The independent Office of Congressional Ethics officially received the green light Wednesday to continue its watchdog work, with the formal reappointments of its board members by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Language to reauthorize the sometimes controversial office was contained in the House rules package for the new congressional session approved on Jan. 3. Its role since it was created in 2008 has been to provide preliminary, independent reviews of ethics accusations against members of Congress and to make recommendations about whether further investigation by the Ethics Committee was necessary.
But there was worry by some good-government groups that the work of the OCE could be undermined—or even halted—if congressional critics were able to convince their party leaders not to address the expiring term limits of the office’s board members. That's because OCE staff can’t launch new investigations and take other actions without board approval. And if there is no board, there can’t be board approval for its investigations, warned the groups, including Public Citizen and Common Cause.
The OCE has been cochaired by former Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., former head of the CIA, and former Rep. David Skaggs, D-Colo. Four other members and two alternates serve on the OCE.
But the worries over whether the OCE board would remain viable were put to rest Wednesday when Boehner and Pelosi announced the reappointments of most of the current board members, equally divided among Democrats and Republicans. The only exception was the appointment of former Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Md., as an alternate board member. He is taking the seat of retiring alternate Abner Mikva, a former Democratic congressman from Illinois, federal judge, and White House counsel under former President Clinton.
The roster of other OCE board members will stay the same. Those are Goss as chairman and Skaggs as cochair; former Rep. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, D-Calif.; former House Chief Administrative Officer Jay Eagen; former Rep. Karan English, D-Ariz.; and government ethics attorney and former chief of staff of the Federal Election Commission, Allison Hayward. Former Rep. Bill Frenzel, R-Minn., will serve with Barnes as an alternate.
The office was created in 2008 in response to complaints that the House Ethics Committee alone was not adequately policing fellow House members.