Office of Congressional Ethics starts year with a whisper, not a bang

OCE board appointees not announced until first quarter was nearly over

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced their appointments to the Office of Congressional Ethics board on March 18. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Office of Congressional Ethics took no actions in the first quarter of the 116th Congress, due in part to its board not being filled until mid-March.

On March 18, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced appointees for the 116th Congress, including former Reps. David Skaggs, D-Colo., who now chairs OCE; Karan English, D-Ariz.; Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.; and Mike Barnes, D-Md., who serves as an alternate. Allison Hayward, a conservative law professor and McCarthy pick, is the newly appointed co-chair.

The OCE board is the entity that may authorize a preliminary review of a case, and the timing of the appointments meant that no matters were initiated in the first quarter of 2019, according to the OCE’s most recent quarterly report. That means that the OCE also has not yet referred any matters to the House Ethics panel this year.

Former Rep. Doc Hastings resigned from the OCE board, which he co-chaired, at the end of the 115th Congress.

Since the start of 2019, approximately 3,753 private citizens contacted OCE. The contacts fall into two categories: Allegations of misconduct and requests for information about the OCE.

The OCE is an non-partisan entity that reviews allegations of misconduct involving House staff and lawmakers and refers cases to the House Ethics Committee. The office has jurisdiction to investigate alleged violations of a “law, rule, regulation or other standard of conduct.” Since its inception in 2008, investigations into “activities on matters of personal interest” have topped the list, with investigations into violations of official allowances a close second and travel issues third.

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