House Oversight should do oversight, not threaten the Office of Government Ethics


This week, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the U.S. House Oversight Committee, sent the Director of Office of Government Ethics (OGE) a critical letter about his public comments and tweets.

In the letter, Chaffetz criticized OGE for offering ethics guidance to President-Elect Donald J. Trump in public, to the public, using Twitter, instead of in private.

In his remarks this week at the Brookings Institute, embedded below, Director of OGE Walter Shaub said what ethics expects from both political parties and nonpartisan watchdogs all agree on, including Sunlight: Trump’s plan fails to address his conflicts of interest because he does not completely divest from his businesses and place his assets in a blind trust.

OGE Director Walter Shaub’s statements and tweets reflect a consensus shared by former officials, Congressional intent, and common sense. As he said, “ethics has no party. Congress established OGE in 1978 in the Ethics in Government Act to provide “leadership & oversight” of ethics in the executive branch.

The OGE is and has been, in other words, doing its job. Informing the public when a plan does not meet an ethical standard accepted for decades by past presidents and their nominees is appropriate.

In response to those actions, the letter states that House Oversight Committee has jurisdiction for reauthorizing OGE, which could be viewed as a veiled threat.

Chairman Chaffetz and his colleagues have stood up for transparency and accountability repeatedly the past three years in moving Freedom of Information Act reform forward to eventual passage, holding hearings that put much-needed Sunlight on agency compliance. It’s critical for House Oversight to hold the executive branch accountable in 2017, including White House ethics. President-Elect Trump’s conflicts of interest merit scrutiny today and in the years to come.

The public needs OGE and Congress to work together in public to hold the Trump administration accountable, not convene closed door hearings about how a federal ethics is informing the public.

Sunlight joined a bipartisan group of 20 organizations and ethics experts on a letter to Chairman Chaffetz requesting that he “defer any inquiry into OGE until such time as it is bipartisan, held in public, addresses the Trump administration’s potential conflicts-of-interest, and is calibrated to interfere as little as possible with OGE’s ongoing activities of reviewing the incoming administration’s compliance with ethical requirements.”

If you agree with this assessment, please call the House Oversight Committee using the contact information on this spreadsheet and urge them to hold the Trump administration accountable — and to support the impartial role of the ethics office that is seeking to prevent corruption in our federal government.