Financial Disclosure:

Legislative Branch Systems Improved but Can Be Further Strengthened

GGD-89-103: Published: Sep 8, 1989. Publicly Released: Sep 8, 1989.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO evaluated the effectiveness of the legislative financial disclosure process, focusing on whether: (1) individuals accurately and timely filed their required reports; (2) the House and Senate committees took steps to obtain overdue reports; (3) the committees reviewed the reports to ensure that individuals properly filled them out and, if in error, whether the corrections were timely; and (4) the committees made the reports available to the public.

GAO found that: (1) the House and Senate have made substantial progress in improving their financial disclosure systems, detecting and reducing reporting errors, improving followup on overdue reports, issuing clarified forms and instructions, and developing report review checklists, which resulted in overall improved filing compliance; (2) although political candidate filing improved since 1981, about one-half of the candidates for the House and Senate filed late or did not file in 1986; (3) although both the House and Senate procedures for reviewing reports were effective in detecting apparent errors, the House did not review requested corrections and, while the Senate reviewed requested corrections, it did not always ensure timely corrections; (4) both the House and Senate made disclosure reports available to the public, but did not always clarify whether the reports were subject to change as a result of committee reviews; and (5) although the House reviewed some reports prior to release, the Senate did not, and the Senate notified the public that reports could be amended, but the House did not.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: New public employees' names are sent by the Disbursing Office to the Senate Ethics Committee as soon as they are appointed, along with an initial form letter which the Ethics Committee uses to notify the new employee to file.

    Matter: To improve filing compliance among House, Senate, and legislative agency employees, the Senate Ethics Committee and the Senate Disbursing Office should work together to revise procedures for more quickly identifying all new Senate employees who must file and notifying them of requirements to file.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: New public employees' names are sent by the Disbursing Office to the Senate Ethics Committee as soon as they are appointed, along with an initial form letter, which the Ethics Committee uses to notify the new employee to file.

    Matter: To improve filing compliance among House, Senate, and legislative agency employees, the Senate Ethics Committee and the Senate Disbursing Office should work together to revise procedures for more quickly identifying all new Senate employees who must file and notifying them of requirements to file.

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 amended the filing requirements for legislative agency employees to require employees in covered positions for more than 60 days to file reports within 15 days of the 60th day.

    Matter: To improve filing compliance among House, Senate, and legislative agency employees, the House Ethics Committee should require financial disclosure reporting from all employees compensated at or above the GS-16 salary level for more than 60 days during a calendar year as long as they continue to be employed on May 15 of the following year.

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The House Ethics Committees have decided to directly notify candidates and not depend on state election offices. Also, the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 changed the definition of a candidate, which should help to improve filing compliance.

    Matter: To deal with the late filing and nonfiling among candidates, the House and Senate Ethics Committees should request state election offices to notify candidates of filing requirements and promptly provide names of candidates to the committees for followup.

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 redefined a "candidate" for the purpose of financial disclosure requirements, which should help to improve filing compliance.

    Matter: To deal with the late filing and nonfiling among candidates, the House and Senate Ethics Committees should request state election offices to notify candidates of filing requirements and promptly provide names of candidates to the committees for followup.

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The House decided not to publicize candidates' names.

    Matter: To deal with the late filing and nonfiling among candidates, the House and Senate Ethics Committees should adopt policies of publicizing, at an appropriate time, the names of candidates who file late or refuse to file.

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Committee shows the status of filing on the reports access list maintained at OPR so that any member of public or press can know if a candidate has filed late. The press is increasingly knowledgeable about filing requirements and exposing late filers. Candidates also are exposing each others' filing limitations this year.

    Matter: To deal with the late filing and nonfiling among candidates, the House and Senate Ethics Committees should adopt policies of publicizing, at an appropriate time, the names of candidates who file late or refuse to file.

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The House is not changing its policy of not referring candidates.

    Matter: The House should develop procedures for referring nonfiling candidates to the Department of Justice for consideration of enforcement action.

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Ethics Committee is sponsoring seminars available to all public filers to help them understand how to fill out their reports. The Office of Records and Registration is not doing any more to ask agencies to monitor and enforce filing compliance.

    Matter: The House and Senate Ethics Committees should explore options for obtaining legislative agencies' assistance in improving filing compliance of their employees. For example, the committees could ask for agencies to assist in tracking filing timeliness by their employees and following up when reports are overdue.

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Ethics Committee has obtained more rigorous follow-up by Chuck Roney at GAO and Mr. Roney is providing more guidance than previously given on filing correctly. There were only two late GAO filers this year. Also, a copy of a notice of late reports is being transmitted this year to overdue filer's supervisors.

    Matter: The House and Senate Ethics Committees should explore options for obtaining legislative agencies' assistance in improving filing compliance of their employees. For example, the committees could ask for agencies to assist in tracking filing timeliness by their employees and following up when reports are overdue.

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This filing process for 1990 has not reached a point where a set of followups on reports not fully corrected is necessary. The committee does not require amendments but does suggest amendments to correct apparent errors just as they did during the GAO review. However, committee procedures will change for 1991 filings, pursuant to the Ethics Reform Act.

    Matter: To ensure that the public has accurate financial disclosure reports, the Chairman of the House Ethics Committee should implement procedures to ensure that timely and correct amendments are made to financial disclosure reports that the Committee has found to be in error.

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Last year's tracking system was manual and has been computerized into a database so that filing, review, and amendment status can be instantly called up for monitoring purposes rather than waiting for periodic reports. Two GAO employees in 1990 are initially reviewing reports, allowing faster completion, including getting amendments faster. Senators' reports were completely reviewed.

    Matter: To strengthen its report review procedures, the Senate Ethics Committee should track the status of requested amendments until they are received and approved to improve the timeliness of the amendments.

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A typewritten notice stating that fully reviewed reports are not available until a certain date is placed on the counter where reports are requested by the press and public. Although this action is not fully responsive, GAO does not believe further action is intended.

    Matter: The House and Senate Ethics Committees should work with the Office of Records and Registration and the Office of Public Records (OPR), respectively, to institute a procedure for notifying the public that the reports are undergoing committees' reviews and are subject to change.

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: No large sign in OPR about reports, but any Senators' reports given out have a notice on top that reports may be subject to change. Members of the public who request reports are given oral notice that reports are subject to change. Senators' reports are reviewed and corrected within 15 days of receipt before being given to the public, so chances of needed corrections are diminished.

    Matter: The House and Senate Ethics Committees should work with the Office of Records and Registration and the Office of Public Records (OPR), respectively, to institute a procedure for notifying the public that the reports are undergoing committees' reviews and are subject to change.

 

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