President Carter is expected to sign legislation that may make it a little tougher for solicitors, nosy neighbors, would-be burglars and ex-spouses to poke into the private financial lives of 11,000 bureaucrats and politicians.
Under the new ethics law, a variety of federal officials, from the president on down, must file detailed financial disclosure statements. They are kept on record, and are available to the public. Records of about 11,000 civil servants are kept on file at their agencies. Data on another 600 to 700 top political appointees are maintained at the Office of Personnel Management. Almost anybody can see them on demand.
Members of the press, public interest groups and others already are poring over the data looking for potential conflicts of interest in the form of stocks, outside income and the like to federal officials or members of their family. Most of the people who have to file the statements live in the Washington area.
Some federal officials were concerned, however, that the data might be misused by individuals whose need-to-know stems from motives ranging from looking for potential customers - who has the money? - to enterprising burglars anxious to pick worth-while targets.
To remedy the situation, Rep. Herbert Harris (D-Va.) got Congress to pass new safeguards that require anyone seeking the data to identify him/herself, say why they want to look at it and whom they represent. Idea is to make it a little less comfortable for people with less than honorable motives by forcing them to do a little disclosing, too.
The Harris bill passed the House May 14 and the Senate on May 23. It still hasn't reached the White House (as of yesterday afternoon), but is expected to soon. President Carter will have 10 days to act on it, and he's expected to sign it.