August 1, 2022
From: Chip Christopher, Deputy Director of Compliance
Something we hear a lot at OGE is, “Why don’t you do more ethics investigations?” It is a fair question, with a good answer.
In 1978, as the country was recovering from the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Nixon, Congress was considering a number of reforms to protect the American people from government corruption and misconduct. Two functions that Congress determined to be essential in these reforms were (1) the development and oversight of ethics policy, and (2) the investigation and remediation of violations of ethics policy. The question was whether these two functions should be located in a single office or separated.
Ultimately, Congress decided to separate these functions. In 1978, Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act, establishing OGE. It also passed the Inspector General Act, establishing a network of offices across several departments and agencies of the executive branch, each led by an Inspector General, and charged with investigating allegations of waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct.
Among other things, separating the policy function from the investigative function allows agencies and federal employees to seek policy guidance without fear that their inquiries will be used against them by investigators. This also allows investigators to prioritize investigations based on the needs of the agencies they are overseeing, free from the influence of the policy office. It should be noted, however, that Inspector General offices routinely seek technical assistance from OGE related to matters they are investigating that may implicate the ethics rules. Moreover, OGE occasionally refers ethics-related matters that come to its attention to Inspectors General for possible investigations. In these ways, OGE and Offices of Inspectors General perform complementary functions to help ensure the executive branch is properly serving the public.
So, when you wonder, “Why doesn’t OGE do more investigations?” you now know the answer: In 1978, Congress established OGE to create and oversee ethics policy, and Inspector General offices to investigate possible violations of those policies.