New portal will allow public access to Office of Government Ethics forms.
In a nod to transparency, the White House on Wednesday announced it will begin posting financial disclosure forms of its high-level appointees, eventually to be displayed on a public Web portal at which citizens can request documents.
The posting of Office of Government Ethics form 278 for White House personnel will begin at the end of March, the White House said, as little as 30 days after forms are submitted for review. The 278s, after a maximum of 60 days, are sent over to the Office of Government Ethics, which certifies them if they present no conflicts of interest, often within 30 days.
Currently, only agency appointees’ forms, titled “Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Reports,” and not those of White House staff are posted on OGE’s website, and not always promptly.
“As per the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 and the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012, high-level officials in the White House are required to file public financial disclosure reports,” the announcement said. “Under section 105 of the Ethics in Government Act, these reports are available to the public upon request.”
President Trump’s legal team promised to release some even before they are certified by the Office of White House Counsel or the OGE.
Transparency groups welcomed the move. “This is a good step forward for the administration, one that they should have taken from the start,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has requested many such documents on its own.
On March 14, CREW attorneys used them to file a complaint against Christopher Liddell, a former General Motors and Microsoft executive now assistant to the president and director of Strategic Initiatives. The suit said he may have broken criminal conflict of interest laws by participating in meetings between President Trump and manufacturing companies the administration is urging to create more jobs. “On Jan. 23, Liddell participated with Trump in a meeting with business leaders from 12 companies, including 10 in which Liddell appears to have held stock worth approximately $2.1 million,” CREW said.
Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, was also pleased. “We hope that this move includes all senior staff and advisers. Based on the many concerns about Trump's own businesses, it would be great if the president released a new financial disclosure report rather than waiting until 2018 as well as details about his efforts to isolate himself from his businesses and plans to not violate the Constitution,” Amey said. “It's about time everyone turns their attention to improving the government rather than asking and answering ethics questions.”