Q&A with the OCE

Last week we invited the public, via social media, to ask questions about how the OCE functions. Today, we've compiled the answers. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful questions. We plan to make this a regular installment on the blog, so stay tuned. You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for future opportunities like these.

Q: @CongressEthics Are you worried about OCE investigations being used to score political points during this election year?

The OCE is a non-partisan, fact-finding office, with the sole purpose of investigating allegations and referring them, when appropriate, to the House Ethics Committee. It's important to note that our staff and Board are impartial and unbiased in all reviews. Accuracy is extremely important in what we do and our investigations are based purely on facts and evidence and never with regard to political party.

Q: @CongressEthics What happens if you find information during your investigation that's exculpatory? #AskOCE

OCE rule 4F deals squarely with the issue of exculpatory information. Under this rule, we turn over any exculpatory information of an alleged violation that the Board is considering when deciding whether to refer a matter for further review or dismissal to the House Ethics Committee.

Q: @CongressEthics Your blog said OCE can do an initial investigation before starting a review. What does this mean? #AskOCE

When the OCE receives credible information about an alleged violation, the office staff, coordinating with the Board Chair and Co-Chair, conducts a "reasonable initial investigation." This step ensures the accuracy of information the OCE receives and eliminates the possibility of partisan groups trying to influence the investigation. The findings of this initial review are then submitted to the Board. It's then up to them to decide whether to start an investigation, the first step of which is a 30-day preliminary review.

Q: @CongressEthics From the looks of your most recent quarterly report, the volume of OCE investigations has slowed down. Why?

Over the last few years, some have observed that the OCE has had a deterrent effect, resulting in fewer allegations of misconduct. In addition, since the beginning of this Congress our investigations have been more complex, evidence-heavy cases that have required more of the OCE's resources.

How does the OCE start an investigation?

An OCE investigation begins when at least two members of the OCE Board request, in writing, that the staff look into a matter. Information about alleged violations comes to the Board from multiple sources. OCE Board members and members of the OCE professional staff often bring information to the Board's attention. Outside parties, including the general public, are also potential sources of information.

As a public-facing office, the OCE accepts information from the public, however a submission of information doesn't automatically trigger a review. The decision to launch an investigation lies solely with the Board.

When the OCE receives credible information about an alleged violation, the office staff will ask for authorization from the Board chair and co-chair to conduct a "reasonable initial investigation." The findings of this initial review are submitted to the Board, who has the final say about whether to start an investigation.

For more information on the process, and details on how to make a submission, visit the Public Input tab on our website.

OCE in the News

Washington Times article profiles the OCE and its role in the House ethics process.

History of the OCE

Established March 11, 2008, by House Resolution 895, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is the first ever independent body overseeing the ethics of the House of Representatives. The OCE was formed after members of a congressional task force proposed an independent entity in the U.S. House to increase accountability and transparency.

On this, the OCE's fourth anniversary, we wanted to offer a brief history of the office and a window into how we function.

Our mission is to assist the U.S. House in upholding high ethical standards with an eye toward increasing transparency and providing information to the public. The OCE reviews allegations of misconduct against House Members, officers, and staff and, when appropriate, refers investigations to the House Ethics Committee for further review. While our two-stage investigative process is confidential, in almost all circumstances, OCE cases sent to the Ethics Committee must become public.

Since the OCE was created, its authorizing resolution has been renewed in both the 111th and 112th Congresses. Last Congress (2009 - 2010) the office started 69 preliminary reviews. Twenty-eight of those reviews were terminated, 22 were referred for further review, and 18 were referred for dismissal. So far this Congress (2011 - 2012) the OCE has begun 23 preliminary reviews. Five of those reviews were terminated, nine were referred for further review, and four were referred for dismissal.

The OCE has reviewed a wide variety of allegations relating to earmarks, travel, financial disclosure, and legal expense funds among other topics. You can find those reports here.

For articles on the OCE, click here.

OCE in 2012

The OCE started this blog back in March of 2010 with the goal of providing the public a window into ethics enforcement in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As we approach the fourth anniversary of the OCE’s founding, we're building upon this work with an educational effort to better inform the public of who we are, what we do and what makes our role in the House ethics process distinct.

Check back here often for facts about the OCE, ethics resources and interesting details on the ethics process. You may follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

OCE in the News

McClatchy Newspapers' article describes a bipartisan vote in the House to reject an amendment that would have reduced the OCE budget.

OCE in the News

New York Times editorial on recent referrals from OCE.

Omar Ashmawy Named OCE Staff Director & Chief Counsel

The board of the OCE has named Omar Ashmawy the Staff Director and Chief Counsel. Mr. Ashmawy previously was the acting Staff Director and had been the office's first Deputy Director. Click HERE for the full announcement. 

Jon Steinman departing the OCE at the end of January

Jon Steinman, the OCE's first communications director, announced he will step down at the end of the month. The announcement comes after the OCE was fully reauthorized for the 112th Congress -- the office's first reauthorization.

"I'm proud of what the office achieved and to have had the opportunity to play a part in that," Steinman said. 


OCE in the News

The Chicago Tribune declares "No backsliding on House ethics" and urges more authority for the OCE.  

The San Antonio Express-News: "Eliminating the OCE is one way to ensure that ethical standards in the House sink even lower.

Meanwhile, NPR asks if the OCE is endangered as the 111th Congress ends and the 112th gears up.

The Washington Post takes a slightly more optimistic view and quotes a bipartisan group of OCE supporters: "Last week, a coalition of nine groups from across the ideological spectrum released a joint statement calling the creation of the OCE "the most important improvement in the House ethics enforcement process" since the ethics committee was formed four decades ago." 

OCE in the News

 A flurry of activity and support for the OCE, from groups on both sides of the political aisle. From the Tea Party, government watchdog groups and editorial boards...

...USA Today demands that the OCE remain "alive and active."

...The Hill documents the deep and broad support mobilizing to support the OCE.

...CBS News: The ethics rubber meets the road.

...And The New York Times says the OCE "must remain a vital force."

OCE in The Hill

The Hill reports today that a Tea Party group in Ohio is urging Speaker-elect John Boehner to preserve the OCE.


OCE's future in the news

Today the New York Times urged the incoming House leadership to keep the OCE

And the National Journal examined the "House Ethics Tightrope," with the OCE potentially hanging in the balance.

OCE in USA Today

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 USA Today on OCE's future, if any, in the 112th Congress.

The OCE's work in the 111th and its published reports "represent a high water mark for accountability and transparency in the House."

OCE on CBS News

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A Double Standard for House Ethics?

Click HERE to view the story. 

Leo Wise to Depart OCE and Join US Attorney's Office in Maryland

After doing an "extraordinary job" in helping to set up and staff the Office of Congressional Ethics, Staff Director & Chief Counsel Leo Wise will soon join the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland. 

The announcement is HERE.

OCE in the News

The Office of Congressional Ethics: doing its job. Read Sylvia Smith's column in the Journal Gazette.

OCE in the News

 "The House and ethics: A Reality Check," appeared today in Politico.com.

OCE in the News

The New York Times latest editorial declares that the OCE "has been fulfilling its mission" by reinvigorating ethics enforcement in the House of Representatives. Read it HERE.

And Time magazine profiles the OCE and its effectiveness on Capitol Hill. Read it HERE.

The editorials for the OCE continue

The San Antonio Express-News editorial is HERE

The Los Angeles Times' is HERE.

More editorials on the OCE

 The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial supporting the OCE is HERE.

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal's is HERE.

The National Journal on the OCE...

The National Journal story on the OCE is HERE.



Washington Post editorial on the OCE

Read today's Washington Post editorial HERE

"The newly created Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog set up to review and, if warranted, forward ethics complaints to the House ethics committee for further action, has taken its mission seriously." 

OCE is in the news, again...

Today's New York Times editorial on the OCE ("They Must Be Doing Their Job") is HERE.  

The Cleveland Plain Dealer story on proposed rule changes to the OCE is HERE, and an Atlanta Journal-Constitution column is HERE

OCE is in the news...

 The OCE featured prominently in today's newspapers: 

      The Washington Post column on the OCE can be found HERE

      The New York Times story on the OCE is HERE and Roll Call's is HERE

      The Atlanta Journal-Constitution column on the OCE is HERE

      The Associated Press story is HERE.

Welcome to the New Online OCE

Welcome to the new online Office of Congressional Ethics. We hope our re-designed website will help us better serve our mission to give the public a “window” into ethics enforcement in the United States House of Representatives.

We have also moved our physical office from our “start-up” office in the Longworth Building to new offices, provided by the Architect of the Capitol, across the street from the Ford House Office Building.

Mail should be sent to the OCE at:

Office of Congressional Ethics
United States House of Representatives
P.O. Box 895
Washington, DC 20515-0895

And our physical address is:

Office of Congressional Ethics
United States House of Representatives
425 3rd Street, SW
Suite 1110
Washington, DC 20024


Last Updated Monday, March 24, 2014