Additional Information Concerning OGE's Review of the Confidential Financial Disclosure System
The following sections provide general background information on OGE's efforts to improve the confidential system, discuss our recent review's scope and methodology, and provide details on our primary findings.
In 1994, OGE conducted a single issue review and held two brown-bag lunches for ethics officials which concentrated on how to improve the confidential financial disclosure system. One of the findings of the 1994 single issue review was that while OGE's 1992 regulation, at 5 C.F.R. part 2634 subpart I, offered greater flexibility to agencies on designating covered positions, it also had the unintended effect of increasing the number of confidential filers at many agencies. By the mid-1994 time frame, OGE was strongly urging agencies to reevaluate their filing designations. We advised ethics officials by DAEOgram (1) to consider additional guidance in reevaluating which positions required confidential disclosure. Since 1994, OGE has made several improvements to the confidential system, which focused mostly on report format-related changes and reducing the level and type of information required to be disclosed.
A significant amendment to 5 C.F.R. part 2634 was made when OGE published its final rule amendment on June 24, 1997, giving agencies a new confidential system filing option. This amendment provided agency authority to adopt and use the OGE Form 450-A (Certificate of No New Interests) as an alternative procedure. In lieu of the OGE Form 450, the OGE Form 450-A could be used by (regular employee) annual confidential disclosure filers who could make the required certification. (2)
Agencies were permitted to first begin using the optional form for incumbent reports due by October 31, 1997. Our final rule clarified that the OGE Form 450-A may be used by eligible filers for a maximum of three consecutive years before filers are required to complete a new OGE Form 450 (every fourth year). At agency discretion, however, agencies were also permitted to use the OGE Form 450-A for only one or two years and then require covered employees to file a new OGE Form 450 every second or third year, respectively. OGE's final rule established that in 2000 all incumbent filers must file a new OGE Form 450, rather than an OGE Form 450-A, regardless of how recently they may have filed an OGE Form 450, unless the agency meets the exception criteria provided for in 5 C.F.R. § 2634.905(d)(5).
SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY
Based on statistics reported in OGE's 1998 Agency Questionnaires (Questionnaire), of the 125 Questionnaires received, 56 agencies (3) reported that at least 100 confidential reports were required to be filed within their agencies in 1998. These 56 agencies accounted for 99 percent of all 270,317 confidential reports required executive branchwide. The remaining 69 agencies required fewer than 100 confidential reports to be filed within their agencies in 1998.
For purposes of our review, to obtain views and opinions from representatives from various sized agencies, we judgmentally selected 50 agencies based on the number of confidential reports required to be filed as reported in agency Questionnaires in 1998. We separated agencies into the following five size categories: (1) 100 to 499; (2) 500 to 999; (3) 1,000 to 3,999; (4) 4,000 to 8,999; and (5) 9,000 or more, and we selected agencies for surveying from each group.
Of the 50 agency officials contacted by telephone in June, almost all indicated that they preferred to respond to our survey questions in writing rather than verbally. By our deadline of July 16, 1999, we obtained responses from 44 officials.
The following sections summarize our primary findings.
OGE Form 450-A is Being Used by Most Agencies and Most Officials are Satisfied
Majority of Officials are not Currently Concerned About the Number of Designated Filing Positions at their Agencies
Majority of Officials Believe that the Confidential System is Serving its Intended Purpose
1. DAEOgram issued September 14, 1994 (DO-94-031).
2. A form similar to the OGE Form 450-A was tested by the Department of Education in 1995 and this test yielded highly favorable results. Following that test, OGE obtained comments from ethics officials throughout the executive branch. The general consensus of opinions gathered from these officials was the basis for OGE proposing the new OGE Form 450-A. In proposing this alternative filing system, OGE believed it would help to relieve some of the associated disclosure burdens experienced by both filers and reviewers of confidential reports. We also believed that this alternative (and optional) system would preserve general reporting uniformity and continue to guard against conflicts of interest.
3. These 56 agency Questionnaires represent full department reporting, rather than statistical information from the component level. Our selection of 50 agencies, represents not only major departments, but also bureaus and components of those departments.
4. We did not find any significant correlation between those officials indicating that they are (or are not) concerned with the number of designated filing positions and those using (or not using) the OGE Form 450-A.
5. We did not find any significant correlation between those officials who indicated that they believe (or do not believe) that the confidential system is useful and those using (or not using) the OGE Form 450-A or those who are (or are not) concerned with the number of confidential filers.