28,000 workers in danger of seeing bank information published online

Congress is running out of time to prevent the stock and bank account holdings of 28,000 federal workers from being posted online on April 15.

The sensitive information would go on the Internet under a 2012 law meant to combat insider trading by lawmakers and other public officials.

ADVERTISEMENT
Requiring public officials to post their financial information online was meant to increase government transparency, but federal worker groups lobbying Congress to repeal the provision argue the bill went too far.

They point to a new report from the National Academy of Public Administration that argues the disclosures could damage national security.

The report said posting personal financial information online could lead to government officials being targets “for bribery, blackmail and eventually, recruitment as a spy,” as well as for criminal activity such as “identity theft to kidnapping.”

“We hope that Congress takes the pretty clear path that has been laid out in front of them,” said Keith Curtis, vice president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA).

“It’s a no-brainer at this point,” the senior foreign service officer at the Commerce Department said. “We believe the report very clearly points to the need for repeal of the provision.” 

Groups lobbying Congress have pressed lawmakers over the recess about the dangers of the provision.

“The report seems to agree that there would be potential cyber hacking — that once that information is out there, it’s out there,” said Jenny Mattingley, director of government affairs for the Senior Executives Association (SEA).

“It’s hard to make safeguards for folks once your information is out there,” Mattingley said. “Posting this kind of information online could negatively impact someone’s job, someone’s family and their personal safety.” 

A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) promised action.

“We take seriously the findings of the study and we’re looking at the best way to follow up on their recommendations,” said Cantor spokesman Doug Heye. “We would anticipate acting before the April 15 deadline.”

The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act was passed in April last year and required that lawmakers, their aides and certain executive branch officials release their financial disclosure reports.

The language would require that the nation’s senior executive service workers have their information posted online. These are all career public employees above the GS-15 level, not political appointees.

After complaints were raised, Congress has passed legislation three times to delay posting the executive branch officials’ forms online, most recently in December.

Separately, the AFSA, SEA and other groups have launched a lawsuit against the STOCK Act’s financial disclosure provision. A federal judge agreed last week with the plaintiffs’ claim that their privacy would be harmed if their financial information was shared online.

Ethics watchdogs believe the disclosure provision should be narrowed, but warned that the report’s warnings are exaggerated.

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen, said Congress should limit the provision to “senior policy-making officials” but not do away with all online disclosure.

“If we lose the system of transparency of personal finances and stock trades by senior level officials, we will lose the ability to enforce the law against insider trading by executive branch officials,” Holman said.

Though lawmakers have little time to act, AFSA’s Curtis said he believed it would get done. 

“They acted at the last minute the last two times, so they certainly have proven that they can get it done,” Curtis said. “We are very concerned that there is very little time, but it’s doable.”