Congress, Federal Employees and Ethics

Are Congressional ethics rules effective? Are the ethics rules effective for the federal workforce?

Ethics “reform” may now be the hottest issue inside the beltway.

Both political parties are putting their plans on display to demonstrate to the American public that they stand for a strong government that is not for sale to lobbyists or organizations with lots of money and a political agenda. Of course, anyone who follows American politics knows there is more than little self-interest involved in the recent public interest in enforcing ethics rules.

Press reports that reflect poorly on politicians during an election year are always bad news and guaranteed to arouse the self-interest of any Congressional representative who wants to return to a seat in the US Congress. The only thing worse that a negative press report is an indictment alleging that someone running for office has engaged in illegal conduct.

With the negative publicity surrounding the revelations of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, both parties are trying to downplay the implications for re-election of their party members and use the situation to attempt to increase their power in Congress in November.

No doubt, some legislative changes will be made. No doubt, there will be more problems regarding the conduct of our elected representatives in the future. Will the current controversy lead to meaningful change?

As readers know, there is a separate agency to guide the ethics of federal employees in the executive branch of government. The agency describes its mission this way: “The Office of Government Ethics exercises leadership in the executive branch to prevent conflicts of interest on the part of Government employees, and to resolve those conflicts of interest that do occur. In partnership with executive branch agencies and departments, OGE fosters high ethical standards for employees and strengthens the public’s confidence that the Government’s business is conducted with impartiality and integrity.”

There are ethics committees in Congress although they are often thought of as ineffective. In fact, news reports indicate they are not planning any action as a result of recent revelations on indications of ethics problems in Congress.

In effect, there is not the equivalent of an Office of Government Ethics for Congress. One big difference, of course, is that the public has to re-elect a Member of Congress or the representative can be thrown out of office. It doesn’t happen very often because of the inherent advantages available to Congressional representatives but it does happen, sometimes with senior Congressional representatives, especially if there has been a rash of negative publicity the potential criminal conduct of an elected official.

Here is your chance to voice your opinion on these issues.  Does Congress do an acceptable job of policing the ethical conduct of its members? Are Congressional ethics rules effective? Are the rules governing the ethics of federal employees effective? And is the executive branch effective in governing the ethics rules for federal employees?

In addition to voting in the survey, you can also submit your comments and suggestions. We will publish an article with the results of the survey in the next few days. Comments identifying the agency, geographic location and title of the person submitting the opinion have a greater chance of being selected for publication.

You can read the results of this survey right here.