GAO Urges Federal Government to Reveal Key Information on Political Appointees

The Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency, is urging the federal government to make information about thousands of political appointees — including their names, titles and federal salary disclosures about their assets, debts and past salaries — publicly available. The GAO’s report, which was released Friday, noted that ProPublica’s Trump Town is the only place people can access much of this information.

The report portrayed such information as crucial to holding appointees to high standards. “Strong ethics programs are critical to ensuring public trust in government and the integrity of actions taken on the public’s behalf,” it states. “Political appointees, in particular agency heads, have a personal responsibility to exercise leadership in ethics. … [M]embers of the public need access to information on who is serving in political appointee positions. Otherwise, they are limited in their ability to discern whether appointees are performing their duties free of conflict.”

Neither federal agencies nor the White House are required to publicly post full, up-to-date listings of political appointees or senior government officials, many of whom don’t face confirmation or public hearings by the Senate. “In the absence of comprehensive and timely data on political appointees serving in the executive branch, two nongovernmental organizations — the Partnership for Public Service and ProPublica — stated that they collect and report some data themselves,” the report notes.

The report states that ProPublica’s Trump Town tracks all types of federal political appointees but “one limitation is that they rely on agency responses to FOIA requests and therefore the data may not be comprehensive or timely.” ProPublica staffers (including the author of this article) were interviewed by the GAO in 2018. The report goes on to say:

Making such information available would promote transparency. The public, including independent researchers, the media, and nongovernmental organizations, can use these data to perform independent analyses to identify gaps and challenges for filling political appointee positions or to identify potential conflicts of interest. Such analyses would also facilitate congressional oversight of executive branch appointees by providing a comprehensive and timely source of information on political appointees.

The GAO recommended…

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