Following is recent guidance from the Office of Government Ethics on a new government-wide electronic filing system for federal employees who file financial disclosure forms that are available to the public.
I. The Launch of Integrity
On January 1, 2015, OGE launched Integrity, the web-based electronic filing system for executive branch public financial disclosure report filers mandated by the STOCK Act. Integrity significantly enhances the filing, review, and program management aspects of the executive branch public financial disclosure program. A combination of data-entry tables and context-dependent questions helps filers to identify all of their reportable financial interests and to disclose those interests correctly. Integrity also enables agency ethics officials to assign, review, track, and manage reports electronically. Appendix 1 to this Program Advisory lists a number of key features of Integrity. OGE has also developed a 14 minute introductory video that demonstrates many of these features. The video can be viewed online at the following address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFGK-dDo_kE&feature=player_embedded.
The origin of Integrity dates back to April 4, 2012, when the President signed into law the STOCK Act. The STOCK Act established new requirements for the executive branch ethics program, ethics officials, and the thousands of federal officials who file public financial disclosure reports pursuant to the EIGA. In October 2012, Congress initially approved funding for the development of Integrity. OGE immediately started intensive work on a concept for the system and its user interface. Funding became available to OGE in mid-April 2013, at which time OGE commenced the contracting process. Requirements for the system later changed when Congress amended the STOCK Act in April 2013. The General Services Administration awarded a development contract shortly thereafter, and a kickoff meeting with the contractors on July 11, 2013, marked the beginning of development in earnest.
From the start, OGE’s two primary objectives for this project have been to increase the accuracy of public financial disclosure and to reduce the burden on filers. Toward these ends, a cross-divisional team of OGE analysts and attorneys with expertise in financial disclosure developed the content for Integrity, and OGE worked closely with a team of user-experience professionals to make the system user friendly. Throughout Integrity’s development, OGE collaborated with agency ethics officials, who provided input and tested the system extensively.
II. Implementation of Integrity in the Executive Branch
Integrity is available to executive branch agencies at no cost. A Rollout Team comprised of OGE staff is working to set up agencies in Integrity and register their filers. In the two months since Integrity’s launch, 19 agencies have started using Integrity and more than two dozen others are actively working with OGE as the rollout expands throughout the executive branch.
OGE is not mandating that agencies use Integrity in calendar year 2015. Therefore, each agency may decide whether to require its public filers to use Integrity in calendar year 2015. Agencies have sole and exclusive authority to determine the means by which their employees must file their public financial disclosure reports, subject only to the authority of OGE as the supervising ethics office. 5 C.F.R. §§ 2638.101(c), 2638.203(b)(2). Accordingly, an agency that decides to use Integrity in calendar year 2015 may direct either all of its public filers or subsets of its public filers to file their reports through Integrity. Likewise, an agency may direct its public filers to file either all types of public reports or only certain types of public reports (e.g., new entrant reports, periodic transaction reports, etc.) through Integrity in calendar year 2015.
Beginning January 1, 2016, OGE will use Integrity to collect public reports of those Senate-confirmed appointees whose reports are submitted to OGE under 5 U.S.C. app. § 103 and the reports of all DAEOs, whose reports are also submitted to OGE. OGE is currently finalizing a processing sequence (“workflow”) in Integrity for Presidential nominees whose public reports are submitted to OGE and is coordinating with appropriate officials regarding those reports. As of this time, OGE has not made a determination that other public financial disclosure reports must be filed through Integrity in calendar year 2016; however, executive branch agencies are strongly encouraged to use Integrity for all other public financial disclosure reports, except for reports covered by 5 U.S.C. app. § 105(a)(1) and (2), in calendar year 2016.
III. OGE Form 278e
OGE recently redesigned the public financial disclosure report to support the two fundamental goals of the public financial disclosure system: preventing conflicts of interest and promoting transparency. The new report form, the OGE Form 278e (Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report), replaces the old report form, the OGE Form 278. OGE has received approval to begin using the OGE Form 278e immediately. Through December 31, 2015, executive branch public filers may use either the OGE Form 278e or the old OGE Form 278. Beginning January 1, 2016, executive branch public filers will use only the OGE Form 278e.1
OGE reorganized the disclosure of information based on its experience that filers, particularly filers entering government service for the first time, occasionally forget to report financial interests related to employment. It is not uncommon for agency ethics officials to have to instruct filers to add these items to their reports. By segregating financial interests related to employment, the OGE Form 278e reduces the risk of inadvertent omission. This structure also promotes transparency by highlighting information of significant interest to the public.
Information regarding employment-related interests and retirement plans is collected in Part 2 (Filer’s Employment Assets and Income) and Part 5 (Spouse’s Employment Assets and Income). In these sections, filers will report the following three categories of financial interests:
(1) Earned income,
(2) Assets obtained from an employer or through employment, and
(3) Retirement plans.2
The non-exhaustive lists in Appendix 5 provide examples of the types of interests reported in Parts 2, 5, and 6.
Agencies are not expected to be rigid in distinguishing “Employment Assets and Income” from “Other Assets and Income.” OGE has established this distinction with the goals of increasing accuracy and highlighting relevant assets for the interested public. While these goals are important, rigid enforcement is not required in every case. Thus, if an individual filer inadvertently reports an employment-related asset, such as an incentive stock option, in Part 6 (“Other Assets and Income”), the agency has discretion to either accept the entry or instruct the filer to move the asset to Part 2 or Part 5. Alternatively, reviewing ethics officials using Integrity can elect to move the asset to the appropriate section of the report, as Integrity allows reviewers to make changes for filers.
In addition to the reorganization of disclosures, the OGE Form 278e eliminates the antiquated grid format, which was developed long before modern computer technology was widely available. For example, where a filer would previously have entered an “X” in a column to signify that the value of an asset is in the range of $50,001 to $100,000, the new OGE Form 278e will produce the following text: “$50,001-$100,000.” As a result, the OGE Form 278e promotes transparency by being easier to read than the old OGE Form 278.
IV. New Reporting Requirement
Under 5 U.S.C. app. §§ 402(b)(3), (5), and (10), 403(a)(2), and 5 C.F.R. §§ 2638.102(a), 2638.601, OGE collects information and records from executive branch agencies in its capacity as the supervising ethics office for the executive branch. Under 5 U.S.C. § 403(a)(2), executive branch agencies are required to provide the requested information and records. Examples of OGE’s past use of this authority include the regularly scheduled reports OGE collects from all agencies and the documentation OGE collects in connection with its reviews of individual agency ethics programs. As OGE has explained at quarterly DAEO meetings over the past 18 months, the launch of Integrity provides OGE with a new opportunity to collect -in standardized format- pertinent information on agency ethics offices, which will enhance OGE’s oversight of the executive branch ethics program.
Beginning in May 2016, OGE will collect status updates regarding each agency’s financial disclosure program on a recurring basis. Specifically, OGE will collect the following aggregate data from each agency regarding its annual public financial disclosure reports, which are normally filed by May 15 each year:
1. The number of filers required to file annual public financial disclosure reports with the agency during the current filing cycle;
2. The number of annual public financial disclosure reports of filers identified in (1) that the agency has received as of the date of inquiry;
3. The number of annual public financial disclosure reports of filers identified in (2) for which the agency has completed its review, either by certifying the report or by denying certification and closing the report, as of the date of inquiry.
This data will enhance OGE’s oversight of the executive branch ethics program by allowing OGE to monitor each agency’s progress in administering its individual financial disclosure program. When consolidated with data from other agencies, this data will enable OGE to evaluate the strength of the overall executive branch-wide ethics program. It will also facilitate data-driven decisions in selecting agencies for program reviews.
How OGE obtains this information will depend on the means by which an agency collects annual public financial disclosure reports. If an agency uses Integrity to collect annual reports, OGE will obtain the required information automatically through Integrity, and the agency will not need to take any action. Note that, although OGE is collecting this aggregate data, OGE is not able to view the financial disclosure reports filed by individual agency employees through Integrity, except for those that are required to be filed with OGE under 5 U.S.C. app. § 103.
If an agency has been granted authority to continue using a legacy electronic filing system, the agency must automate transmission of the required information consistent with the specifications provided in Appendix 4. Ensuring the success of this automated transmission to OGE will be the responsibility of the agency.
If an agency does not use an electronic filing system, the DAEO will be responsible for ensuring that OGE receives the required information, consistent with the specifications in Appendix 5. OGE strongly recommends, however, that agencies discontinue the collection of public reports in paper format and instead adopt Integrity.
V. Requests to Continue Using Legacy Electronic Filing Systems
In OGE DAEOgram DO-07-014 (2007), OGE for the first time permitted all executive branch agencies to develop their own electronic filing systems for public or confidential financial disclosure reports. Since that time, the STOCK Act and the launch of Integrity have changed the landscape of public financial disclosure.
Therefore, OGE is rescinding its prior authorization and will no longer allow agencies to adopt electronic filing systems other than Integrity to collect public financial disclosure reports, except as discussed in this Program Advisory. By precluding the implementation of new systems, OGE seeks to reduce fragmentation, eliminate the duplication of cost and effort, and increase the uniformity of public financial disclosure in the executive branch.
This rescission of authority to develop or use electronic filing systems other than Integrity is limited in scope. First, it applies only to public financial disclosure reports and does not apply to confidential financial disclosure reports. Second, it does not apply to agencies listed in 5 U.S.C. app. § 105(a)(1). Third, it does not apply to any agency that receives provisional authorization from OGE in 2015 to continue using a legacy electronic filing system.
An executive branch agency that, as of the date of this issuance, is actively using an electronic filing system other than Integrity for public financial disclosure reports may request provisional authorization to continue using that system.3 OGE must receive the request by July 1, 2015. OGE will consider each request on a case-by-case basis. Because OGE’s analysis is necessarily individualized and dependent on its assessment of the capabilities of the agency’s ethics program, OGE will not consider requests submitted by groups of agencies or by third parties. Instead, the request must come from the agency, and OGE’s approval will apply only to the requesting agency. Because OGE needs assurance that the agency’s ethics and information technology staffs are coordinating with each other, the request must be signed by both the DAEO and the Chief Information Officer for the agency.
Upon receiving a request, OGE will consider the performance of the agency’s ethics program. In addition, OGE will consider whether the request:
1. Is signed by both the agency’s DAEO and the agency’s Chief Information Officer;
2. Includes a satisfactory commitment that the agency will modify its legacy electronic filing system to generate the new OGE Form 278e, consistent with the version that Integrity produces, as illustrated by the sample at Appendix 2 (not the alternate paper version at Appendix 3);
3. Satisfactorily describes how the agency will ensure that filers are able to distinguish the employment-related assets and income of the filer, the employment-related assets and income of the filer’s spouse, and other assets and income from one another (e.g., by using the instructions provided in the alternate paper format 278e at Appendix 3, by creating context-dependent questions as part of a “wizard,” by including examples, etc.);
4. Includes a satisfactory commitment that the agency will accomplish the automated daily transmission of aggregate data as described in Appendix 4;
5. Identifies an agency official at an appropriate level to serve as a point of contact for both the agency’s request and any issues that arise in the future regarding the continued use of the legacy system;
6. Includes a satisfactory commitment that the agency will use Integrity to collect reports that are required to be submitted to OGE under 5 U.S.C. app. § 103;
7. Includes a satisfactory commitment that the agency will periodically meet with OGE, when requested, to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the legacy system; and
8. Indicates whether the agency is likely to succeed in converting the legacy system to render the OGE Form 278e by the January 1, 2016, deadline or whether the agency will likely need to request one or two 90-day extensions.
Note that OGE will continue its practice of collecting information from agencies regarding their expenditures on electronic filing systems, as OGE has done in recent years in its Annual Agency Ethics Program Questionnaire.
VI. Data Call Regarding Tentative Plans of Agency Ethics Officials
Pursuant to 5 U.S.C. app. §§ 402(b)(3), (5), and (10), 403(a)(2), and 5 C.F.R. §§ 2638.102(a), 2638.601, OGE is collecting information from executive branch agencies regarding their tentative plans for the collection of financial disclosure reports in calendar year 2016. By July 1, 2015, each agency must submit to OGE a written notice signed by the DAEO that describes these tentative plans.4 In preparing the notice, DAEOs are encouraged to consult with their Chief Information Officers. The notice should include the following:
1. A description of the steps the agency will take to ensure that by January 1, 2016, reports required to be submitted to OGE under 5 U.S.C. app. § 103 are collected through Integrity;
2. Contact information for a point of contact regarding the steps described in response to item (1), above; and
3. An indication as to whether, and to what extent, the agency plans to use Integrity to collect other financial disclosure reports in calendar year 2016.
VII. Additional Information
For more information about Integrity, OGE encourages agency ethics officials to view the “About Integrity” page on MAX.gov.5 Currently, the page contains a detailed user guide, a variety of quick-help guides, and brief introductory videos targeted to filers, reviewers, and administrators. OGE is continuing to develop additional material for this page. OGE will work closely with agency ethics officials to implement Integrity including OGE-conducted group presentations for reviewers and individualized training for personnel designated as Integrity administrators for their agencies.
Agency ethics officials with questions regarding Integrity may contact George Hancock at firstname.lastname@example.org.Agency officials with questions regarding specifications for transmitting data to OGE from legacy electronic filing systems as discussed in Appendix 4 may contact Michael Hanson and Timothy Mallon at email@example.com. Agency ethics officials with questions regarding other aspects of this Program Advisory or the new OGE Form 278e may contact their OGE Desk Officers through normal channels.
1. A DAEO may grant an individual exception for a filer, such as a political appointee, who expects to separate from government service in the near future, provided that the filer’s report is not required to be forwarded to OGE pursuant to 5 U.S.C. app. § 103. Generally, exceptions should be limited to cases where the filer’s report is relatively long or where, in the opinion of the DAEO, circumstances warrant a time-limited exception for the departing political appointee. In addition, OGE may grant limited exceptions through June 2016 for public filers at an agency that is still in the process of converting a legacy electronic filing system to render the OGE Form 278e.
2. Although not always related to employment, OGE intends for individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and similar retirement vehicles to be reported in Parts 2 and 5.
3. Because the rescission of authority for electronic systems does not apply to agencies listed in 5 U.S.C. app. § 105(a)(1), those agencies do not need to request authority. By January 1, 2016, however, those agencies need to modify any electronic filing systems to produce the new OGE Form 278e, unless OGE grants an extension.
4. Because OGE will work with them individually, agencies identified in 5 U.S.C. app. § 105(a)(1) and components of the Executive Office of the President are exempted from this data call.
5. All MAX.gov users can access this page at https://community.max.gov/display/OGEExternal/About+Integrity.