CLC has joined a letter urging Congress to strengthen and codify into law the U.S. Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The letter asks not only for OCE to be codified into law, but also strengthened by giving OCE the power to subpoena witnesses during investigations.
OCE is an independent watchdog that provides vital nonpartisan oversight and accountability in the House of Representatives. It serves as the only such entity in Congress, and its existence increases public trust in the House of Representatives and its members. But that existence is not always guaranteed.
Under the current system, OCE must be reauthorized by the House rules package at the start of each new Congress to continue its work. As a result of this system, voter confidence that ethics investigations are conducted and that lawmakers are held accountable for ethics violations is determined by the amenability of the majority party in the House every two years.
If the House made OCE permanent, it would ensure ethics investigations are carried out by experienced, nonpartisan investigators—not by members of Congress themselves. This system of self-policing is how things are done in the Senate, where senators are responsible for investigating the very colleagues they rely on for cooperation in committees and votes on legislation.
OCE should not just be codified; it should be given the tools it needs to conduct the essential work it does. One major component missing from OCE’s powers is the ability to subpoena third party witnesses. Without this power, OCE is not always able to access the information they need to make a determination about whether an ethics law was broken.
These changes would help protect the public’s trust in Congress. Voters have a right to know that their lawmakers will be held accountable for ethics violations. The infrastructure to protect the public’s trust already exists in OCE; now, Congress just needs to make it permanent.