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Who Watches the Congressional Watchdog? Congress

photo of Michael Catalini
December 12, 2012

Add to the long list of year-end issues facing lawmakers the Office of Congressional Ethics, whose mandate expires come January.

But don't hold your breath if you're expecting House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to decide soon on the appointment of four board members who are necessary for the office to continue to run.

That's according to a coalition of 11 government watchdog organizations who called on House leaders Wednesday to reauthorize the office for the 113th Congress.

OCE, established in 2008 as an independent panel that refers cases to the House Ethics Committee to consider, must be reauthorized every Congress. Then, there's the expiration of four of the office's six board members. Without them, the office is rendered effectively impotent, the watchdog groups say.

The power to appoint those members rests with Boehner and Pelosi. So far, spokesmen for the leaders say they plan to keep the office in place, but provide no details on the names of the appointees or a timeframe for the appointments.

"The Speaker intends to retain the Office of Congressional Ethics for the 113th Congress and to appoint an Ethics chair in a timely fashion," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

Pelosi's office replied in kind.

“House Democrats are firmly committed to the continuation of the OCE and replacements will be named at the appropriate time," said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.

The complicating factor for OCE, as the group that investigates wrongdoing among lawmakers, is that it's not very popular with lawmakers.

"There are strong bipartisan vibes against it," said the National Legal and Policy Center's Ken Boehm.

What does this mean for the public? A defunct OCE would sap citizens' already enervated enthusiasm about Washington, the groups argue. 

"Not reauthorizing OCE would have an enormously corrosive effect on the public's confidence in government and it's already bad enough, quite frankly," said Judicial Watch's Chris Farrell.

Other groups in the coalition include: Americans for Campaign Reform, Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S. PIRG. 


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