Ethics office set to retain powers in new Congress

1:50 PM, Jan 2, 2013   |    comments
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 By Fredreka Schouten
WASHINGTON -- An independent office that polices congressional ethics will remain on the beat in the new Congress under proposed rules the House will consider this week.

The terms of four of the six members of the Office of Congressional Ethics' board were set to expire when the new Congress convenes Thursday -- raising fears among congressional watchdogs that the office would lose its investigative powers. The staff cannot start new probes without board approval.

Under draft rules, board members would not be subject to term limits paving the way for the current board to continue working.
"It's an excellent proposal," said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, one of the watchdog groups that had called on congressional leaders to appoint new members. "All the board members have indicated they would like to continue serving. This would solve everything in one fell, easy swoop."

The Office of Congressional Ethics, created in 2008, is the first independent group to oversee ethics in the U.S. House of Representatives and was created in the wake of a gift-for-official-favors-scandal that sent former lobbyist Jack Abramoff to prison.
The office has investigated more than 100 lawmakers and aides in the past four years. No independent ethics office exists in the Senate.

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