Today marks a milestone for thousands of Senior Executive Service members, general military officers and other top government officials: The onset of new reporting requirements for most stock purchases and other securities transactions worth more than $1,000.
Up to now, such transactions had to be reported only once a year on the public financial disclosure statement known as Office of Government Ethics Form 278. Now, senior officials must file “transaction reports” within 30 to 45 days, under the recently passed STOCK Act.
The new mandate applies to almost all 28,000 Form 278 filers, according to the ethics office, which issued some lengthy guidance last month. You can read it here, but suffice to say there are some big exceptions to the new requirement. It does not, for example, apply to mutual funds, Thrift Savings Plan assets, real estate or accounts held by the employee’s spouse. Folks deployed in combat zones can get an extension.
One idea behind the STOCK Act is to use public disclosure to keep government officials from using insider knowledge for stock trading purposes. As originally envisioned, the main target was Congress. But along the way, someone on Capitol Hill– FedLine is still wondering who—decided that senior military officers and top civilian employees should be covered as well.
The stepped-up emphasis on disclosure doesn’t stop there. By the end of next month, agencies are also supposed to post all Form 278s on the Internet. The Senior Executives Association, which represents career SESers, is already on record as opposing that requirement as an unwarranted intrusion on feds’ privacy; this week, the Assembly of Scientists, which represents some National Institutes of Health staff, released a letter warning that the new provisions could keep NIH from hiring and retaining “the best and the brightest scientists.”
“Many senior employees, faced with diminished privacy rights, are discussing leaving the government for the private sector,” Dr. Florence Haseltine, the assembly’s president, wrote in a letter to Congress. “Colleagues at universities are concerned and less likely to accept positions at national laboratories, thereby putting U.S. institutions at a disadvantage in recruiting and retaining the nation’s most prominent and creative scientists.”
Such concerns notwithstanding, the odds of lawmakers’ repealing or delaying the new requirements appear slim. Employee groups are meanwhile mulling a lawsuit on Privacy Act grounds.