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STOCK Act: Federal employees sue government over financial disclosure

Laws and LegislationNational GovernmentPublic EmployeesJustice System

Seven senior federal employees and four employees' groups filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to stop their agencies from posting their salaries, stock portfolios and other assets online.

Congress required federal agencies to post the data by Aug. 31 as part of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, which bans insider trading by members of Congress, their staff members and other high-level federal employees.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland by the Senior Executives Association, the American Foreign Service Association, the Assembly of Scientists, the National Association of Immigration Judges and seven individuals. It names the federal government and the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics as defendants.

The plaintiffs say posting the personal financial disclosure forms that senior civilian and military employees are required to file annually will cause "an immediate and irretrievable loss of their most private and confidential financial information ... [s]imply because they are senior civil servants."

The data include salaries, real estate transactions, stock holdings, pension plans, savings and life insurance contracts.

"I work hard on a government salary to help find cures for diseases that kill millions of Americans," plaintiff Joshua Zimmerberg said in a statement. Zimmerberg heads the Program on Physical Biology at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health.

"I don't write regulations that people have to obey, I don't oversee government contracts, and I don't help drug companies make profits," Zimmerberg said. "I'm prohibited from investing in any company that has anything to do with my work. There's no good reason why identity thieves, financial scam artists, or my next-door neighbors should know everything about my family's finances."

Jack McKay, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the "reach of this law and its consequences are unprecedented."

"What was originally supposed to make members of Congress subject to insider trading laws evolved into unregulated public access to the most intimate financial details of the thousands of government employees," he said.

Some federal managers have spoken of declining promotion to the senior executive service or leaving government employment altogether over the provisions.

Congress approved the STOCK Act in April with broad support. Several members from Maryland, home to many federal employees, have spoken since of revisiting the financial disclosure requirements for senior executives.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

twitter.com/matthewhaybrown

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