The Digital File Cabinet: House and Senate File Ethics Disclosures

Members of Congress in the House and Senate, candidates for federal office, senior congressional staff, nominees for executive branch positions, Cabinet members, the president and vice president and Supreme Court justices are required by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to file annual reports disclosing their personal finances. Compliance and enforcement of this requirement is overseen by the congressional ethics committees, the ethics offices of government agencies and, in the case of executive branch officials, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

These disclosures include financial forms, gift and travel filings, post-employment lobbying restrictions, and more. It’s a lot of disclosure information, and oftentimes, some disclosures must be filed in person rather than online. 

The following outlines the major types of information that must be reported on personal ethics disclosures, as well as if the information is publicly available online, in person, or both.

Continue reading “The Digital File Cabinet: House and Senate File Ethics Disclosures”

Reforms Included in the House Rules for the 116th Congress

At the beginning of each Congress, House lawmakers adopt rules that will govern the state of play for both sessions of that Congress. The rules of the House of Representatives are a chance for the majority to set priorities as well as implement operational and institutional reforms. 

We made a number of reform recommendations — see our report and draft legislative language — several of our favorites made it into the package. 

As we are well into the second session of the 116th Congress, we took inventory of standout reforms that made it into the rules package. Scroll down for a summary of where items stand this Congress.

Find the complete House Rules (with explanations) here, and the resolution that ratified the rules (H. Res. 6) here.

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CBO’s Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Forms

You may have heard of the Congressional Budget Office, the legislative branch agency tasked with advising Congress on the potential economic impact of legislation. In formulating these analyses, CBO may rely on outside experts. The agency has three panels of advisers (Economic, Health, and Health Insurance) composed of experts from academia, the private sector, and elsewhere that provide input on CBO analyses, and CBO also consults with other outside experts. 

These outside advisers have the potential to influence CBO’s perspective, which is why the advisers are required to disclose their significant financial interests as a way of surfacing potential conflicts. Until recently, CBO did not publish on its website information about how to review the forms

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GPO Watchdog Testimony Raises Concerns About the Agency

The Government Publishing Office’s (GPO) lack of permanent leadership was just one of the major issues raised at this week’s oversight hearing of the GPO Office of the Inspector General.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt kicked off the hearing by voicing concerns over shaky leadership: the agency hasn’t had a permanent director since October 2017 and has been under the leadership of Acting Deputy Director John Crawford for the last 12 months. On top of that, five of the ten GPO executive leadership team positions are vacant with employees serving in an acting capacity, according to Chairman Blunt’s remarks. 

The Chairman also noted that it’s not just the agency leadership that’s in flux; GPO Inspector General (IG) Michael Leary is the third person to hold the position in the last 16 months. Continue reading “GPO Watchdog Testimony Raises Concerns About the Agency”

What Does Rep. Collins’ Exit Say About the Speaker’s Power to Police Member Behavior?

Rep. Collins was arrested for insider trading every news outlet on earth reported, but that’s not the most interesting part. Immediately after his arrest, Speaker Ryan released a statement that said, in passive voice, “Until this matter is settled, Rep. Collins will not be serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.” Multiple news outlets described what happened as Ryan stripping Collins of his committee membership. At least in a technical sense, that’s not possible. Continue reading “What Does Rep. Collins’ Exit Say About the Speaker’s Power to Police Member Behavior?”

Recs on the House’s Harassment Bill

In early December, we shared our recommendations on how Congress should address harassment. Since then, the Committee on House Administration has published a draft reform bill — the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act — and today we are publishing our recommendations on how that bill should be further strengthened. We expect the underlying legislation will be shortly enacted into law.

Members of Congress and their staff are making a serious effort to grapple with the immediate issue of reforming how these claims are handled. Perhaps future legislation will address some of the problems in the House Ethics Committee itself, and also look at how Congress can proactively prevent these problems from arising instead of dealing with them one-at-a-time or after-the-fact.

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Thoughts on Harassment in Congress and Reform of the Congressional Accountability Act

Today the House of Representatives held its second hearing on the issue of sexual harassment in Congress, focusing on the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, the law that created the framework through which harassment and other congressional workplace issues are addressed.

The House and Senate recently passed resolutions requiring sexual harassment training, and the House is exploring whether it should do more. Rep. Speier has introduced legislation to reform the CAA, H.R. 4396, although she has said it does not go far enough.

I have some thoughts on how Congress can deal with the sexual harassment issue and other forms of discrimination as well. Continue reading “Thoughts on Harassment in Congress and Reform of the Congressional Accountability Act”

The House Rules Should be Publicly Available in Advance of Their Adoption

At the start of the 115th Congress, there was a fight over whether the Office of Congressional Ethics should continue its existence. I won’t get into the merits of the disagreement here (although I’ve written about it elsewhere), but how it occurred is interesting.

The Office of Congressional Ethics is one of the many offices and agencies created by the rules of the House of Representatives, which are adopted on the first day of the new Congress. The House Rules are contained in a simple resolution, and that resolution usually is released to the public at most 24 hours before the vote, and sometimes with even less notice. At the start of the 115th Congress, the Republican Conference did not finalize the proposed rules until the night before they were to be considered by the House, and the full text didn’t leak out in full until the day of the vote.

More or less, this is the general practice of both parties, which is neither transparent nor helpful to the deliberative process. And yet, bills and joint resolutions were publicly available online for 3 days in advance of when they were voted on, just as the House rules require. What was going on? Continue reading “The House Rules Should be Publicly Available in Advance of Their Adoption”

Effort Underway to Undermine the House’s Ethics Watchdog

Source: MasonDan

Update at 12:52 pm on Tuesday: After an outpouring of phone calls, emails, tweets and an avalanche of news stories, House Republicans held a secret meeting just before noon and pulled the Goodlatte amendment, which would have eviscerated the Office of Congressional Ethics. While we have won for now, members are quoted as saying they’re going to revisit the issue later this year. We must remain vigilant. Continue reading “Effort Underway to Undermine the House’s Ethics Watchdog”

Previewing the House’s Rules for the 115th

On the first legislative day of a new Congress, the House of Representatives operates virtually in a state of nature, governed only by the Constitution. The first order of business is electing a Speaker, and after the Speaker swears in the Members, they adopt the rules that govern the House. Until then, there are no committees, no officers of the House, nada. At that moment, it’s pure majority rule. The Rules of the House, adopted that day, set the tone and parameters for all that follows.

Recently, Bloomberg summarized a proposal from House Republicans on the Rules the House of Representatives for the 115th Congress should adopt, and I have copies of a draft that shows how these rules would differ from the 114th, so here’s what pops out as notable. (Warning: this is not comprehensive!)

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But first…. Continue reading “Previewing the House’s Rules for the 115th”