What is the role of the Office of Congressional Ethics in the House ethics process?
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) was created in March of 2008 as an independent, non-partisan office governed by a Board comprised of private citizens. The OCE reviews allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the House and, when appropriate, refers matters to the House Committee on Ethics. The OCE is not authorized to determine if a violation occurred. The OCE is also not authorized to sanction Members, officers, or employees of the House or to recommend any sanctions. The OCE is not able to provide advice or education on the rules and standards of conduct applicable to Members, officers, and employees of the House.
How does the OCE conduct investigations?
The OCE’s investigations have two stages: (1) a preliminary review, which is completed in 30 days and (2) a second-phase review, which is completed in 45 days, with the possibility of a 14-day extension.
Two Board members (one appointed by the Speaker of the House and one appointed by the Minority Leader) may authorize a preliminary review if all available information provides a reasonable basis to believe that a violation may have occurred.
Three Board members may authorize a second-phase review if all available information provides probable cause to believe a violation may have occurred. At the end of any second-phase review, the Board must recommend to the Committee on Ethics either that the matter requires the Committee’s further review or that it should dismiss the matter.
The OCE is a fact-finding office. A recommendation for further review does not constitute a determination that a violation occurred, only that the OCE has a substantial reason to believe a violation occurred. Similarly, a recommendation for dismissal does not constitute a determination that a violation did not occur, only that the OCE does not have substantial reason to believe a violation occurred, which is the standard of proof required for the OCE to refer a matter to the Committee on Ethics for further review.
When it makes its recommendation, the OCE Board may also transmit to the Standards Committee findings that include, among other things, findings of fact and citations to laws, rules or regulations that may have been violated. In all but one set of circumstances, the report and findings of the OCE Board must be publicly released.
A statistical summary of the Board’s actions are released on a quarterly basis.
What is the jurisdiction of the OCE?
The OCE has jurisdiction to review allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the United States House of Representatives that occurred after March 11, 2008, the date the House adopted the OCE’s authorizing resolution.
How do I request the OCE conduct an investigation?
Any member of the public may bring a matter of suspected misconduct involving a Member, officer or staff of the House to the attention of the OCE. Please note that a submission of information does not automatically result in an investigation. The decision to begin a preliminary review lies solely with the Board of the OCE.
The OCE does not have jurisdiction to consider submissions of information concerning the United States Senate, the President of the United States, or the departments of the Executive Branch.
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 our Make a Submission page.
What is a “reasonable initial investigation”?
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.
What happens if you find information during your investigation that’s exculpatory?
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.
How does the OCE avoid partisan politics in an 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.
What determines the volume of investigations the OCE has reviewed?
Over the last few years, some have observed that the OCE has had a deterrent effect, resulting in fewer allegations of misconduct. In addition, in recent Congresses our investigations have been more complex, evidence-heavy cases that have required more of the OCE’s resources.