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Judge delays requirement that execs post financial forms online

Sep. 14, 2012 - 10:57AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Senior Executives Association President Carol Bonosaro said the SEA was "delighted" by the court's ruling.
Senior Executives Association President Carol Bonosaro said the SEA was "delighted" by the court's ruling. (Tom Brown / Staff)

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the government from posting on the Internet information about the personal finances of thousands of Senior Executive Service members, top military officers and other federal employees.

Under a law signed earlier this year, agencies were supposed to put those employees’ annual financial disclosure statements online by the end of this month. But in a preliminary injunction Thursday, Maryland District Judge Alexander Williams pushed back that deadline until Oct. 31, siding with the Senior Executives Association and other plaintiffs who argued in a lawsuit that the new requirement infringed on federal workers’ privacy rights. While the government could still ultimately win the case, Williams said, SEA had shown the likelihood of “irreparable harm” if the requirement took effect as scheduled.

“For better or worse, the Information Age has drastically increased the availability and transferability of compromising information,” Williams wrote. “It behooves courts to consider this phenomenon in response to requests to shield sensitive data.”

The online posting requirement is part of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge, or STOCK Act, signed into law in April. It applies to about 28,000 executive branch employees who file the disclosure statement known as Office of Government Ethics Form 278. It was originally supposed to take effect by Aug. 31, but lawmakers approved the one-month extension after more than a dozen former top national security officials warned in a letter that it could threaten “the personal safety and financial security” of career employees. While the disclosure statements are already public, agencies generally release them only in paper form in response to a written request.

“Needless to say, we are delighted” by the ruling, SEA President Carol Bonosaro said in a phone interview. “This is the first step and at least ensures that we will have our case heard.” The association is also working with lawmakers on legislation to delay the online posting requirement until the National Academy of Public Administration can conduct a study on the possible effects, she said.

A spokesman for the Office of Government Ethics, which had opposed SEA’s request for an injunction, declined comment on pending litigation.

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