How to Restore Government Ethics in the Trump Era (New York Times)
In an op-ed in the New York Times, Walter Shaub recalled the day when President George H.W. Bush counseled his new White House appointees about ethics, saying, “It’s not really very complicated. It’s a question of knowing right from wrong, avoiding conflicts of interest, bending over backwards to see that there’s not even a perception of conflict of interest.” Walter describes the bipartisan tradition of the executive branch allowing the OGE to fulfill its mission – which is to protect the integrity of the government’s operations. He describes how President Trump’s departure from existing ethical norms have touched others in government because the tone is set from the top.
“Since the enactment of the Ethics in Government Act, our past presidents entered government with an appreciation for the importance of tone from the top. Though exempt from the conflict of interest statute, which bars other officials from working on matters affecting their financial interests, they all voluntarily divested conflicting holdings and put the proceeds in blind trusts or nonconflicting assets. They knew their exemption from the statute was not a reward for attaining high office but a pragmatic recognition that America needs its president engaged in urgent matters of state. By holding themselves to the same exacting standards as the rest of the executive branch, they sent a clear message to those serving under them.”
“This tradition came to an abrupt stop with President Trump.”
“Recent experiences have convinced me that the existing mechanism is insufficient. The Office of Government Ethics needs greater authority to obtain information from the executive branch, including the White House. The White House and agencies lacking inspectors general need investigative oversight, which should be coordinated with O.G.E. The ethics office needs more independence, including authority to communicate directly with Congress on budgetary and legislative matters.”