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Office of Congressional Ethics

In 2008, following a series of corruption scandals, the House of Representatives created the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to investigate allegations of misconduct by its Members. 

"For the purpose of assisting the House in carrying out its responsibilities under article I, section 5, clause 2 of the Constitution (commonly referred to as the “Discipline Clause”), there is established in the House an independent office to be known as the Office of Congressional Ethics....."

- H.R. Res. 895 Sec. (1)(a) (2008)

 

The OCE is intended to supplement the existing House Committee on Ethics. But, unlike the Committee, the OCE is overseen by a six-member board of individuals who do not serve as Members of Congress and are meant to be non-partisan and not subject to political pressures. 

It was envisioned as an independent watchdog, with a staff of investigators who conduct reviews based on allegations of wrongdoing by Members of the House made by the public or in media reports. 

And unlike the House Ethics Committee, the public is allowed to submit allegations of possible wrongdoing to the OCE.

 

Upon completion of the reviews, the OCE issues its findings on the matter and its opinion on whether any infraction may indeed have been committed.

 

Based on the findings, the six-member board then votes on whether to refer the matter to the House Ethics Committee so that it may conduct its own review. 

 

Generally, the House Ethics Committee will, at some point, release the OCE’s report on the alleged wrongdoing, even if it decides not to take action against the Member in question.

 

The publication of its findings serve as a deterrent to any unethical behavior by Members of the House of Representatives. 

It's important to note that the OCE does not have subpoena powers.

 

Nor does it have to capacity to act on its findings. It remains up to the House to determine whether to act on any evidence of wrongdoing the OCE may discover.

However, the OCE has successfully investigated several notable cases.