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Valley Public Radio Staff
Fri April 12, 2013
Congress Repeals Financial Disclosure Requirements For Senior U.S. Officials
Originally published on Fri April 12, 2013 2:43 pm
Joining the Senate, the House of Representatives approved a measure today that repeals a requirement that top government officials post financial disclosures on the Internet.
The House, like the Senate, acted quietly without a vote. Instead, they sent the measure to the president's desk by unanimous consent.
The provision was part of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (Stock), which became law in March of 2012. The act was intended to stop members of congress from profiting from nonpublic information.
As NPR's Tamara Keith reported, at the time, Sen. Joe Lieberman called the law "the most significant congressional ethics reform legislation to pass Congress in at least five years."
"That law mainly addressed conflict-of-interest policies for members of Congress and their staffs, but it also included a requirement that the financial disclosure forms filed by some 28,000 high-ranking federal employees be posted online.
"While those forms are public records, they must be requested individually from employing agencies. The Stock Act envisions online posting first on agency sites and later in a central, searchable database.
"The posting requirement was delayed three times out of concerns about the potential for identity theft and other crimes against career employees, as well as security risks to the government."
The Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for a more open government, called today's repeal an "epic failure."
The foundation explained that instead of addressing specific security concerns, Congress has acted broadly.
For instance, they note, the president, vice president, members of Congress, congressional candidates and individuals subject to Senate confirmation are still required to make their financial disclosures public. But the change in law now makes the posting of those disclosures on the Internet optional.
"Not only does the change undermine the intent of the original bill to ensure government insiders are not profiting from non-public information (if anyone thinks high level congressional staffers don't have as much or more insider information than their bosses, they should spend some time on Capitol Hill) but it sets an extraordinarily dangerous precedent suggesting that any risks stem not from information being public but from public information being online.
"Are we going to return to the days when the public can use the Internet to research everything exceptwhat their government is doing? Will Congress, in its twisted wisdom, decide that information is public if journalists, academics, advocates and citizens are forced to dig through file cabinets in basements in Washington, DC to find it? And does anyone think that makes us safer?
"As my colleague Tom Lee noted, 'This approach is known as 'security through obscurity.' Essentially, the idea is that rather than fixing a system's flaws, you can just make the system opaque or unusable or unpopular enough that those flaws never surface.'"
Update at 5:35 p.m. ET. 30 Seconds:
NPR's Tamara Keith tells us the House procedure took exactly 30 seconds.
Correction at 5:29 p.m. ET. An earlier version of his post said the House followed the Senate. In fact, the Senate voted Thursday and the House voted today.