CLC Calls on Congress to Reauthorize and Strengthen OCE

United States Capitol Building.
The United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

CLC and 13 partners have sent a letter to the incoming leaders of the House of Representatives urging the reauthorization and strengthening of the U.S. Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).  

OCE is the only independent ethics investigatory body in Congress and is subject to reauthorization through the House Rules at the beginning of each new Congress. Without the OCE, accountability for ethics violations in the House would be severely curtailed.  

OCE investigations have brought public awareness to failures to file timely stock trading reports, the acceptance of improper gifts and misuse of official resources. Even where the House Committee on Ethics refuses to ultimately hold members of Congress accountable for violations found by OCE, OCE’s investigations provide voters with valuable information about their lawmakers before they go to the ballot box. 

Reauthorizing OCE is the bare minimum. To foster more accountability in Congress, the House should also strengthen OCE. We recommend three commonsense improvements: 

  1. 1. Give OCE subpoena power for third parties. Currently, OCE does not have any subpoena power, and its investigations can be stonewalled by third parties ignoring OCE requests for information. Subpoena powers for third parties would facilitate the investigatory process and allow the independent professional investigators at OCE to work efficiently without reliance on the amenability of third parties. 
  2. 2. Permit immediate publication of OCE reports about non-cooperating lawmakers. Reports concerning lawmakers who refuse to cooperate during an investigation should be made public immediately upon transferal to the House Committee on Ethics, giving constituents the real-time knowledge that their member tried to impede an ethics investigation. 
  3. 3. Ensure nonpartisanship in OCE board member appointment. To maintain the nonpartisan nature of OCE’s board, the majority and minority leaders should be required to agree on a board member’s appointment. 

OCE is essential for independent and nonpartisan ethics oversight and accountability in Congress—especially considering that the Senate has no such body and has historically weak ethics enforcement. Reauthorizing OCE with the three improvements recommended in this letter will strengthen OCE further. 

Read the letter in full here.

Delaney is the Director, Ethics at CLC.