White House Adds Web Access to Personal Financial Disclosures

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Sunlight has long advocated for online disclosure of Personal Financial Disclosure Forms (PFDs) of political appointees subject to Senate confirmation.

Until recently, the White House offered only a static chart of appointees, with their positions, and dates confirmed, while the Office of Government Ethics offered a similar chart. Neither offered online access to the PFD statement, but the OGE page did offer this:

The following individuals have been nominated or appointed by President Obama with the advice and consent of the Senate to the offices indicated. Their Public Financial Disclosure Reports (SF 278) and Ethics Agreements may be obtained by completing OGE Form 201, “Request to Inspect or Receive Copies of SF 278s or Other Covered Records” (2006) (Electronically Fillable PDF Version of OGE Form 201) (PDF)

This PDF version of the form has been programmed to be filled in electronically through the use of the Adobe®Reader 6.0 or above and then printed. The Adobe Reader is freely available from the Adobe Web Site.

To access the financial disclosure forms of high level Presidential appointees, one had to find the OGE page, and then submit a form via mail to receive copies.

Not anymore.

The White House has set up a new online request process. This page now moves the request process entirely online, allowing anyone to request a copy of the PFD, and even receive their copy via email.

This is a significant improvement, and lowers the barrier to effective disclosure of essential financial information.

Ultimately, the White House should move beyond a request-based system, and affirmatively post the financial disclosure forms, with any necessary redactions. While this may take a more significant rewriting of the Federal Regulations and Executive Orders that set up the high level financial disclosure system, it would be worthwhile. 21st Century disclosure shouldn’t include certifications of use.

In any case, the online submission form is a significant improvement, and should be applauded.

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  • Sensible

    I disagree that such records should be so accessible. As long as it is somewhat cumbersome to request them, then they are available for anyone who truly needs access. But criminals who are looking for wealthy people so they can target and kidnap their kids should not be able to download the forms online. People have a basic right to privacy in their personal financial affairs. There are plenty of fine, reputable people who live modestly and don’t want their neighbors or social friends to know how wealthy they really are. In many cases they are exactly the kind of decent people we want to work in government, but asking them to give up any right to privacy from crooks and snoops will simply discourage them from public service.
    The purpose of disclosure should be to avoid conflict of interest, which the government does in the hiring process, but the news media monitors to keep them honest. So why does John Q Public need to know how much money these appointees have, or where it is invested?

    • Because public servants may have conflicts of interest based on what they hold in their private portfolio. Look at the speaking payments provided to Larry Summers. Or in the previous administration, Donald Rumsfeld’s stock holdings in a pharmaceutical company that was a producer of a pandemic flu drug that the administration sought to make the only provider to the government. Or Dick Cheney and Halliburton. I’m sure we could find many examples from the current administration as well.

      Public service requires a certain loss of privacy; that is well acknowledged by those who go into government. In the interest that the American people are provided with honest service, a degree of transparency is essential.

      Secondly, we don’t have a big problem here in America with rich people’s children being kidnapped. This isn’t Colombia, Mexico, or Argentina. It appears that you have been taken in by a tyranny of non-existent threats.