A new requirement for easier public access to financial disclosure forms filed by many senior federal employees will have “unintended consequences” for both those employees and the government that could outweigh the benefits of the greater disclosure, according to the Senior Executives Association.
The association’s members are among those affected by a requirement that publicly available financial disclosure forms be posted on agency Web sites by Aug. 31. Longer-run, the law calls for creating a central database of those forms that will be publicly searchable and sortable, for example by type of investment.
Those were among the provisions of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or STOCK Act, that became law in April. While directed primarily at ethical policies for Congress, it also revised some ethics policies for many executive branch employees.
Some 28,000 career employees and political appointees at senior levels file annual financial disclosure reports that are publicly available, although mainly held at employing agencies; anyone wishing to review them must request them individually by name. The exception is that some reports, mostly from Senate-confirmed appointees, also are available through the Office of Government Ethics. That agency recently posted those reports on its site, www.oge.gov.
More than 300,000 other federal employees must file confidential financial disclosures. Those reports too are to be put in the planned central database – which is not expected to be created for more than a year – although they will remain shielded from public view.
In a position paper released Tuesday, SEA called for repealing the requirement for online posting of the public reports filed by career employees, or at least delaying that requirement until the potential impact can be assessed.
It said that once the disclosure reports are available online, “filers will become prime targets for identity thieves, and federal employees posted overseas may have their finances scrutinized by foreign interests.” It said that Foreign Service officers “are, and will continue to be, fearful that their children, already at a heightened risk for kidnapping, will become prime targets given that foreign gangs will have access to information about their parents’ finances.”
Individual employees traveling abroad who have substantial financial resources also could be at greater risk of kidnapping, it said. And while disclosures by employees of intelligence agencies would not be posted online, the absence of such a report could indicate that an employee posted overseas is an undercover intelligence agent, SEA said.
Easier public disclosure also raises the risks of frivolous lawsuits from members of the public, pressure on executives to avoid making certain decisions and added tensions in the workplace, it said.
SEA earlier had sent a letter to Congress making some of the same arguments and asserting that the law is having a “chilling effect on the recruitment and retention of career executives.”
At least one agency, the Energy Department, has warned employees against putting on their disclosure forms information that is not required but that some have included anyway, such as Social Security numbers and investment account numbers.