Non-partisan ethics agency
After a vigorous public backlash, Congress will hold off on an earlier proposal that would have dramatically undermined the autonomy of the Office of Congressional Ethics.
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) was founded in 2008 as a non-partisan, independent agency responsible for investigating ethical and legal infractions by Congress members and their staff.
The proposed amendment would couch the previously independent agency under the House Ethics Committee, which is controlled by the majority party at any given time. The OCE would be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, would no longer be allowed to investigate anonymous tips, and would not be able to issue press releases, speak to the media, or pursue prosecutions without first seeking the approval of the House Ethics Committee.
Independence and neutrality
While Speaker of the House Paul Ryan claims that the OCE “will still investigate” claims of misconduct “thoroughly and independently,” the proposed changes would place the OCE under the authority of the House Ethics Committee, potentially compromising its independence and neutrality.
Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, would prefer that the OCE did not investigate anonymous tips, because such tips could “potentially disparage the reputation of a Member without basis in fact.”
Others are concerned that if the OCE will not consider anonymous tips, then fewer watchdogs will be willing to blow the whistle.
Decision before August
The proposed amendment was discussed privately by Republican members of the House, despite opposition from the public, from GOP leadership, and from President-elect Trump.
Trump tweeted that the proposed amendment would cause a “weakening” of the OCE.
In response to the backlash, Congress has decided to postpone the decision. Representative Susan Brooks of Indiana, who will become the Chair of the House Ethics Committee after the inauguration, says that the committee will review the proposal and come to a decision before the August recess.