The provisions hamstringing the office were included in the rules package for the new Congress that the House approved on Monday, three days after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) finished his weeklong battle to become speaker of the House.
The new rules will institute term limits for members of the office’s board, which will immediately make three of the body’s four Democratic members ineligible to serve. It also mandates that the office is only allowed to hire staff in the next 30 days ― a difficult task given both the empty seats on the board and the federal government’s typically laborious hiring processes.
Good government advocates and liberals spent the past week trying to strip the provisions from the package, with little signs of progress or success. Twenty-four groups, led by the Campaign Legal Center, sent a letter to members last week asking them to keep the office intact.
“Together these changes weaken OCE to the point where the office would struggle to perform its core function, dismantling one of the only ways members of Congress are held accountable for ethics violations,” the groups wrote. “Past attempts to gut OCE have not only been detrimental to the public’s trust in Congress, but those moves have also been politically damaging and met with widespread public backlash. There is no reason to think this time will be any different.”
Over its 16-year existence, the office has investigated everything from trips paid for by corporations (Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York) to insider trading by members of Congress (GOP Rep. Chris Collins of New York), leading to censures on the House floor, resignations and criminal investigations.
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