Public Financial Disclosure: Ensuring Integrity and Transparency in Government

May 19, 2014
by Walter M. Shaub, Jr.

We are at the height of the season when the government’s leaders disclose their financial interests in reports that are available to the public. In the executive branch, ethics officials scrupulously review approximately 28,000 public financial disclosure reports every year. This annual exercise in transparency is a cornerstone of the ethics program, ensuring compliance with criminal conflict of interest laws and regulatory standards of conduct.

The statutory requirements for public financial disclosure are quite extensive. Filers disclose earned income, investment income, assets, transactions, liabilities, arrangements with employers, gifts and reimbursements, positions held outside the government, and sources of income that include former clients and employers. They disclose information not only about their own assets but those of their spouses and dependent children. They file when they enter government, each year that they serve in government, and when they leave government. With the passage of the STOCK Act in 2012, they now also file periodic transaction reports throughout the year whenever they buy or sell securities.

Ethics officials in every federal agency review these financial disclosure reports carefully. They work with filers to make sure that their reports are complete, to clarify any ambiguities, and to identify potential conflicts of interest. When ethics officials identify potential conflicts of interest, they take action to resolve them. They also hold their agencies accountable for releasing any public financial disclosure report for which a member of the public submits a request form.

Agencies forward the financial disclosure reports of their most senior leaders (Presidential appointees in Senate-confirmed positions) to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics for an additional level of review. OGE examines these reports to ensure that the agencies have conducted thorough conflicts of interest analyses. In an effort to increase transparency, OGE has automated the release of these top officials’ reports, along with the reports of Presidential nominees. The public can access their reports instantaneously by completing a request form on OGE’s website.

The executive branch is wholly committed to this ongoing process. OGE and agency ethics offices will continue to maintain high standards for public financial disclosure in order to ensure that the public can have confidence in the integrity of the government’s operations.