Fed Names and Info Available on the Internet…For A Small Fee

Personal information about most federal employees is available for a fee on the internet. OPM has recently withheld information on a number of federal employees. A new lawsuit may determine whether your information will continue to be up for sale.

If you are a current federal employee, some of your personal information may not be as private as you think it is.

As many readers know, there have been data losses about many Americans, including federal employees, when computer disks were lost, misplaced or stolen. Some of these computer files contain a great deal of personal information. Information on some 1.2 million federal employees was lost last year. Anyone whose name and personal information was in those computer files may be wondering what may happen to their identity and financial credit standing if the information fell into the wrong hands.

But, while many or even most federal employees were aware of problems arising as a result of theft or loss of computer information, here is something many readers do not know. As a federal employee, whose salary and benefits are paid by the American taxpayer, you may find your name, location, job title and salary on the internet in view of anyone who wants to track you down.

Skeptical? It is from a database called Tracfed. Anyone can find out certain information about you. Here is a quote from an ad regarding federal employees that is on the internet as of this writing:

“Examine statistical overviews or drill down to information about individual employees: Who are they? Where do they work? What is their occupation? What are they paid?

Here is an ad touting the sale of personal information about federal employees from another part of the website:

Not counting the uniformed men and women serving in the military, slightly more than 1.7 million individuals are currently working in the executive branch of the federal government. They work for a wide range of agencies — like the Social Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Interior Department and the IRS — all over the country and, in a relatively small number of cases, abroad. Their average salary in FY 2001 was $53,535. As in all organizations, a relatively small number of these 1.7 million employees — through their training, experience and inherent skills — have come to exercise discretionary powers over the operation of the agencies. As a general rule these individuals are paid more than their colleagues.

So, using the convenient database, for a small fee, anyone can isolate and track any federal employee making more than $100,000 a year.

This isn’t from a hacker selling illegal information from a computer in a foreign country. It is from an organization within Syracuse University. And selling the information is perfectly legal.

But OPM has apparently thrown a wrench into this smoothly operating sales machine. The result is a lawsuit filed to force OPM to send the university organization the latest information so it can keep its database up to date. The organization says it had been receiving computer disks from OPM every few months to update the database since 1989 but that the information has recently been withheld.

Wrapping the lawsuit in the American flag and patriotism, the Tracfed group says in its press release:

The government first began providing the American people detailed information about all its employees in a register published almost 200 years ago. The first name in the first register, authorized by Congress in 1816, was President James Madison.

Their complaint is that OPM is no longer providing the data as it used to do. It says that OPM has not provided the information it is seeking on some 900,000 federal employees working for a variety of federal agencies such as the Department of Defense.

In a letter to the Office of Personnel Management, the organization argued it was entitled to the data under the Freedom of Information Act:

…{R}esponsible accountability of government is just not possible without public access to the names, work stations, without the names of most of the government employees who carry out the day-to-day actions of the government.

OPM has apparently not explained why it is withholding the information. One guess: Knowing personal information about federal employees in a number of government positions would make it easier for them to be the subject of terrorist activities.

It is possible that the information will be released as a result of the lawsuit. No doubt, many of the 900,000 or so federal employees whose names are being withheld would just as soon not have their personal information up for sale on the internet and will be hoping that the OPM position ultimately prevails in the case.

I don’t know if President Madison would agree with the OPM policy. On the other hand, he may not have foreseen terrorists killing Americans in Washington and New York,  bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City or someone murdering a federal prosecutor in his home state.

So, while the information may be a little stale, you can get still get, via the public minded scholars and employees at Syracuse University,  relatively current information on your colleagues, your former spouse or your next door neighbors if they work for the federal government.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47