House Ethics Wants 15 Percent More in 111th

Posted February 11, 2009 at 6:46pm

Asserting that rules changes in the previous Congress have increased demands on the House ethics committee, Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) on Wednesday proposed a 15 percent increase in the panel’s budget in the 111th Congress.

Under the request, which would need to be approved by the full House, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct would receive more than $5.7 million in its biennial budget, up from $4.9 million.

“Clearly the committee’s mandate, as well as its staffing and technology requirements, has grown significantly,” Lofgren said, according to prepared remarks. In addition to the committee’s role as an investigative body, she cited its newer responsibilities, including pre- emptive reviews of all Member and staff travel requests.

The Californian, who appeared before the House Administration Committee with ethics ranking member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), noted that much of the increase would be used to fill long-term vacancies on the committee’s staff. Although authorized to hire 24 aides, the panel counts only 15 staff.

“Importantly, the figures presented today … address both the past, unmet needs of the committee and the current mandates of the House ethics rules, both of which have resulted from the expanded mission of the Committee,” Lofgren said.

According to Lofgren’s testimony, the funds would be distributed to provide a 7.4 percent increase in 2009 over its current $2.5 million annual budget, and an additional 8.6 percent increase in 2010.

Then-ethics Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) sought an increase to nearly $6.1 million in 2007 — a 43 percent jump from the previous Congress — citing similar needs to increase staff, but the ethics committee ultimately received only $4.9 million.

The ethics committee budget last received a significant bump in 2005, when then-Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and then-ranking member Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) wrangled a huge increase to $4.2 million. Prior to that, the committee’s biennial budget had long hovered in the mid-$2 million range.

In recent years, however, the panel has left significant portions of its budget unspent, often as much as 20 percent.

In 2007, the panel left approximately $560,000 in its coffers, about 23 percent of its $2.46 million annual budget, an analysis of disbursement records shows. House spending records for the full 2008 calendar year are not yet available.

In the meantime, the Office of Congressional Ethics remains outside the fray of the biennial budget pleadings, since it is not required to appear before the panel and plead its budget case.

The fledgling independent ethics office, which formally began work last month, is tasked with reviewing and recommending potential rules violations to the full ethics committee.

Unlike the full ethics committee — and every other House chamber except the appropriations panel — the OCE is not required to present its biennial budget before the House Administration Committee.

Instead, the OCE’s budget — which has not been released to date — is to be included under a general House spending account. It was not immediately clear whether the OCE chairman, ex-Rep. David Skaggs (D-Colo.), or co-chairman, ex-Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), will have to appear before the House Appropriations Committee as do other offices, including the Architect of the Capitol and Capitol Police.

Under the resolution establishing the OCE, the office otherwise uses the same voucher system employed by House offices, requiring the submission of receipts and the approval of the body’s chairman.