Ethics Panel Eyes New Tool to Compel Training

Posted December 4, 2009 at 4:54pm

The House ethics committee is considering a new tactic as it looks to enforce mandatory training for each of the chamber’s more than 10,500 aides: public shame.

Ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said Thursday that in recent months she and the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), have sought out fellow Members whose staffs had not completed training to urge them to do so before a year-end deadline.

“We want Members’ staff to do the training. Our emphasis is on compliance rather than publication,— Lofgren said. “We’re not trying to embarrass anyone.—

Under House rules first adopted in 2007, every House aide is required to complete one ethics training course annually, with additional training mandated for new employees and senior staff — defined as aides who are paid a rate of at least $117,787 in 2009.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly referred to as the ethics panel, provides the training through a mix of live lectures, videos and an online quiz.

According to a midyear report released by the ethics committee, however, only a fraction of the more than 10,500 House employees fulfilled the annual training requirement by June 30. According to the report, just 2,861 aides had completed the training.

“The best way to avoid making an honest mistake is to stay current on what the rules are,— Bonner said. “We have by example tried to emphasize the importance of training.—

But the ethics committee has recently raised the specter of naming the House offices where aides fail to complete the training on time, an option that the committee has not previously employed.

“It is a violation of House rules to fail to complete the annual training requirement,— a mid-October memorandum states. The memo continues in underlined text: “Sanctions for failing to satisfy annual training requirements may include the publication of noncompliant employees’ names, along with the identity of their employing House office, as well as other sanctions the Committee deems appropriate.—

While Lofgren said last week that completion statistics have improved significantly since late June, new data were not immediately available. House aides must complete training no later than Dec. 31, and each office must submit an overall certification to the committee no later than Jan. 31.

In the meantime, an internal ethics committee document leaked to the public late last month indicates the ethics committee is also focused on how to better track whether aides are completing their training requirements.

According to a July status report published by Wikileaks.org, an ethics committee counsel was scheduled to meet in August with a House Learning Center official to preview a new tracking program. The learning center is run by the House Chief Administrator’s office.

The report also indicates that some House aides — no number was provided — failed to complete ethics training in 2008 and that the ethics panel planned “monthly closed ethics training sessions for employees who did not comply … to remedy that missing training.—

The ethics committee has not confirmed the authenticity of the leaked report, which also detailed dozens of investigations ongoing in July.