November 29, 2022
By: Dave Apol, General Counsel
In 1978, Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act in order to rebuild the public’s trust in the wake of the Watergate scandal. One of the primary tools created by that Act was the public financial disclosure system. To this day, public financial disclosure is a vital part of the ethics program.
When senior employees join the executive branch, and every year thereafter, they are required to disclose their own, their spouses and dependent children’s financial assets and sources of income. Those disclosures are then reviewed by ethics officials throughout the executive branch to determine if any of them might be affected by what those government officials will be working on. If a potential conflict is identified, the employee either has to divest those interests or be kept out of work that could affect those assets. Through this system ethics officials throughout the executive branch identify and prevent potential conflicts of interest in order to help the public trust their government. Public disclosure also allows the public to see the financial holdings of public officials so they are able to evaluate if those financial interests are being affected by decisions that should be made solely in the public’s interest.
A lot has changed since 1978. Today our markets and financial products are much more complicated. The internet has changed how we move and share information. The government workforce has grown to address challenges we could not have imagined in 1978. And, with all of these changes, the public financial disclosure system has evolved.
Now, more than 90% of public financial disclosures are filed online, using the executive branch e-filing system, Integrity, which OGE will continue to maintain to facilitate efficient filing and review. As the government has grown, so too, has the number of filers. There are now more than 26,000 public filers across more than 140 agencies in the executive branch. As investment products evolve, OGE guidance will too. We will update our public financial disclosure guide to facilitate consistent and complete reporting of holdings both common and exotic. Finally, OGE is currently updating the forms used to file public financial disclosures to improve clarity for those who use and request them.
Over the coming years, we will continue to work to make the public financial disclosure system more efficient, transparent, and easy for filers to use and the public to access.
Public financial disclosure was created to build the public’s trust in government by identifying and resolving conflict of interest and giving the public access to that process. You can participate in that process by accessing and viewing reports yourself. We hope your understanding of and engagement with the public financial disclosure system will add to your confidence in our government.