Rep. Lynch Introduces White House Ethics Transparency Act

May 30, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to the longstanding refusal of the Trump Administration to disclose ethics waivers allowing former lobbyists and industry attorneys to bypass ethics rules and work in the White House and other executive branch agencies, Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-Boston) introduced H.R. 2762, the White House Ethics Transparency Act of 2017. While the Trump Administration abruptly reversed its opposition on Friday, it underscored that this decision was merely voluntary. In order to maximize transparency and accountability in this area, the White House Ethics Transparency Act will require the Trump and future Administrations to promptly disclose waivers of executive branch ethics rules to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) – an independent agency that is statutorily authorized to ensure ethics compliance in the executive branch. The White House Ethics Transparency Act will also require the public posting of ethics waivers on the White House and OGE websites.  

“The Trump Administration’s continuing and brazen resistance to ethics transparency impedes necessary oversight by the Office of Government Ethics and decreases public confidence in the executive branch,” said Congressman Lynch. “While President Trump pledged to ‘drain the swamp,’ he has already flooded the White House and other federal agencies with former lobbyists, consultants, and industry attorneys whose previous work in the private sector presents serious conflict of interest concerns. Reports that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn performed lobbying and consulting activities on behalf of foreign governments prior to his tenure in the White House underscore the importance of requiring the Administration to publicly disclose its decisions to waive its own ethics rules for executive branch officials. The White House Ethics Transparency Act would do just that and ensure that the American people receive the full picture of precisely who is working behind closed doors in their government.”

As reported by the New York Times, the Trump Administration, “in a significant escalation of its clash with the government’s top ethics watchdog,” blocked a request by the OGE to disclose ethics waivers issued to political appointees working in the Administration. In a call for data sent to the White House on April 28, 2017, OGE Director Walter M. Shaub, Jr. requested that the Administration disclose to the OGE by June 1, 2017 written copies of ethics waivers granted to political appointees under current Executive Orders and federal regulations governing executive branch ethics and conflicts of interest. As noted by the New York Times, the Trump Administration, “in a highly unusual move,” responded to the OGE data call with its own letter asking Director Shaub to “stay” his request; as a result, the American public would have “no way of knowing if Mr. Trump’s staff members are complying with the rules.” In a May 22nd letter to the OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, Director Shaub declined the stay request and urged federal agency compliance with the June 1, 2017 deadline. According to Director Shaub, “[p]ublic confidence in the integrity of government decisionmaking demands no less.” OMB Director Mulvaney responded with a May 26th letter to the OGE indicating that the Administration would now provide the requested information. However, the OMB underscored that it would be doing so “voluntarily.” Director Mulvaney also noted that he would continue to explore “legal questions” surrounding the OGE data call request. 

In particular, H.R. 2762, the White House Ethics Transparency Act requires the Administration to disclose ethics waivers granted to executive branch officials within 30 days of issuance. Moreover, the bill requires the public posting of ethics waivers on the White House and the OGE websites.  The scope of the bill includes Executive Order 13770, the “Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees,” which was signed by President Trump on January 28, 2017.  Executive Order 13770 includes several provisions covering individuals appointed on or after January 20, 2017. Under H.R. 2762, waivers issued to individuals on or after January 20, 2017 would be subject to release to the OGE and public disclosure.

Original cosponsors include Oversight & Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), Rep. Ted W. Lieu (D-CA), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Rep. André Carson (D-IN), Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA), Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). 

In addition to introducing the White House Ethics Transparency Act, on May 24th, Congressman Lynch and Congressman O’Halleran sent a letter to the OMB Director Mulvaney expressing concern over the Trump Administration’s refusal to publicly disclose ethics waivers for high-ranking officials. The letter, signed by 58 House Democrats, noted “As Members of Congress, we are committed and bound to ensuring the American public has faith in the institutions that serve them – that includes upholding our ethics rules to keep conflicts of interest out of the highest levels of our government. To that end, we urge you to immediately comply with OGE’s original request to deliver all copies of waivers issued to appointees by the original June 1 deadline.”

Earlier this month, Congressman Lynch joined Ranking Member Cummings and all Oversight Committee Democrats on a letter to the OGE Director Shaub strongly supporting his office’s request for copies of waivers of ethics rules issued by the Trump Administration to lobbyists and others working in the White House and throughout the Trump Administration. The May 19th letter highlighted that it is critical for the OGE to “…make transparent how the individuals serving in the Trump Administration are complying, or failing to comply, with President Trump’s executive order and other ethics requirements.”

The text of H.R. 2762, the White House Ethics Transparency Act of 2017, is available here