Lawmakers could change STOCK Act provisions before leaving town

Jason DeCrow/AP

Before Congress recesses in a few days, it likely will offer an alternative plan for federal employees required to disclose their financial details online, according to the group representing senior executives.

Lawmakers are considering a few options to further delay or change parts of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, which President Obama signed into law in April, Bill Bransford, general counsel of the Senior Executives Association, told a group of government employees attending the organization’s conference Tuesday. He said lawmakers are mulling whether to exempt from the online publication requirements those employees with jobs tied to national security -- or possibly delaying the posting provisions for up to one year while an outside group, such as the National Academy of Public Administration, studies the issue.

“It’s more likely than not that Congress will do something [soon],” Bransford said.

A spokeswoman for the majority on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee did not respond to a request for comment. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of that panel, has been involved in negotiations over the provisions related to executive branch employees.

Congress, under pressure from several groups over the STOCK Act, already has pushed back the deadline from Aug. 31 to Sept. 30 for federal executives to provide personal financial information for a public database. Earlier this month, a federal district court judge, issued a temporary preliminary injunction delaying enforcement of the STOCK Act until Oct. 31.

High-ranking government personnel currently file financial disclosure forms to the Office of Government Ethics; they are available to the public upon written request. The STOCK Act, designed to combat insider trading in government, requires lawmakers, congressional staffers and thousands of executive branch employees to submit their personal financial details to an online, searchable public database. Proponents of the law cite the importance of transparency to deter nefarious behavior, but many oppose including the finances of federal career executives in the online database. Those disclosures also would affect the spouses of federal employees, regardless of where they work.

Various organizations, including the Senior Executives Association and the American Foreign Service Association, have objected to making 28,000 high-ranking career employees subject to the requirements of the STOCK Act. SEA cites numerous unintended consequences that could result from posting the financial details of the senior civil service corps online, including identity theft, security threats to employees and their families living overseas, and personal safety and national security threats posed to intelligence personnel working undercover in foreign countries.

In July, 14 former top national security and defense officials in Republican and Democratic administrations sent lawmakers a letter expressing concern over making executive branch employees’ financial information easily available on the Internet. “Posting this detailed financial information on the Internet will jeopardize the safety of executive branch officials -- including military, diplomatic, law enforcement and potentially intelligence officials -- and their families who are posted or travel in dangerous areas, especially in certain countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America,” the letter stated. “Embassy and military security officers already advise these officials to post no personal identifying information on the Internet.”

Senior executives are very concerned over the STOCK Act, said Bransford and SEA President Carol A. Bonosaro. Cathy Biggs-Silvers, associate deputy assistant secretary for administration at the Veterans Affairs Department, said she joined SEA specifically because of this issue. “You expect as a public servant to have some level of scrutiny, but this crosses the line,” she said. Biggs-Silvers, whose husband is a private citizen, said she didn’t know any senior executives who were not concerned about the issue.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story misspelled Cathy Biggs-Silvers' name.

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