On Monday, April 15, President Obama signed legislation rolling back the disclosure requirements of the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act, which would have required creation of a searchable, sortable database for the annual financial interest forms of 28,000 executive branch employees as well as highly paid Congressional staff. These forms contain detailed information about employees’ assets, outside income and gifts.
Former national security officials raised security concerns about this publication requirement. Current employees filed a lawsuit, resulting in a federal court ruling that publishing such information on the web would violate employees’ right to privacy. At the end of March, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) issued a report critical of the plan to post employees’ information on the web.
“Both the court and NAPA recognized that federal employees have a legitimate right to privacy regarding their personal financial information,” says Kathleen Clark, JD, government ethics expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis. Clark has co-authored a chapter on the STOCK Act in the forthcoming International Handbook on Transparency. The NAPA quoted from Clark’s chapter in its report.
“The STOCK Act would have established an unprecedented level of transparency for federal government officials,” Clark said. “It would have created a tool — a searchable, sortable database — that could help nongovernment organizations track financial trends among federal employees.” With this new legislation, Congress drastically reduced the number of officials whose forms will be published on the internet and removed the mandate for a searchable, sortable database.