In a note of caution that employees of other agencies might also want to heed, the Energy Department has warned its employees who file publicly available financial disclosure forms not to include extra information that might leave them vulnerable to identity theft.
The warning comes as Energy and other agencies prepare to make available on their Web sites the public disclosure forms that are filed annually by some 28,000 executive branch employees. That group includes many career federal employees in the Senior Executive Service and in other high level positions, as well as political appointees and certain general and flag officers of the military.
Most publicly available disclosure forms are held at individual employing agencies. Energy and some other agencies have required paper-based requests for access, so online posting will make them more readily available.
The requirement to post the forms online is part of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or STOCK Act, which President Obama signed last week. Although the law is directed primarily at ethical policies for Congress, it also includes several provisions affecting executive branch employees.
Under the law, the publicly available disclosures on Office of Government Ethics Form 278 filed this year must be made available online by Aug. 31.
The form, which affected employees must file by each May 15, requires disclosures including the value of assets and the income they produce within ranges; the purchase or sale of assets; certain gifts received; certain liabilities; continued income from previous employers; and some outside positions the employee holds.
However, some employees also include information not required on the form such as home addresses, Social Security numbers and investment account numbers, said an e-mail from Energy’s office of general counsel to department employees who file that form.
Employees who already have filed their forms for this year should review them and if they included such information, they should re-file their forms without it, the e-mail said. For those yet to file, it said, “Please do not include account numbers. We will be scanning approximately 700 forms to comply with this requirement. If you include such information, we cannot guarantee that we will catch it.”
The Office of Government Ethics recently posted on its site, www.oge.gov, the portion of public disclosure forms that it holds, mainly involving officials subject to Senate confirmation.
In the longer run, the law envisions replacing postings on agency Web sites with a central database including the publicly accessible forms plus the separate, confidential disclosure forms filed by more than 300,000 other federal employees. Those employees mainly hold positions that can have an economic impact on a non-federal entity, such as in procurement, grants, regulation or auditing.
Creating such a database and making it compatible with numerous agency computer systems and their security controls will be a complex and potentially costly project, OGE has said. The law sets a goal of 18 months to create that system, which is to keep the confidential forms shielded from public view.
Meanwhile, the ethics office has issued guidance on several other parts of the STOCK Act that took effect on its signing for those who file public disclosure forms. One requires them to notify their agencies within three days if they begin negotiations for future employment or compensation and to recuse themselves from involvement in certain decisions once such discussions have started.
The other requires some of those officials to begin disclosing mortgages on their personal homes.