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Federal Government's Top Ethics Watchdog Resigns

by Countable | 7.6.17

What’s the story?

The New York Times reports that Walter Shaub, Jr., head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), is resigning before the end of his term in office. Shaub has clashed repeatedly with the current administration over conflict-of-interest concerns. He is planning to leave for a position with a nonpartisan advocacy group that will allow him to more freely advocate for ethics reforms.

Why does it matter?

The Office of Government Ethics oversees the federal government’s vast ethics network:

"It is the job of the ethics office, a creation of a post-Watergate Congress, to work with a web of ethics officials at each agency to help those entering the government sidestep potential conflicts. The office guides each administration’s political appointees though financial disclosure requirements and creates agreements to restrict participation in deliberations over topics they handled for paying clients.”

By leaving ahead of his original January term expiration, Shaub hands control of the OGE to a president who, along with his administrative appointees, has raised repeated ethical questions.

Shaub first questioned potential conflicts of interest within the administration when he made public statements advocating that President Trump divest from all of his business holdings before the inauguration. He also was found to have directed employees to tweet support for Trump’s divestiture, despite Trump not having taken those steps. He later suggested disciplinary action when White House advisor Kellyanne Conway advocated for Ivanka Trump’s clothing line during an interview. The administration ignored both recommendations.

His office also insisted on a White House response to a request for ethics waivers issued to multiple administrative appointees. At first the White House tried to deny the requests, but eventually submitted the requested waivers, some of which were unsigned and undated or offered waivers retroactively.

The White House and Republicans have maintained that Shaub, an Obama appointee, was politically motivated in his challenges to President Trump and his administration.

Any nominee to replace Shaub will have to be approved by the Senate. Democrats will likely use hearings to raise more public questions about what they see as ethics violations by the President and his administration. Some Republicans may see it as an opportunity to push back, while others may see it as an opportunity to distance themselves from administrative scandals.

What can you do?

Reach out to your representatives and tell them your answer to this question: How important is nonpartisan ethics oversight to the proper functioning of government and your confidence in it?

Use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr / Creative Commons)

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