Policy

Congressman Takes Aim at Ethics Agency

Pearce attempts to defund agency that reviewed former employee

New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce is one against going after the Office of Congressional Ethics. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A New Mexico Republican may have failed to defund a congressional ethics agency that once investigated one of his own employees – but he did succeed calling for a debate over cutting a nearly $200,000 budget request increase instead.  

Rep. Steve Pearce introduced two amendments to the Legislative Branch spending plan contentiously debated on the House floor on Thursday. It was among a flurry of changes lawmakers attempted to attach to a typically overlooked appropriations bill that controls the House's spending on the House.  

Dropped from consideration were amendments barring discrimination based of sexual orientation and gender identity, preventing transgender bathrooms in the Capitol, allowing members and guns to carry guns in the Capitol.  

[ No Vote on Transgender Bathrooms on Capitol Hill ]  

One of Pearce's amendment would have completely defunded the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which investigates and advises the House Ethics Committee. The measure would have taken the agency's roughly $1 million budget and send the money to the Library of Congress’ service for the blind and physically handicapped.  

The Rules Committee on Wednesday chose not to allow that amendment to be debated on the House floor.  

But it did allow an amendment by Pearce to reduce the OCE’s budget by about $190,000 – the amount of the increase the entity requested in its fiscal 2017 proposal.  

Last year , Pearce tried to add some stiff language governing the OCE and the Ethics Committee stating the two entities could not take any action that would deny a person “any right or protection provided under the Constitution of the United States.” It would have also allowed those under review to hire an attorney without the presumption of guilt.  

He said last year that his efforts were inspired by the experience of a junior staffer in his office whom he was "unfairly singled out" when the ethics offices reviewed allegations of misconduct. The charges were ultimately dismissed.  

[ Pearce Pushed House Rule Change to Provide 'Protection' in Ethics Cases ]  

It’s not the first time a member has gone after the agency.  

In 2011, the House defeated a proposal that would have slashed funding for the OCE by 40 percent. That measure came from Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., who was the subject of an OCE inquiry in 2010 and was later cleared. It gained support from at least 11 members whom the OCE had probed.  

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who chairs the Rules Committee that decided which amendments would be debated on the floor, told Roll Call he stopped short of deciding to debate the complete defunding of the OCE but also agreed that the agency doesn’t need an increased budget.  

Sessions said there is disagreement among members over OCE’s functions and that members need to “debate them.” He skirted questions about whether the House should debate eliminating funding the agency that investigates members for conflicts of interests and public corruption.  

“It is an outside process that’s very controversial, is not working well and is highly unpopular because of its original mandate and jurisdiction is hugely flawed.”  

Asked if he thought the agency was unpopular because its intent is to hold members accountable, Sessions called the agency’s functions “a political witch hunt.”  

The Office of Congressional Ethics declined to comment on either proposal.  

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