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, clearly indicates it was originally focused on insider trading by members of Congress and their staffs. Yet, federal employees were roped into the statute in a way that could place them, and potentially national security, in jeopardy.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Now employee associations pushing to change the law have gained an important ally — Walter Shaub, President Obama’s pick to head the Office of Government Ethics (OGE).

“If the Stock Act were changed to provide additional protections for these employees, I would definitely be in favor of that because I think we can strike a balance between privacy and safety and make things publicly available enough to help the public understand the financial motivations and interests of its leaders,” Shaub said at his confirmation hearing Friday.

Shaub is OGE’s deputy general counsel. Civil servants often don’t rise to the very top of an agency, and if confirmed Shaub would be the agency’s first career employee to become its director. A product of local universities, James Madison and American, he has worked for federal agencies since 1997, except for a two-year period when he was with a law firm that specializes in federal employees.

Shaub’s thoughts are important because OGE is charged with implementing the Stock Act, which covers about 28,000 executive-branch employees. Organizations representing them are upset not just because of additional reporting demands but particularly because of the requirement to post employee financial data on the Internet.

“Because of provisions in the Stock Act, every public financial disclosure form filed by all career public servants, except those in intelligence agencies, will be posted on a public, easily searchable database,” says a thorough position paper by the Senior Executive Association (SEA). “This means, quite simply, that the private financial information of tens of thousands of career public employees will be available to everyone — criminal enterprises and foreign interests included.”

Those “foreign interests” are of particular concern to the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), which, along with other groups, is urging Congress to change the disclosure requirements.

“Foreign Service personnel often serve in posts where kidnapping for ransom is a real and growing danger,” said an AFSA statement. “Making personal financial information publicly available provides criminal organizations information that makes it easier to target members of the Foreign Service and their families.

“Foreign Service officers and specialists are targets for foreign intelligence services that hope to gain access to classified or sensitive information,” the AFSA continues. “We know that foreign governments and potentially hostile intelligence agencies are actively building databases on American government employees and national security personnel. AFSA is deeply concerned that the information required to be made public under the Stock Act would be used by foreign governments and intelligence agencies as a resource against American personnel and our allies overseas.”

Potentially, the law could lead to the inadvertent outing of U.S. intelligence officers, because, ironically, they do not have to disclose their data under the Stock Act. Foreign service officers posted abroad are often suspected of being spies. “The absence of a senior foreign service officer’s report from the public data base will confirm such suspicions,” SEA warns.

The employee concerns are so great that “many senior employees, faced with diminished privacy rights, are discussing leaving the government for the private sector,” said a letter to Congress from Florence P. Haseltine, president of the Assembly of Scientists, which represents doctors and scientists at the National Institutes of Health.

Members of Congress have heard the complaints, but so far no amendments reflecting employee concerns have been introduced.

“The senator is working to understand the nature and scope of these concerns and is open to considering possible solutions,” said Leslie Phillips, a spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), sponsor of the law.

Jonathan Graffeo, a spokesman for Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), who authored the section that upsets federal employees, said, “We’ve met with some of those who’ve expressed these concerns and are currently awaiting further information from them before formulating an opinion.”

While Congress waits, federal employees fume — and vent their anger in e-mails to The Post’s Federal Worker page.

“I expect no privacy. Even now, as I write this e-mail from my workspace, my key strokes are monitored,” said B.L. Shatzer, a Fort Meade employee. “When would I think it’s not worth it? Now!. . . . Why should any federal civilian worker put up with this AND low wages.”

For Richard Bunn of Alexandria, extending reporting requirements to civil servants “is nothing more than a poison pill.”

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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