Congress on Thursday again delayed a controversial rule that requires online posting of the financial disclosure reports of senior federal workers, pushing the effective implementation date from Saturday to April 15.
The delay will give Congress time to review a forthcoming National Academy of Public Administration report on whether the rule compromises privacy and poses a threat to national security — fears raised in lawsuits filed by workers affected by the rule. The delay passed the House and Senate by unanimous consent.
The rule is part of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, which seeks to prohibit members of Congress and staffers from using nonpublic information derived from their official positions for financial gain.
It requires staffers in both the legislative and executive branches paid at the senior staff rate of $119,553 or more to disclose their assets, liabilities and financial transactions valued at more than $1,000, which will then be posted to an online database.
Such financial disclosure reports are now only available by written request.
Many government workers say the new rule opens them up to the threat of identity theft and may compromise national security by encouraging people looking for classified government information to extort workers using their personal information.
In response to the new rule, executive and legislative branch employees have filed a pair of lawsuits in U.S. district court in Maryland seeking an injunction to block the online posting if Congress didn’t first delay the effective date.
The first lawsuit was filed in August by a group of executive branch employees. A group of legislative branch employees filed a similar complaint Nov. 21. Both groups of plaintiffs are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.
“Absent injunctive relief from this court, these non-elected legislative branch employees and their families will become easy targets for identity theft, financial fraud, and even kidnapping when the nature, extent, and location of their financial assets become freely available worldwide,” according to the complaint filed by the group of legislative employees.
The lawsuits state that prior to the STOCK Act’s online disclosure rule, written requests to access these staffers’ financial disclosure reports provided safeguards to protect them from harm. Written requests required the people seeking the information to provide their name, occupation and address, as well as affirm that they would not use the information in an unlawful manner. According to the lawsuits, these safeguards will no longer exist with the implementation of the online database.
Jack McKay, an attorney representing the workers, said the lawsuits are a fail-safe if Congress chooses not to amend the STOCK Act to remove the online disclosure provision.
“Our goal is to have a legislative solution to have Congress amend the posting requirements to something more rational,” McKay said.
The online posting was originally slated to occur Aug. 31 but was delayed twice before by Congress.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.