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Transparency and Ethics Across Four Decades

October 21, 2019

Today marks 41 years since the passage of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which created the Office of Government Ethics and its public financial disclosure system.  Since its passage, there has been a rapid growth in the way information is transmitted and, with this, a huge increase in the citizens’ expectations of transparency from their government.  The law and the machinery of government are constantly challenged to keep pace. 

OGE has worked mightily in recent years to improve the way the public accesses ethics information, to keep up with this demand for transparency.  It has been a challenge, but great progress has been made.

Consider the changes since OGE was created back in 1978.   For the first 20 years of OGE’s existence, reviewers used periodicals and trade books to analyze the holdings on public reports.  Well into the new millennium, accessing public financial disclosure reports required a stamp and a trip to the post office, or if you had one, a telefax.  Until 2012, senior officials filed their reports using pen and ink, or by completing and emailing .pdf forms. 

Today, senior government officials use a sophisticated electronic system to complete reports, improving accuracy, efficiency, and timeliness.  Reviewers can conduct research on individual holdings with a few keystrokes.  Perhaps best of all, the public can access the reports quickly, without that trip to the post office.  For the most senior officials, access to reports is through OGE’s website, instantly; for others, there is a short online form to complete and a report is provided via email within days. 

The progress has been good, but there is always a bit more to do.  The public’s expectations for transparency seem to grow with time and ease of access.  OGE will continue to strive to meet the public’s expectations— ­this is your government and your information, and OGE is honored to be of assistance.