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Who Oversees Ethics in Government?

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Dateline: Nov. 6, 2005

With Karl Rove, his top political aid under intense investigation and Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, facing indictments in connection with the exposure of CIA operative Valerie Plame, President Bush issued a memo ordering his staff to attend "refresher" courses on government ethics. That's nice and we all hope it helps, but who really oversees ethics in government?

While we -- the voters -- enforce our perception of proper ethics in government at the polls, there is federal agency assigned to make sure all executive branch federal employees, elected and appointed, adhere to strict and clearly defined rules of ethical conduct.

The Office of Government Ethics (OGE), a small agency within the executive branch, was established by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. Originally part of the Office of Personnel Management, OGE became a separate agency on October 1, 1989 as part of the Office of Government Ethics Reauthorization Act of 1988.

OGE is specifically tasked with preventing and resolving conflicts of interest on the part of government employees. Operating in conjunction with executive branch agencies and departments, OGE is expected to foster "high ethical standards for employees and strengthens the public's confidence that the Government's business is conducted with impartiality and integrity."

The director of OGE is appointed by the president and serves a five-year term. The director's position is currently vacant, with Special Assistant Marilyn Bennett serving as Acting Confidential Assistant.

Operating under the Office of the Director, OGE is further divided into four offices that work in concert to carry out OGE's mission:

The Office of Government Relations and Special Projects (OGRSP) provides liaison to the Office of Management and Budget and to the Congress, coordinates the Office's support of U.S. efforts in promoting international ethics and anti-corruption initiatives, and initiates and coordinates special projects of the Office.

The Office of General Counsel and Legal Policy (OGC & LP) is responsible for establishing and maintaining a uniform legal framework of Government ethics for executive branch employees. This Office develops executive branch ethics program policies and regulations, interprets laws and regulations, assists agencies in legal and policy implementations, and recommends changes in conflicts of interest and ethics statutes. It also responds to requests for information from the media, such as newspapers and wire services, and similar other news organizations.

The Office of Agency Programs (OAP) is responsible for monitoring and providing services to Federal executive branch agency ethics programs. This Office has three divisions: Program Services Division, Education Division, and the Program Review Division. The three divisions coordinate their services to assist agencies in carrying out their programs. They work closely with agencies to identify and resolve problem areas, provide educational materials and training, staying abreast of budgetary concerns and identifying the emergent issues to be addressed by OGE. The Office holds an annual ethics conference for government-wide ethics officials, as well as hosting smaller topic specific events quarterly during the year.

The Office of Administration and Information Management (OAIM) provides essential support to all OGE operating programs through two divisions. The Administration Division has program responsibilities for: personnel, payroll, fiscal resource management, printed graphics, facilities and property management, travel, procurement, and the publishing and printing of materials. The Information Resource Management Division is responsible for telecommunications, web graphics, and records management; as well as the program management of information and web site technologies.

Ethics issues typically dealt with by OGE include: gifts, conflicting financial interests, impartiality, seeking employment and post-employment, misuse of position, outside activities, financial disclosure, and recusals, waivers and trusts.

OGE's jurisdiction extends only to employees of the executive branch. The legislative and judicial branches of government have their own ethics programs.

Legislative Branch Ethics

Judicial Branch Ethics

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