CLC Leads Call on Congress to Maintain an Effective OCE

Issues
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The U.S. Capitol Building against a blue sky
The United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ron Cogswell

CLC and 24 partners sent a letter to the full U.S. House of Representatives, urging members to remove two proposed House rules for the 118th Congress that would weaken the U.S. Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), the only independent ethics investigative body in Congress.  

OCE’s core function is to provide independent, nonpartisan oversight to safeguard the House of Representatives against corruption. Without OCE, members of Congress would not be held accountable for ethics violations. 

The proposed Rules package for the 118th Congress contains two provisions that would make it nearly impossible for the OCE to do the essential job it exists to do—and would make it harder for voters to know if their elected officials are acting ethically.

The first provision, Sec. 4(d)(6) would require three of the four Democrats who currently sit on OCE’s board to vacate their position immediately. It would take time to fill these vacancies and, in the meantime, OCE’s ability to efficiently conduct investigations and publish reports would be severely diminished. 

The second provision, Sec. 4(d)(7) would limit the OCE from hiring staff by requiring all staff to be hired within 30 days of the rule’s adoption. This rule would prevent OCE from hiring if a vacancy occurs any time this Congress, stymieing OCE from effectively investigating potential ethical violations. 

For OCE to maintain its current strength, Congress must remove Sec. 4(d)(6) and 4(d)(7) from the proposed Rules package. 

In addition, to foster more accountability, the House should replace these provisions with ones that would strengthen OCE. The rules should give OCE the ability to issue subpoenas to 3rd parties; allow OCE to publish a written report about a non-cooperative member as soon as it refers the investigation to the House Committee on Ethics; and require the Speaker to nominate OCE board members through concurrence with the minority leader, not consultation.

The House must protect and strengthen, not dismantle, one of the only entities that provides accountability in Congress.

Danielle is a Legal Counsel on CLC's Ethics team.