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Public Financial Disclosure: A Cornerstone of the Public Trust

May 17, 2021

By: Dave Apol, General Counsel

Every day, government leaders make decisions that will have profound effects on the lives of their fellow citizens. They make decisions about our security, our health and welfare, and our economy. As citizens, we trust them with remarkable power over our lives and our society.  

We do not grant them this trust lightly. We require of them an oath of office, a promise to put the interests of our nation above all others. For the most senior officials, we require more. We require them to share the details of their private financial lives in the form of public financial disclosure reports.   These reports, filed by about 26,000 of the most senior executive branch officials, detail the financial and employment arrangements of the officials themselves, their spouses, and their dependent children.   Unique to almost any profession, we demand a look into the financial interests of these officials and their families.  

But, we do so for a good reason. These reports, and the ethics advice employees receive during their review, are used to avoid potential conflicts of interest and help citizens to see that these officials are acting in the public interest and are not improperly influenced by private financial incentives. In short, these reports help us build trust.  

Today, these reports are due to be filed in agencies across the executive branch. The ethics officials in those agencies review and certify these reports, and advise the filing officials on strategies for avoiding conflicts of interest. The reports for roughly 1,000 top senior officials are also reviewed and certified by OGE and made available through OGE’s website, after OGE completes its review. Reports are made available to the press, public interest groups, and to you 30 days after they are filed with the agencies.

All of this work—the filing and review of the reports and the transparency— is in recognition of the vital importance of ensuring that you know that our government is acting to protect our national interests. These reports are part of the duty that follows the responsibility of leadership.  

But you don’t have to take my word on this! If there are executive branch officials whose work affects you, your employment, or your community, have a look at their financial disclosure reports and attendant documents, including their ethics agreements. See for yourself that real or potential conflicts of interest have been addressed and resolved.