The Responsibilities and Authority of the Office of Government Ethics
Ethics is an important topic in this election year with regards to political candidates for office or for those incumbents serving in the House of Representatives and Senate. Many issues have surfaced with ethics charges for members in Congress which creates an atmosphere of distrust with the public as can be seen in the many polls that have been taken or will be taken. The Office of Government Ethics has an important function to instill confidence that ethics violations by government employees will be properly investigated and proper action taken.
The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) is a small agency within the executive branch. It was established by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. It was originally part of the Office of Personnel Management and became a separate agency on October 1, 1989. This separation was the result of being a part of the Office of Government Ethics Reauthorization Act of 1988.
The important function of this office is the effort to prevent conflicts of interest on the part of Government employees. Conflicts of interest whether they are real or perceived causes the public to lose confidence in government operations. Even the appearance of conflict of interest is not a good thing to have. Being a part of the executive branch there is a partnership between branch agencies and departments to foster high ethical standards for employees in doing Government business.
Another important factor which seems to get a lot of attention today is the Presidential appointees. This office tracks appointee’s compliance with any ethics agreements an appointee made during Senate confirmation hearings. This involves financial interest of themselves, their spouses and any dependent children. Part of the process involves any appointee to certify with documentation that the agreements have been satisfied within 90 days of their Senate confirmation.
The Office of Agency Programs that monitors and provides services to Federal agency ethics programs has three divisions. They are: Program Services Division, Program Review Division and the Education Division. These divisions are the backbone of the Government Ethics program. Part of the responsibilities for the Office of Agency Programs is to hosts the annual Government Ethics Conference and to maintain ethics news and information list serve service.
Each agency head selects an individual employee of that agency to serve as the agency’s Designated Agency Ethics Official. The purpose of the ethics in Government program is to ensure that executive branch decisions are neither tainted by nor appear to be tainted by any question of conflicts of interest on the part of employees involved in the decisions. Integrity in decision making for the government is a fundamental condition for every Government program. The head of each agency has responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the ethics in Government program.
Ethics in government today at any level is something the public demands now more than ever. Any program which monitors the activities of government employees at any level is a positive thing. The key is that this same agency must also make sure that they operate to the same level of integrity and ethics as those individuals and organizations which they monitor. Basically there should not be two different sets of criteria when it comes to ethics enforcement. Everyone needs to be held accountable to the same conditions. This agency in monitoring ethics in government activities is a step in the right direction.