The Office of Government Ethics would need to build a larger scale database of ethics documents under the bill.

The Office of Government Ethics would need to build a larger scale database of ethics documents under the bill. Antoniooo / Getty Images

Federal Officials’ Financial and Ethics Docs Would Be Easier to Find Under a New Bill

The legislation would fix the “labyrinthian process of requesting them,” said Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

A bipartisan bill introduced on Wednesday would fix what one transparency advocate called the “labyrinthian process” of obtaining financial disclosure and ethics agreements for administration officials and political appointees. 

Nine Republicans and one Democrat have signed onto the Executive Branch Accountability and Transparency Act, which would require the Office of Government Ethics to create a central database for these documents. It comes on the heels of The Wall Street Journal’s investigation into potential conflicts of interest with thousands of federal officials and their stock holdings, for which WSJ had to create its own database. 

“Under current law, non-career appointees in the executive branch are required to make public documents verifying adherence to ethics guidelines and financial transparency; however, they only exist on paper,” said a press release from the office of Rep. Nick Langworthy, R-N.Y., the lead sponsor of the bill. Under this bill, a new centralized database from OGE would have “financial disclosure reports and amendments to public financial disclosure reports; approval or authorization for an individual to accept a gift from an outside source; written ethics agreements; ethics training certificates, and certificate of divestiture of certain financial interests.”

OGE currently has a database, but “it's a very small-scale version of it; it only houses the disclosures and the various documents for the top 69 or so officials,” said Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, senior government affairs manager at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, which endorsed the bill.

The ethics office was established by the Ethics in Government Act, first enacted in 1978 in the wake of the Watergate scandal. The office collects and shares documents in accordance with the act and its subsequent updates. 

All of these documents and disclosures “are actually required to be publicly available as a matter of statute, but the thing is they’re not easily available,” Hedtler-Gaudette said. There is a “labyrinthian process of requesting them and each agency handles it a little bit differently. You have lead times, you have wait times depending on the agency.” This bill “operationalizes the actual public part.” 

If enacted, the bill “will mean that people [at organizations] like POGO and The Wall Street Journal don’t have to create these kinds of databases on our own,” he added. 

Heritage Action, a conservative advocacy organization; BullMoose Project, a nonprofit working to build the conservative populist movement; and the National Taxpayers Union, an advocacy group, also endorsed the bill. 

OGE said it doesn’t comment on pending legislation.