NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Financial Disclosure Laws are Costly

October 15, 2002

The regulations governing the confirmation process of presidential nominees have grown extremely complex and costly, according to a new study.

Before the 1950s, nominees went through a simple political process, where the president nominated a person and the Senate confirmed him. This changed when President Eisenhower instituted FBI background checks for people going into national security posts. Since then, almost every president has added to the web of regulations required for a prospective nominee. Congress has added its own layers of complexity, responding to each new scandal with a legislative remedy.

Many of these procedures are extremely wasteful. For example:

  • Each year 280,000 federal employees have to file personal financial disclosure forms.
  • But in the fast five years, only 405 individual financial disclosure forms were ever inspected.
  • The paperwork and investigations that are now routine are so cumbersome that "you can bicycle across the country, build a boat or have a baby in less time than it takes a new president to get his average appointee in to office," according to the study.

Additionally, these new procedures are costly. The hours and dollars spent filling out forms and conducting background investigations are considerable. Moreover, many capable individuals from the private sector are reluctant to endure the humiliation of being investigated -- or simply refuse.

Experts argue these procedures are designed to separate those in charge from their subordinates. When an individual commits a crime, the people in charge can disavow the culprit and not be held responsible for the misjudgment. Ultimately, this legalistic approach to ethics actually has weakened the political accountability.

Source: David Broder, "What Price Ethics," Washington Post, September 29, 2002; based on G. Calvin Mackenzie, "Innocent Until Nominated: The Breakdown of the Presidential Appointments Process," Brookings Institution, 2002.


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