Ethics Training Is All Reruns

Posted March 2, 2009 at 6:45pm

Since House Members mandated annual ethics training for their aides two years ago, the sessions have become must-see TV on the chamber’s intranet — even though there’s nothing but reruns.

Under House rules adopted in early 2007, all House employees are required to complete one hour of ethics training per year, plus an extra session for aides who rise to the level of “senior staff.—

While the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct offers regular in-person training sessions for Capitol Hill staff, it also began offering online seminars in 2008. Staffers back in the districts have had access to similar online sessions since 2007.

But a review of videos made available on HouseNet, the chamber’s intranet service, reveals the materials — which include a formal video series for district staff and recorded training sessions for Hill aides — are already beginning to show their age.

In a three-part video for senior staff, for example, a discussion on income uses guidelines for 2007 and notes only that limits on salary and earned income would increase in 2008.

The House ethics committee released 2009 limits — including a $117,787 salary threshold for filing financial disclosure statements in 2010 — in mid-February.

In the introduction to that video, then-Staff Director William O’Reilly informs House aides attending the session being recorded: “We are videotaping this this afternoon to be used with district staff so there may be times when we’re talking to both the camera and with you all.—

Those videos have since been approved for use by House aides in Washington, D.C., as well.

Similarly, in another training video for House aides, one ethics committee attorney leading a training session notes that the updated Ethics Manual will soon be released — apparently referring to the publication circulated in spring 2008.

“The new Ethics Manual is coming out like really soon. Yay!— the aide said.

Other videos feature ethics staff who have subsequently left the panel, including O’Reilly, who departed last year to return to Jones Day; Peter Van Hartesveldt, a former counsel who is now a partner at Nossaman; and John Sassaman, who moved from his post as senior counsel to staff director of the Senate Ethics Committee. Three other ethics attorneys who appear in the videos are still on the committee staff.

In addition, in the two-minute introduction video to the five-part session designed for district offices, aides are greeted by the late Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), then-chairwoman of the ethics committee, and then-ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), who informs staffers: “Your observance of this presentation and submission of the completed ethics certificate satisfies the annual general ethics training requirement for all House staff.—

“Public office is a public trust, and to uphold this trust, the House of Representatives has established and bound itself to the ethical standards set forth in the Code of Official Conduct, outlined as House Rule 23,— Jones, who died unexpectedly in August 2008, said in the video.

Both ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and ranking member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) were traveling Monday and could not be reached for comment.

According to a biennial report chronicling the committee’s activities, the House ethics panel trained more than 12,000 employees in 2007.

Among those individuals, the committee counted more than 10,500 certifications in general ethics courses — including 3,000 new employees who are required to complete ethics certification in person, rather than online. In addition, the committee certified 1,438 aides in senior staff ethics requirements.

In 2008, the committee tallied about 2,600 in-person certifications but did not provide a number for those employees who utilized its online training options. In late 2008, the ethics panel also approved an online quiz as an option for House aides to complete their ethics training.

Estimates for the number of House aides who completed ethics training in 2008, including those who opted for the online videos or quiz, were not immediately available.

Public Citizen’s Craig Holman, who acknowledged he has not seen the videos, which are not publicly available, expressed concern that videos remain up to date, but he said the medium could nonetheless be an effective way to train staff.

“I don’t mind them making them more easily available over the Internet as long as they are current,— he said.