Toothless Ethics Body Rendered… Toothless

Today’s Two Minutes Outrage is brought to you by the United States House of Representatives. Two days ago the House voted to “gut” the Office of Congressional Ethics:

Republicans in the US House of Representatives have voted to weaken the body that investigates claims of misconduct against members of Congress.

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics would come under control of a House committee, if it goes ahead.

And the Two Minutes Outrage commenced. As it common, public outrage was quickly followed by a return to the status quo.

I put the word “gut” in quotes for a reason. When I saw the Two Minutes Outrage begin I asked a question that seemed obvious to me, what exactly has the Office of Congressional Ethics accomplished. Nobody who was flipping out about the vote seemed to be able to answer my straight forward question, which lead me to believe they were only flipping out because the office had “ethics” in the name.

Wikipedia is usually a good source for finding an organization’s accomplishments so I headed there. Did I find a long list of cases where the Office of Congressional Ethics punished members of Congress for acting unethically? No. But I did find a possible reason why the office didn’t have a long list of accomplishments to its name:

The OCE lacks subpoena power and must complete each review in a relatively short period of timeā€”approximately three months at most. The OCE review process requires approval of the board at each step. In order to open a preliminary review, lasting no longer than 30 days, there must be “reasonable cause to believe allegations,” according to the OCE.[3] In order to proceed to a second phase, or further review, there must be “probable cause to believe allegations.”[3] The second phase must be completed within 45 days, with the possibility of a 14-day extension.[4] Following completion of the second-phase review, the OCE board votes to refer a matter to the House Ethics Committee with a recommendation for or against further review by the committee. The recommendation comes in the form of a report which must be released to the public, unless the OCE recommendation was against further review.

No subpoena power, a short period of time to perform a full investigation, and no power to punish those found to be acting unethically? It’s almost like Congress made this office!

Oh, that’s right, it did.

The office was created in March 2008, supposedly as a response to what Nancy Pelosi (and she would know) called a “culture of corruption.” In other words, the Office of Congressional Ethics was created by the House of Representatives in response to a previous Two Minutes Outrage. The House of Representatives created a toothless office and told the public that the new office would fight corruption in Washington. For some reason the public believed the politicians when they said that they would police themselves.

In conclusion, everybody who flipped out about this was doing so because the word “ethics” in the title of the Office of Congressional Ethics gave them the warm fuzzies. Had the office been gutted nothing would have changed because the office didn’t actually have any power to change anything.