A bill cleared by Congress Thursday for President Obama’s signature would greatly increase the number of federal employees whose financial disclosure forms are subject to public inspection, although setting up the database the measure envisions could take some time.
The STOCK Act, while primarily addressing insider trading and other ethical rules applying to members of Congress, orders creation of a central database of financial disclosure forms that would be searchable by the public. That database would include forms of some 28,000 members of Congress, senior political appointees and certain other top officials whose disclosures already are subject to public review, plus those filed by more than 300,000 employees whose disclosure forms are now confidential, according to an analysis by the Office of Government Ethics. OGE said that the total number of names in the database would be about 350,000.
Those filing confidential forms generally are in occupations that can have a direct financial impact on a non-federal entity, such as procurement, grants, regulation and auditing. Certain other positions also are subject to those disclosures at the employing agency’s discretion.
OGE did not project how long it would take to create such a database, but cited the need to make it compatible with the information technology systems of all agencies and their security protections. Creating the search capabilities would be another challenge, OGE said, noting that the largest current electronic filing system, that of the Army, does not have such features.
The Senate accepted the House version of the bill, which differed in several ways from the version the Senate passed earlier. The bill as enacted requires that until the central database is established, agencies must post on their Web sites the disclosure forms of those already making public disclosures; the Senate version would have required such posting of the currently confidential forms, as well.
Those now making public disclosures also would have to disclose within three days any negotiations they enter for future employment and would have to report certain financial transactions within a month rather than annually. Also, about one-tenth of them would have to start including information about mortgages on their personal residences.
OGE recently launched on its Web site, www.oge.gov, a function allowing searches of the portion of the current publicly available disclosure forms that it holds. That compilation is searchable by name, agency and job occupation, but not by other characteristics such as types of investments. Some public forms are held by employing agencies, and access to them is through those agencies. Employing agencies also hold the currently confidential forms.