The supervising ethics office for the Executive Branch, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) is an independent agency that aims to prevent conflicts of interest on the part of U.S. government employees, and works to resolve those conflicts if they occur. It is also involved in the development of ethics programs for the government’s anti-corruption foreign policy initiatives. Despite its numerous publications and instructional videos, the agency has proven incapable of dealing with the massive problem of the revolving door, through which government officials pass between industries and the agencies that are supposed to regulate them. The current director of the Office of Government Ethics, Robert Cusick, was appointed to the position after contributing to the reelection campaign of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who wrote a letter of recommendation on his behalf to President George W. Bush.
Established as part of the Office of Personnel Management by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) became a separate agency on October 1, 1989, as a result of the passage of the Office of Government Ethics Reauthorization Act of 1988.
Striving to ensure that there is no conflict of interest in actions taken by Executive Branch employees, or any appearance of conflicts of interest, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) works closely with every Executive Branch agency. Each agency’s head has primary responsibility for the daily administration of ethics in his or her specific office, and also selects a Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) through whom the OGE communicates on policies and regulatory changes, one-on-one and by issuing OGE Advisories (formerly DAEOgrams), memoranda providing guidance on how to interpret and comply with new or modified conflict of interest or standards of conduct regulations, or financial disclosure policies and procedures. In addition, each department and agency is assigned an OGE desk officer who is responsible for providing assistance in maintaining Standards of Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.
Duties in the OGE are divided among various offices:
Whenever a transition to a new administration is going to occur, OGE has additional responsibilities, including advising new and outgoing employees of their ethics obligations and reviewing incoming administration nominees for conflicts of interest.
Potential Ethics Issues
- Certain post-employment business activities
- Conflicting financial interests
- Disobeying restrictions regarding book deals
- Engaging in away-from-the-job experiences that conflict with one’s official duties
- Accepting gifts from outside sources
- Failing to adhere to public finance disclosure regulations
- Lack of impartiality in performing official duties
- Misuse of position
- Prosecuting a claim against the United States, or acting as the agent or attorney of a private party before the government in connection with a particular matter in which the U.S. is a party or has a direct or substantial interest
Among the publications, forms, and documents that are available from the OGE office are:
- Do It Right (pdf)
- A Brief Wrap on Ethics (pdf)
- Take the High Road (pdf)
- Gifts Between Employees (pdf)
- Rules for the Road (pdf)
From the OGE Web Site
According to the OGE’s FY 2013 Explanatory Notes and Annual Performance Plan, the agency’s funds are distributed as follows:
Rental payments to GSA $1,481,000
Other Services $1,115,000
Supplies & Materials $123,000
Communications & Utilities $112,000
Rental Payments to Others $15,000
Transportation (freight) $3,000
Printing and Reproduction $1,000
Total Budget $31,473,000
End Employee Ban on Nonprofit Boards
For 15 years federal employees were prohibited from serving on the boards of nonprofit organizations. But in July 2011, the Office of Government Ethics proposed a rule change ending the ban. Under the new regulation, workers would be able to serve on nonprofit boards without having to obtain a waiver from their agency.
Advocacy groups supported the rule change, which would help agencies recruit top scientists who might otherwise be reluctant to join the government because of the prohibition. “The removal of this deterrent to federal service will make it easier for agencies to attract the best and the brightest scientists to their scientific staffs,” wrote 30 organizations in a letter supporting the regulation.
Ethics Office Moves To Let Federal Employees Serve On Nonprofit Boards (by Emily Yehle, Greenwire)
Office Spends Heavily on Foreign Travel
The Office of Government Ethics was singled out in 2011 by Junket Sleuth, a website devoted to federal government travel excesses, for spending 45% of its travel budget from 2006 to 2010 on trips overseas.
Expenditures on foreign travel totaled $281,314, out of $621,698 during the time period in question. Forty-three of the 50 most expensive trips taken by agency employees were to foreign countries. Staff visited France 20 times, China nine, Austria seven, and Japan five, in addition to other countries.
The Revolving Door Between Government Employment and Post-Government Employment
“The Revolving Door” refers to the tendency of administration officials to leave office and take industry jobs, cashing in with the corporations they once regulated. On the other side, industry executives take government positions and pursue a corporate-friendly approach to the oversight of the industries with which they have worked.
The Pentagon’s Revolving Door (by William Fisher, Huffington Post)
All the president’s PR men: Raw Story investigation reveals revolving door on Iraq PR (by Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane, Raw Story)
How Things Work: FTC Chair to Join Proctor & Gamble (Multinational Monitor)
Under Bush the Revolving Door Gains Speed (by Judy Sarasohn, Washington Post)
Bush Advisors Cashed in on Saudi Gravy Train (by Jonathan Wells, Jack Meyers and Maggie Maulvihill, Boston Herald)
The Revolving Door: US Government Workers & University Researchers Go Biotech…and Back Again (by Anne C. Mulkern, Denver Post)
When Advocates Become Regulators: President Bush has installed more than 100 top officials who were once lobbyists, attorneys or spokespeople for the industries they oversee (by Anne C. Mulkern, Denver Post)
Revolving Door (OpenSecrets)
US SEC urged to adopt more revolving door safeguards (by Sarah N. Lynch, Reuters)
What is the Revolving Door? (by Josh Clark, How Stuff Works)
Government: FCC Commissioner Baker exits via the revolving door (by John Healey, Los Angeles Times)
Grassley demands waivers and recusals on former lobbyists in the Obama administration (by Angie Drobnic Holan, PolitiFact.com)
Disclosure Forms on Web
The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) announced in March 2012 that personal financial disclosure forms of Senate-confirmed officials would soon be available online to the public. Until now, anyone seeking this information had to request it from the OGE by mail or fax. Once the online tool is up, officials’ assets, liabilities and transactions will be searchable by name, agency or position. The move by OGE came at a time when Congress was working on legislation that could expand the number of financial disclosure reports that are publicly accessible.
Office of Government Ethics Increases Transparency of Personal Financial Disclosure Records (by Dan Auble, OpenSecrets.org)
Easier Access To Disclosure Forms Planned (by Eric Yoder, Washington Post)
A new ethics watchdog for federal employees is on the way. Walter M. Shaub, Jr., was nominated by President Obama on May 24 to serve a five-year term as Director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), succeeding Robert I. Cusick, Jr., whose term expired. OGE is an independent agency that aims to prevent conflicts of interest on the part of U.S. government employees, and works to resolve those conflicts if they occur. OGE also participates in developing ethics programs for the government’s anti-corruption foreign policy initiatives. Shaub’s nomination is subject to confirmation by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which has yet to schedule a hearing.
Born in 1971 in Virginia, Shaub earned a B.A. in History from James Madison University in 1993 and a J.D. from the American University Washington College of Law in 1996. Starting his legal career as a government attorney, Shaub served as a staff attorney at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Baltimore-Washington Regional Counsel’s office from 1997 to 1998, at the Office of General Counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services from 1998 to 2000, and at the VA’s Central Office from 2000 to 2001. Shaub first worked for OGE from 2001 to 2004, leaving for the private sector to practice at the Washington, DC, law firm of Shaw, Bransford, Veilleux and Roth, where he focused on federal employment law until 2006.
Shaub has served at OGE continuously since 2006, specifically as a supervisory attorney from 2006 to 2008 and as deputy general counsel since 2008. At the same time, Shaub has been the designated chief Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) officer for OGE.
Shaub contributed $500 to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.