USDA offers disclosure filing online

The Agriculture Department has become the first federal agency to give top-level employees the option of filing their annual financial disclosure forms over the Internet.

Many agencies have the form available on computers, but USDA is the first to offer it over a World Wide Web site on a secure database. The form must be filed with the department's Office of Ethics by May 15.

"We're doing it truly online. We're doing it over the Internet, which we think is a lot less user-hostile," said John Surina, Office of Ethics director.

To prevent conflicts of interest, senior executive and political appointees across government are required to file a form every year disclosing their financial holdings. Ethics officers at every agency review the disclosures, and the information is made available to the public.

The 650 USDA employees required to file financial disclosure forms this year can simply click on the USDA Office of Ethics page to find the proper form to fill out.

"This is like ordering a book over Amazon.com," Surina said.

However, the forms still must be signed the old-fashioned way, and employees still must file a hard copy with a signature.

Completed forms cannot be viewed by the public online, Surina said. The information is public record, but citizens must request it in writing and receive a hard copy to view it.

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