Ethics Leaders Promise Tech Upgrade

Posted March 11, 2009 at 5:52pm

House ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that her panel will aim to improve services to Members and aides in the 111th Congress by expanding the committee’s technological offerings.

“We do hope to have extensive modernization efforts,— Lofgren said Wednesday.

While neither Lofgren nor ranking member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) offered specific proposals, acknowledging that many plans are still in the early stages, both said that ethics training would be one of the primary targets for improvement.

“Both the chairwoman and I believe we’ve got to make the process more user-friendly and take advantage of technology,— Bonner said in a separate interview last week. “It is certainly a shared goal.—

Bonner recalled that he has personally had difficulties with the committee’s Web site, explaining that he attempted to access an online training video while at home during the December recess, but was unable to do so because the segments are restricted to the House intranet and not publicly available.

Under new House rules established in the 110th Congress, the chamber’s aides and officers are required to complete annual training sessions on the ethics regulations.

In addition to the regular in-person training sessions that the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct offers, it also began offering online seminars early last year.

Lofgren and Bonner filmed a new introduction video for the ethics committee Web site on Tuesday, although the segment had yet to be posted as of Wednesday afternoon. Until last week, the site featured a session narrated by the former chairwoman, the late Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), and then-ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).

“I think every Member and staffer should want to be as current as they can be on the rules we are required to live by so mistakes can be minimized,— Bonner said. The committee also authorized an online quiz in late 2008 that House aides can use to meet their annual training requirement.

Among the other online training videos available to House aides, several show signs of their age, including a series for senior staff — those aides who meet a specific pay threshold — that includes outdated guidelines on income, including limits that mandate when an aide must file a financial disclosure statement.

“There’s a need to upgrade the technology generally,— Lofgren said when asked if other videos would be re-filmed.

In the meantime, Lofgren noted that the ethics committee is also in the process of drafting new rules governing how it will interact with the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The fledgling OCE, established by a House vote in spring 2008, is responsible for reviewing and recommending potential rules violations to the full ethics committee.

Lofgren said ethics leaders have met with OCE staff director Leo Wise, and expect to soon schedule a formal meeting with OCE Chairman and ex-Rep. David Skaggs (D-Colo.) and Co-chairman and ex-Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.).

Lofgren said the committee is also focused on increasing its staff levels to fill a number of vacancies, including a general counsel.

“We need to fly the airplane while we’re changing it,— Lofgren said.