Former House Ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren decried the panel’s new offices on Tuesday as “dysfunctional” and unfit for confidential work, and the panel’s current leaders acknowledged they would welcome a relocation.
“It’s certainly not the committee’s fault, it wasn’t their choice to move, but I’ll just say it, I think the space is terrible,” the California Democrat said during a House Administration Committee hearing. Lofgren is a member of the Administration panel, which was reviewing House committee budget requests for the 112th Congress.
“There are many cases where confidentiality is important, and it is going to be very difficult, I would say impossible, to do that given the current location” in the Longworth House Office Building, said Lofgren, who is no longer a member of the Ethics Committee. “I know even though the members are putting a good face on it ... they would not condemn us for succeeding to move them.”
The Ethics Committee moved from its longtime offices in the basement of the Capitol to its new location in January as part of a larger reorganization that included the House Parliamentarian and the Appropriations Committee.
Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner sought to downplay criticism of the new offices, which are in a much more public location than the committee’s former space, but the Alabama Republican acknowledged that he would be open to another option.
“I would say on a positive note ... one of the things that we hoped to do is to encourage people that there’s not a stigma attached to the committee. And if you are getting ready to make a trip or you are getting ready to get married and you want guidance, that you can come in ... to where you can seek advice from the committee,” Bonner said.
But ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said Ethics staff members have raised concerns that lawmakers could be targeted by the media merely for visiting the office.
“There are some concerns that they have that the space, particularly where some of the offices are located in very public areas, where Members are coming in for advice or guidance, if there are reporters in the hallway, they could draw wrong inferences from the fact that Members might just be seeking advice from the committee,” Sánchez said.
Lofgren also cited the new office’s proximity to the Longworth cafeteria and a smoking area as further impediments to the panel’s ability to conduct sensitive work.
“To think that you could have a confidential visit if a Member is planning to come in is just not possible,” she said. “Furthermore, the committee meeting room is right outside the smoking room, so when the committee meets — it’s not like the House Administration Committee or the Judiciary Committee, where you want the public to see — oftentimes it’s confidential matters, and that confidentiality is going to be very difficult to maintain.”
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.