President signs STOCK Act delay for senior execs

By Kellie Lunney

September 28, 2012

This story has been updated.

President Obama on Friday signed into law legislation that further delays the online posting of senior executives’ personal finances.

The House passed the bill earlier Friday, approving it by unanimous consent during a brief pro forma session. S. 3625, which the Senate passed last Saturday, delays until Dec. 8 the online posting requirement for thousands of high-ranking career employees subject to the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act.

The delay does not affect the public financial disclosure requirement for the president, vice president, lawmakers, congressional candidates and political appointees. The deadline for those officials is Sept. 30. The Senior Executives Association praised Congress for approving the delay, but said it was not a long-term fix; the organization will work with Washington-area lawmakers, including Democratic Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Jim Moran of Virginia, “to craft a permanent solution to the Internet posting requirement.”

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. High-ranking government personnel currently file financial disclosure forms to the Office of Government Ethics; they are available to the public upon written request.

“As a co-sponsor of the STOCK Act, I can tell you that the original legislation was intended to prohibit insider trading by members of Congress -- not jeopardize the private financial information of rank-and-file federal employees already subject to strict oversight and conflict of interest laws,” said Van Hollen, who supported the online posting delay. “This good government measure will give Congress the time to pursue its important transparency and accountability objectives without endangering the security of Americans serving overseas or subjecting hardworking public servants to the risk of identity theft.”

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

“Federal employees oversee critical programs that entail serving and traveling in combat zones and unstable countries,” SEA President Carol A. Bonosaro said in a statement. “Employees affected by the Internet posting requirement also handle sensitive financial, policy, program and judicial matters. This law puts them in danger personally and professionally.”

The bill also directs the Office of Personnel Management to work with the National Academy of Public Administration to study the issues raised by the public disclosure of career employees’ finances and report to Congress with recommendations six months after the legislation is enacted.

“I am confident that the National Academy study will show that this policy is unnecessary and potentially very harmful,” Moran said. “Congress now has the time necessary to move forward with a permanent fix to safeguard our federal employees’ personal information.”

By Kellie Lunney

September 28, 2012