Rep. Lynch Reintroduces White House Ethics Transparency Act

Feb 2, 2019 Issues: Committee on Oversight and Reform

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-Boston) reintroduced the White House Ethics Transparency Act, H.R. 391, originally introduced in 2017 in response to the blatant refusal of the Trump Administration to disclose ethics waivers to employees of the White House and other executive branch agencies, allowing them to bypass ethics rules.  The White House Ethics Transparency Act will be included in H.R. 1, the For the People Actthe Democratic government accountability and transparency bill that has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.  The White House Ethics Transparency Act will maximize transparency and accountability by requiring 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.  

“We have seen firsthand the Trump Administration waive its own ethics rules for officials and flood the White House and other federal agencies with former lobbyists, consultants, and industry attorneys whose previous work presents serious conflict of interest concerns,” said Congressman Lynch.  “We all watched President Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his lobbying work for Turkey and his interactions with then Russian-Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and the White House Ethics Transparency Act would have prevented his appointment in the first place.  The Trump Administration continues to impede oversight by the Office of Government Ethics and this bill would ensure the American people know precisely who is working behind closed doors in their government.”

In particular, 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. 391, waivers issued to individuals on or after January 20, 2017 would be subject to release to the OGE and public disclosure.

When the White House Ethics Transparency Act was originally introduced in 2017, 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.”

The text of H.R. 391, the White House Ethics Transparency Act of 2019, is available here