Faux Transparency: Ethics, Privacy and the Demise of the STOCK Act's Massive Online Disclosure of Employees' Finances
in RESEARCH HANDBOOK ON TRANSPARENCY (Padideh Ala’I & Robert Vaughn, eds.) 312-34 (2014)
23 Pages Posted: 24 May 2013 Last revised: 8 Dec 2015
Date Written: September 18, 2013
In 2012, the U.S. Congress enacted the STOCK Act, legislation that would have created an unprecedented level of transparency in the federal government. As originally passed, the STOCK Act mandated the creation of a searchable, sortable database of the financial interest statements filed by members of Congress, highly paid Congressional staff, and 28,000 executive branch employees. Never before would the private financial holdings of so many government officials be so easily accessible to anyone in the world with an internet connection. Many of these employees were alarmed at the prospect of this public posting of their information, objecting on both legal and policy grounds, filing lawsuits and launching a public relations battle. In response, Congress delayed the web-posting provisions three times, ordered a study by the National Academy of Public Administrators (NAPA), and then quietly repealed most of these transparency mandates. This chapter places the STOCK Act in the larger context of government ethics regulation, explores the role that transparency can play in preventing or detecting conflicts of interest, identifies significant weaknesses in the federal government’s current ethics system and makes recommendations for improving that system.
Keywords: Legislation, Secrecy, Oversight, President, Congress, Lawyers, Public Law, Ethics, National Security Law, insider trading, federal officials, STOCK Act, privacy, identity theft, database, confidentiality, transparency, Public Records, disclosure
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