Should Political Appointees Have to Sign an Ethics Pledge?

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By on September 26, 2018 in Human Resources with 0 Comments

Wooden blocks spelling the word 'ethics'

Recently introduced legislation would require federal political appointees in the executive branch to sign a binding ethics pledge after taking office.

The Ethics in Public Service Act (H.R. 6732) was introduced by Congressman Bradly Schneider (D-IL). It would apply to political appointees which it defines as:

[F]ull-time, noncareer Presidential or Vice-Presidential appointee, noncareer appointee in the Senior Executive Service (or other SES-type system), or appointee to a position that has been excepted from the competitive service by reason of being of a confidential or policymaking character (Schedule C and other positions excepted under comparable criteria) in an executive agency, but does not include any individual appointed as a member of the Senior Foreign Service or solely as a uniformed service commissioned officer.

The Ethics Pledge

The pledge that would have to be signed as the bill is currently written reads as follows:

As a condition, and in consideration, of my employment in the United States Government in a position invested with the public trust, I commit myself to the following obligations, which I understand are binding on me and are enforceable under law:

  1. Lobbyist Gift Ban. I will not accept gifts from registered lobbyists or lobbying organizations for the duration of my service as an appointee.
  2. Revolving Door Ban—All Appointees Entering Government. I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.
  3. Revolving Door Ban—Lobbyists Entering Government. If I was a registered lobbyist within the 2 years before the date of my appointment, in addition to abiding by the limitations of paragraph 2, I will not for a period of 2 years after the date of my appointment:
    1. participate in any particular matter on which I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment;
    2. participate in the specific issue area in which that particular matter falls; or
    3. seek or accept employment with any executive agency that I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment.
  4. Revolving Door Ban—Appointees Leaving Government. If, upon my departure from the Government, I am covered by the post-employment restrictions on communicating with employees of my former executive agency set forth in section 207(c) of title 18, United States Code, I agree that I will abide by those restrictions for a period of 2 years following the end of my appointment.
  5. Revolving Door Ban—Appointees Leaving Government to Lobby. In addition to abiding by the limitations of paragraph 4, I also agree, upon leaving Government service, not to lobby any covered executive branch official or noncareer Senior Executive Service appointee for the remainder of the Administration.
  6. Employment Qualification Commitment. I agree that any hiring or other employment decisions I make will be based on the candidate’s qualifications, competence, and experience.
  7. Assent to Enforcement. I acknowledge that title II of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which I have read before signing this document, defines certain of the terms applicable to the foregoing obligations and sets forth the methods for enforcing them. I expressly accept the provisions of that title as a part of this agreement and as binding on me. I understand that the terms of this pledge are in addition to any statutory or other legal restrictions applicable to me by virtue of Federal Government service.

Enforcement

According to the legislation, the Attorney General is authorized to request a federal investigation of reported violations of the pledge and can commence civil action for violations. In such civil actions, the text of the legislation says that temporary restraining orders and preliminary and permanent injunctions can be used to restrain conduct by employees found to be in violation.

The Attorney General is also authorized in the case of violations to request that a trust be established for the benefit of the United States “requiring an accounting and payment to the United States Treasury of all money and other things of value received by, or payable to, the former employee arising out of any breach or attempted breach of such pledge.”

Basis for the Legislation

Schneider said in a press release about the bill that it is necessary to “reverse changes in the Trump Administration Ethics Pledge that now allow former appointees to communicate with the agency where they worked, and that permit former lobbyists to join an executive agency that they lobbied within the previous two years.”

He adds that it would effectively revert back to Obama-era ethics policies.

“President Trump campaigned to ‘drain the swamp,’ but his Administration has only accelerated the revolving door between the executive branch and industry lobbyists,” said Schneider. “The Ethics in Public Service Act is a commonsense step to restore the rules surrounding executive appointee lobbying to the higher standards of the previous Administration. Our democracy will function more effectively and the American people will be better served by a stronger firewall between public service and corporate lobbying.”

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.

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