An additional 1,500 District government employees will be required to disclose their personal financial interests under new regulations being drawn up by city officials.
The expanded list of employees to be covered by conflict-of-interest rules is scheduled to be announced within several weeks and will become effective Feb. 20. It is expected to boost from 600 to an estimated 2,100 the number of city workers who must reveal their financial status and holdings. The expansion is directed at employees whose decisions can help or hurt private organizations or business interests.
Employees covered by the law must file copies of their tax returns and reveal their holdings, including such items as real estate, stocks and bonds and business interests. The reports will be sealed and opened only if conflict-of-interest questions arise about an employee.
The newly-covered workers are being brought under the law as the result of amendments adopted last summer by the city council.
Council member Arrington Dixon (D - 4th Ward), who sponsored the changes, said, "I don't want to suggest that there is any impropriety now, but we want to be on the record so there won't be in the future."
Dixon said the new coverage would aid employees in decision-making positions who might be offered some financial benefits in return for their services. The changes "will help discourage any suggestion that they might profit from something they do," he said.
Formerly only employees at the GS-15 level and higher were required to file reports with the city's board of elections and ethics. Included were employees whose duties seldom placed them in conflict-of-interest situations. The city council's amendments were intended to focus on function instead of grade level.
Under the previous law, for example, a GS-9 investigator for the Alcoholic Beverage Control board would not have been covered, although he can make judgements that can open or close a bar or a liquor store. Now such positions and other jobs, such as contract specialists and realty specialists are covered, according to Winfred Mundle, counsel to the elections and ethics board.
"The basic concept is of power to affect decisions in terms of money or people's livelihoods," said board chairwoman Shari B. Kharasch.
Mundle is compiling lists of employees who will come under the amended guidelines. The first list, published in December's D.C. Register, adds 419 titles to those covered, bringing in an additional 617 employees. A second list of newly-covered positions within the city's Department of Human Resources is expected to add aproximately 600 employees. A third list of undetermined size covering yet other departments is also expected to be published in the near future.
The elections and ethics board held a seminar in December to explain to department heads who is covered, with attendance required by the mayor. In addition, Mundle said, he has talked to many individual department heads about who is covered. The board is relying mainly on the department heads to list positions, although there is some review of the lists when they are published in the D.C. Register.
GS-15s are still covered by the law, but they may apply for an exemption which will be granted if they are found to have no potential for financial conflict of interest, said Mundle.
While the law does not provide for exemptions, Mundle said the board decided to grant them because "we do not want to indulge in an unconstitutionally overbroad application of the law. We're balancing the right to privacy against the public's right to know," he said.
After Feb. 20, the effective date for inclusion of the additional employees, D.C. government workers who are brought under disclosure requirements will have 90 days to file their reports. The penalty for not filing on time can reach $50-a-day. Mundle said that although the original law became effective in August 1974, no sealed records have ever been opened.