USDA spreads wealth of online forms

The Office of Government Ethics' financial disclosure section

The Agriculture Department has been given the go-ahead to share its online

financial disclosure form with other agencies.

The federal Office of Government Ethics said agencies can use the online

form developed by USDA, enabling thousands of high-level federal workers

to make their annual financial disclosure reports via the Internet.

"We're ready to go with it," John Surina, who heads USDA's government

ethics office, said Monday. "The technology is there."

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has begun using the USDA form, and

other agencies are expected to follow shortly, Surina said.

The online form won't completely turn financial disclosure reporting

into a paperless system. Although it is filed over the Internet, federal

workers still must print out a version, sign it and return it to the ethics

office by mail.

Nevertheless, USDA's online form will make annual financial disclosure

filing simpler because an employee will be able to call up the form from

a secure database and simply make changes without having to complete a new

form.

The Office of Government Ethics reviews the financial disclosure forms

of executive branch employees to make sure there is no conflict of interest

involving their work and their personal finances.

The ethics office also has a form available online, but users must first

download a software program before filling it out.

"You have to know it's there," Surina said.

Surina said it cost USDA $75,000 to develop the system, and it will be free

to other agencies to adopt.

In January, President Clinton signed the Presidential Transition Act

of 2000 that authorizes a study on how to improve the financial disclosure

process for top federal employees. Surina said that action is expected to

speed up the paperless route for financial disclosure forms in the next

two years.

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