The homepage for the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics went down Thursday as ethics questions involving the Trump administration swirled in the wake of senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway's suggestion that Americans "buy Ivanka's stuff." However, individual pages linked to the site appeared to be available, including the form for reporting an ethics violation. Federal ethics rules prohibit executive branch employees from using public office "for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise or for the private gain of friends, relatives or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity." Enforcement, however, is left to the agency for which the offender works, in this case the White House. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Conway had been "counseled, and that's all we're going to say," the Associated Press reported.
The Metropolitan Water District has opened a review into its own ethics office, hiring a Washington, D.C.-based law firm to look into at least two investigations carried out at the agency. The MWD is paying attorney Alejandro Mayorkas, the former deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, nearly $1,100 per hour to examine the policies and procedures of the office, which investigates potential violations of internal ethics rules. Mayorkas, a partner with the firm WilmerHale, said the review was initiated at least in part as the result of concerns over two ethics office investigations. He declined to say who the subjects were. But he said the cases had sparked disagreements at the agency over policy issues, such as confidentiality.
WASHINGTON – The Office of Congressional Ethics won a reprieve Tuesday, after House Republicans reversed course and dropped plans to gut the independent panel following a public outcry and criticism from President-elect Donald Trump. At least six lawmakers remain under investigation following complaints initially reviewed by the OCE, including Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the fourth highest-ranking House Republican. Other ongoing investigations target Republican Reps. Created in 2008, the ethics office is a nonpartisan entity that reviews allegations of misconduct against House members, officers and staff, and makes recommendations to the House Ethics Committee. In most cases, the OCE report and findings must be publicly released.
The rules-package amendment promulgated by Rep. Bob Goodlatte and passed Monday night by the House Republican Conference would have put the OCE under the aegis of the House Ethics Committee. The inconvenient word ethics would be struck from the office's name altogether. It would become the "Office of Congressional Complaint Review," a title carrying slightly more gravitas than the congressional mail room. The proposal would prevent the OCE from disclosing any information to the public--sealing itself to the public, essentially--and explicitly bars it from hiring a communications director or press secretary. In short, under the new rules, the OCE would handle all ethics complaints against members in the dark and be managed by the House Ethics Committee, which, like all committees, would be controlled by Republicans.
Federal government employees gathered near the White House in a rally to end the shutdown. The rally was organized by federal employee labor unions. Federal workers or people acting on their behalf aren't allowed in general to seek financial assistance through electronic crowdsourcing appeals, and those who do run the risk of violating federal ethics rules, the Office of Government Ethics warns in a new legal advisory. "Such concerns raise a variety of ethics concerns," the office's director, Emory A. Rounds III, wrote in a Feb. 15 memo to federal agencies. The advisory was prompted by questions raised during the recent, 35-day government shutdown, when some 800,000 federal employees were either placed on unpaid leave or forced to work without pay.