Holding the Government Accountable

Second Ethics Office Challenged

Walter Shaub, Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics.

Having conflict-free and ethical leaders is so integral to the proper functioning of our government that those values are written into the Constitution. There are federal offices dedicated to independently examining Congress and the executive branch to make sure the members of both are conflict-free and executing their duties in ethical ways.

You’ve probably heard a lot about ethics and conflicts of interest in the last few weeks, especially as they relate to the incoming administration. This is for good reason: the House tried to weaken its Office of Congressional Ethics, the Senate almost held confirmation hearings before nominees had gone through ethics reviews, President-elect Donald Trump has failed to properly manage his own conflicts of interest, and now the Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has sent a letter to the head of the independent and nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics (OGE) that appeared to many to be the start of an investigation into that office.

OGE has a long history of providing leadership and oversight of executive branch ethics programs. As a result, the office has prevented and resolved frequent conflicts of interest. The agency’s vital role in assisting the Senate’s confirmation process occurring right now cannot be understated, especially when the Senate must rapidly consider a number of nominations to lead executive branch agencies.

However, OGE is now facing questions regarding its independence after the office released a series of Tweets and public statements criticizing President-elect Donald Trump’s inadequate plan to manage his conflicts of interest once he assumes the office of the President on January 20.

The Committee's questions about blurring the line between public relations and official ethics guidance have resurfaced in the wake of OGE's communications with the incoming administration on ethics questions via Twitter and through the press. … Your agency's mission is to provide clear ethics guidance, not engage in public relations.

The letter continued by asking Shaub to make himself available for a transcribed interview with Committee staff no later than January 31. While POGO supports congressional oversight of this office, we are concerned about public attacks on an official who is facing extraordinary circumstances and difficult challenges to protect the integrity of our government by ensuring nominees are above reproach. POGO’s Danielle Brian sent a letterto the Committee acknowledging the importance of Congressional oversight, while voicing her alarm about the attacks on Shaub for his public commentary regarding Trump’s inadequate resolution to his conflicts of interest.