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.