03/15/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 03/15/2019 17:24
WASHINGTON, DC - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and U.S. Representative Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, announced a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report outlining how political appointees at multiple federal agencies have failed to fully comply with internal ethics programs. The legislators announced the report during the 14th annual Sunshine Week - a nationwide initiative to educate the public about the importance of transparency in government.
'For the past two years, the American people have watched the Trump Administration blatantly disregard the ethical norms that have guided previous administrations, regardless of party. Regrettably, today's GAO report shows more of the same,' said Senator Carper. 'It reveals that several federal agencies have failed to abide by basic ethical procedures, standards, and principles meant to ensure political appointees and federal employees are working in the best interest of the American people. What's more, the White House refused to participate in GAO's oversight investigation. Upholding basic ethical standards for our government should not be a partisan issue; it's good, common sense policy that is necessary for a healthy democracy. Sunshine is said to be the best disinfectant. It's why now, perhaps more than ever, at a time when Americans' trust in the federal government is at a historic low, shedding some light and conducting critical oversight on the ethical lapses revealed in this report will begin the important and much needed process of restoring trust in our government and those who serve in it.'
'GAO found significant problems in the ethics program at the Department of the Interior,' Chairman Cummings said. 'This, combined with the revelation in an Oversight Committee hearing yesterday that Acting Secretary Bernhardt may be deleting his calendars and holding secret meetings is troubling. I am also outraged at the systematic obstruction by the White House of the work of the nonpartisan GAO.'
'Strong ethics programs are necessary to ensure that we can trust our government. Americans have a right to know that public servants are acting in the people's best interests and that their decisions are free from personal conflicts of interest,' said Ranking Member Peters. 'Unfortunately, the GAO's report makes clear that multiple agencies have failed to live up to this basic standard - including the White House which refused to cooperate with GAO's investigation. This Administration has allowed serious ethical violations to go unchecked, which threatens the American people's trust in their public officials.'
In the wake of several high-profile ethics scandals across the executive branch, GAO was asked to review the Trump Administration's compliance with ethics requirements for political appointees. GAO reviewed the ethics programs at the Department of Interior (Interior), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Small Business Administration (SBA), including data on political appointees. All three programs were found to have instances where agency ethics programs failed to meet appropriate standards, most significantly at Interior. GAO discovered that Interior and the SBA had not fully documented their procedures for ethics training and the ethics pledge, respectively, and were therefore not in full compliance with ethics requirements.
GAO had also planned to review the White House ethics program but was unable to do so due to a lack of cooperation from the White House, hindering Congressional oversight of that program. GAO determined that the White House ethics program has not been reviewed since 2003.
The full report is available here and below is a summary of the GAO's key findings and recommendations: