The House on Friday joined the Senate in approving a delay of a requirement that financial disclosure forms filed by many executive branch and congressional employees be posted online.
With no debate, the House cleared a bill that the Senate had passed just before it recessed to delay the posting requirement until Dec. 8, while ordering a study of the potential impact of making those disclosure forms available on agency Web sites.
The delay will not affect members of Congress nor political appointees at the cabinet secretary or deputy secretary levels, whose forms will be subject to online posting starting Oct. 1. Many of those forms already are available online through the Office of Government Ethics, but forms of others who file them, while public records, generally can be reviewed only upon individual request.
Although the House and Senate are in recess through the elections, both are continuing to meet in informal sessions at which legislation can be passed as long as no members object. The bill now goes to the White House.
The online posting requirement, part of the Stock Act enacted in April, potentially affects many senior career federal employees, political appointees and high-ranking members of the military who file publicly accessible disclosure forms. The requirement had been delayed once out of concern about identity theft and personal safety, in addition to national security, law enforcement and diplomatic concerns.
The bill orders a six-month study by the National Academy of Public Administration into those issues. Since the study would extend beyond the latest delay, further action by Congress during a post-election session is possible. Also, a lawsuit is pending against the online posting requirement, which was designed to be a step toward creating a central, publicly searchable database of those disclosure forms.
“The House action today gives us all a little more breathing room to ensure that our national security and the safety of high-ranking officials in sensitive positions are not threatened by the online publication of their financial information,”said Leslie Phillips, communications director for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, whose chairman, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), co-sponsored the bill.
“Through today’s action, over 28,000 of our senior federal workers’ personal financial information will be protected,” said a statement from Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va). “I am confident that the National Academy study will show that this policy is unnecessary and potentially very harmful. Congress now has the time necessary to move forward with a permanent fix to safeguard our federal employees’ personal information.”
Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, a sponsor of the lawsuit, said that employees covered by the original requirement “handle sensitive financial, policy, program and judicial matters. This law puts them in danger personally and professionally.”
“It was critical for Congress to revisit the Stock Act to strengthen protections for these employees, and SEA is pleased to see that more time has been given to craft a sensible solution,” Bonosaro said in a statement.
Rory Cooper, communications director for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said: “Today, the House passed the Senate’s proposal to delay implementation of some provisions of the Stock Act in order to protect national security employees from potentially dangerous disclosures. Unfortunately, rather than just focusing on national security, the Senate chose to protect most political appointees in the Obama Administration from transparent disclosure before the election as a condition to this worthwhile goal. We were working with Democratic lawmakers in good faith to come up with a more constructive solution. The House will continue to fight for more financial transparency among elected and political representatives.”