Q: I am a Senate staffer with a question about searching for a new job while still employed by the Senate. A senior staffer in our office recently told me that he is seeking a job in the private sector. He has already interviewed with a number of firms but says he was unimpressed and never considered joining them. He now plans to interview with a few more, but he has yet to schedule interviews. I am pretty sure that there was a rule change a few years back requiring staffers to report job negotiations with outside employers in order to prevent conflicts of interest. But the senior staffer hasn’t done so. Should I report him to the Ethics Committee?
A: This is sort of a toned-down version of a good Samaritan question. If you are aware that someone is breaking a Senate ethics rule, are you required to do anything about it?
While this is an intriguing question, before even considering it, there is actually a threshold question that needs to be addressed. Are you really aware that someone is breaking a rule in the first place?
You are certainly correct that there are Senate rules governing employment negotiations for Members and senior staffers. These rules were changed substantially in 2007 with the passage of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. The rule for senior staffers is Senate Rule 37, Paragraph 14(c), and it applies to any staffer earning 75 percent or more of a Member’s salary. Right now, that makes the threshold staffer salary $130,500.
If the senior staffer in your office is paid less than this amount, the rule does not apply to him at all. If his salary exceeds this amount, however, there are several things about the rule that warrant attention.
First, the rule requires a staffer to disclose any “negotiation” or “arrangement” for private employment to the Senate Ethics Committee within three days of beginning such negotiation or arrangement.
Second, the rule requires a staffer who has engaged in a negotiation or arrangement with a prospective employer to recuse himself from certain matters that could raise a conflict of interest.
First, a staffer must recuse himself from any communications with the employer on issues of legislative interest. In other words, do not talk to the prospective employer about legislative issues of interest to the employer.
And second, a staffer must recuse himself from any legislative matter in which there is a conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict by virtue of the staffer’s relationship with the prospective employer. Any such recusal must also be disclosed to the Ethics Committee.
The Senate Ethics Committee has a form with which staffers can make the required disclosures, which are nonpublic.
Under Ethics Committee guidance, the staffer must also disclose employment negotiations to his supervising Senator. Specifically, the guidance states: “As negotiations with prospective employers advance, there necessarily comes a point where it is imperative that a staffer inform his or her supervising Senator of negotiations.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.