Top federal officials, including judges, civil servants, flag-rank military officers and even senior FBI employees, would be required by law to make annual public disclosure of their income and not worth under provisions of a bill introduced in the Senate this week.
Sponsored by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.) and Sen. Charles Percy (R-III.), the measure is patterned after disclosure rules recently adopted by the Senate and House for members of Congress and their top employees.
Chances for passage are considered good because Congress has already voted similiar ruler for itself and President Carter has supported the concept. Nonetheless, some opposition is expected from civil servants and judges who traditionally have opposed making their personal finances public.
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As drafted, the Ribicoff Percy bill also would restructure the Civil Service Commission and rename it the Civil Service and Ethics Commission.
An ethics division would be established within the commission. It would have its own presidentially appointed director who would administer and enforce the disclosure law and any ethics code for the executive branch.
The bill would require an unprecedented amount of public financial disclosure by all federal judges civil servants beginning at the rank of GS 16 and military officers from brigadier general and rear admiral on up.
The court acted in a case brought in a U.S. District Court by three state prisoners in North Carolina, which houses 13,000 inmates in 77 seprate prisons in 67 countries. The system has one law library and provide no other legal assistance.
The trial judge ruled the sole library "severely inadequate" but left it to the state to devise "a constitutionally sound" alternative. The state proposed to set up seven libraries for all of the prisons plus smaller facilities in the Women's Prison and another penirentirary, and to provide prisoners with transporation and housing for a full day's research.
The judge approved the plan. So did the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, although it ordered research facilities for women prisoners to be equal to those of men.
Affirming, the Supreme Court did not order a library in every prison. Justice Marshall, speaking of alternative resources, noted an estimate that "as few as 500-full-time lawyers would be needed to serve the legal needs of the entire national prison population."
The court's experience is that prisoners "are capable of using law books to file cases that are serious and legitimate even if ultimately unsuccessful," Marshall said.
Those covered would have to report publicly:
The amount and source of all earned income over $100.
All unearned income, such as dividends, rents, interest and royalties, by category of value.
All gifts received of $100 or more or, if transportation or food and lodging, over $250.
All assets valued at $1,000 or more.
All financial transactions of $1,000 or more involving stocks, business properties or real estate.
Any liabilities of $2,500 or more.
If a spouse's income were $100 or more, the identify of the employer but not the amount received would have to be filed.
Under an existing executive order, civil servants of GS-16 and above already file financial statements within their agency or department. But that same order requires those reports to be kept confidential.
Defense Department officials also file detailed income reports with the general counsels of the respective services. Those reports, too, are kept confidential.
One Civil Service Commission official estimated that more than $5,000 federal officials earning $40,000 or more a year would be required to file public disclosure statements under terms of the Ribicoff-Percy proposal.
In order to protect intelligence agencies, the bill would permit the President to exempt from disclosure individuals who work for the Central Intelligence, National Security and Defense Intelligence agencies. These persons, however, would have to file statements - but only with their agency heads.
Federal judges currently have a voluntary financial disclosure system, administered by the Judicial Conference.
Twice a year they report their outside earned income and any gifts, but not financial holdings or net worth. According to a Judicial Conference spokesman, about 13 judges refuse to make any filing "as a matter of conscience."
Revision of Civil Service Commission enforcement of disclosure reports is designed to remedy recent findings by the General Accounting Office that the executive branch gave a "low priority" to seeking out conflict of interest.
The GAO, in a February report, urged establishment of an office of ethics with powers similar to those given the ethics division in the Ribicoff-Percy proposal.