Policy

Ex-Ethics Chief Outlines Tips to Fix Conflicts of Interest

U.S. Capitol Dome (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Former Office of Government Ethics chief Walter Shaub, a high-profile critic of the Trump administration’s lax approach to conflicts of interest, offered 13 recommendations Thursday he said would shore up federal ethics.   

He wants to make it harder for presidents to fire and replace directors of OGE. He recommends giving the federal agency the authority to initiate contact with Congress. And he is urging lawmakers to amend ethics laws to give the ethics office, which currently plays an advisory role, more power to collect documents and records and to make public on its website the ethics actions it takes.

“The Director of OGE must be able to carry out his or her mission without fear of political retaliation,” Shaub said in a statement. “This requires it to operate as an independent prevention mechanism with the ability to prevent conflicts of interest in government.”

Shaub left his post at the ethics agency this summer and has aired his concerns publicly since joining the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group. The Trump administration has put the nation in an “ethics crisis,” Shaub said in July and noted he was developing his proposals to fix it. 

“For the system to work properly, OGE must also have access to specific ethics records and plans, it must have its authority more clearly defined, and transparency must be strengthened to prevent misuse of government office,” Shaub added.

The former federal ethics chief outlined his proposal in great detail in a letter to Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and to the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland.  

Shaub said he met with Gowdy and Cummings on Thursday to present his ideas. 

“I appreciate Mr. Shaub’s willingness to compile and discuss his recommendations,” Gowdy said in a statement. “With 15 years of experience at OGE, he provides a unique perspective on strengthening and improving government ethics. His recommendations will be given serious consideration as we work towards reauthorization legislation.”

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