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Panel urges halt to online posting of feds’ financial forms

Mar. 28, 2013 - 04:03PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Senior Executives Association President Carol Bonosaro
Senior Executives Association President Carol Bonosaro (Staff file photo)

A congressionally chartered panel is urging lawmakers to halt plans to require that agencies post online the personal financial disclosure statements of thousands of federal employees.

Congress passed a law last year requiring that the financial disclosure forms of as many as 28,000 federal employees and senior military officers be posted online by April 15.

“National security and law enforcement officials have serious concerns about posting this information online,” a five-member panel said in a report released Thursday by the National Academy of Public Administration.

Among their fears are that employees assigned overseas or engaged in law enforcement work could be put at risk by making information on their assets and holdings so readily available, according to the panel. Internet disclosure also offered “little added value” for uncovering conflicts of interest or insider trading involving federal workers, the report said.

The panel also recommended strengthening the 35-year-old federal ethics system. Suspending the online posting requirement gives lawmakers the chance to “take a step back and work with the executive branch to modernize the existing process and significantly improve our federal ethics reviews,” David Chu, a former senior Defense Department official who served as the panel’s chairman, said in a news release.

But Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, didn’t see the connection.

“You don’t have to indefinitely suspend this provision in order to conduct” a broader ethics review, Bonosaro said in a Thursday phone interview. The association, which represents career Senior Executive Service members, wants the online posting requirement repealed outright. The group is a plaintiff in a lawsuit underway in federal court in Maryland to overturn the requirement as an infringement of the Privacy Act.

About 28,000 federal employees and senior military officers are covered by the online posting mandate, the Office of Government Ethics said last year. The online posting requirement is part of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which President Obama signed last April.

The STOCK Act requirement was to take effect last August, but after several congressionally approved postponements, is now supposed to begin in April for most affected employees.

The disclosure reports, known as Office of Government Ethics Form 278s, are already public, but agencies generally release them only in paper form in response to a written request.

Lawmakers commissioned the NAPA study last fall in response to mounting worries about the possible risks of putting the reports on the Internet. Last summer, for example, more than a dozen former national security officials warned that online posting could threaten “the personal safety and financial security” of career employees.

But with lawmakers on break until the week of April 8, it is uncertain whether they can act in time to delay the current April 15 deadline. Also unclear is whether individual agencies are prepared to go ahead with online posting at that point.

Besides Chu, who now heads the nonprofit Institute for Defense Analyses, other members of the NAPA panel were Janice Lachance, a past director of the Office of Personnel Management; Towson University political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar; retired Vice Adm. Lewis Crenshaw; and Ronald Sanders, a long-time federal human resources specialist now at consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

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