While controversy about insider trading by members of Congress has occasionally stirred major headlines, this phenomenon has quietly endured across Democratic and Republican administrations alike -- and it involves more than 20% of senior officials among the 50 agencies covered by the Journal's research so far.
The findings are based on the Journal's study of more than 31,000 disclosure forms filed between 2016 and 2021 by 12,000 senior career employees, presidential appointees and political staffers.
Some riskier trades -- involving options and short sales, for example -- were valued between $5 million and $25 million.
Though it's illegal for officials to work on issues in which they have a direct financial interest -- and though regulations even prohibit the mere appearance of conflicts of interest -- the Journal found many such instances. For example:
"A top official at the Environmental Protection Agency reported purchases of oil and gas stocks. The Food and Drug Administration improperly let an official own dozens of food and drug stocks on its no-buy list. A Defense Department official bought stock in a defense company five times before it won new business from the Pentagon."
Often, ethics officials have simply waived the rules, or certified that an official's trade qualifies for an exception.
More than 40% of the Treasury Department's senior officials traded in companies touched by their agency -- the highest among the 50 agencies studied by the Journal. Treasury was followed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, the IRS, SEC and the Fed -- each of which had an above-average percentage of officials implicated.