The STOCK Act: An Independent Review of the Impact of Providing Personally Identifiable Financial Information Online

March 2013 - The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 requires the filing of publicly-available annual financial disclosures by senior officials in all three branches of the federal government. Congress amended the Act in 2012 with the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act) that requires online posting of executive and legislative branch officials’ financial forms on April 15, 2013, as well as the creation of a searchable, sortable, public database for these financial forms in October 2013.

Concerns about the potential impact of the Act’s online posting prompted Congress to delay certain of these online posting requirements and to direct the National Academy of Public Administration to “examine the nature, scope, and degree of risk, including risk of harm to national security, law enforcement, or other Federal missions and risk of endangerment, including to personal safety and security, financial security (such as through identity theft), and privacy, of officers and employees and their family members, that may be posed by website and other publication of financial disclosure forms and associated personal information.”

Key Findings and Recommendations

In response to this Congressional mandate, the Academy recently completed its independent review of the impact of providing financial disclosures online for Executive Branch senior career and political appointees and congressional staff. This review considered a range of issues, including how best to manage the balance between promoting transparency and accountability while protecting privacy and security. The Academy formed a five-member Panel of Fellows to conduct a four-month study interviewing over 150 stakeholders from over 59 organizations.

The Panel found that the STOCK Act’s online financial disclosure requirement can harm both federal agency missions and employees. The Panel recommended that Congress indefinitely suspend the online posting requirements and the unrestricted access to searchable, sortable, downloadable databases while continuing implementation of other requirements of the STOCK Act. The Panel recommended that the federal government use the suspension period to update and strengthen the 35‑year-old government ethics system.