On August 6th, Cause of Action released a memorandum on our recent investigation into the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and their failure to properly review the ethics program of the General Services Administration (GSA).  Our investigation found that the OGE approved the ethics program of the GSA just three days after the now infamous Vegas conference that cost taxpayers $822,751.  We also noted that there were risk factors brought to the attention of OGE officers about GSA prior to this 2010 ethics report.

The OGE response to our findings was a claim that they are somehow not responsible for overseeing the GSA misconduct.  Specifically, an OGE representative claimed, “Laws and regulations regarding appropriations, travel, personnel, and government contracts are administered by a variety of agencies and are outside OGE’s purview.  OGE is not an investigatory agency, but routinely works closely with Inspectors General”.

The OGE didn’t contest the validity of our fact-finding or analysis, but merely claimed they are somehow not responsible for detecting these particular violations. The fact that OGE doesn’t dispute our conclusions and seems to shift responsibility to the Inspector General provides support for our request that President Obama and the Office of Budget Management consider transferring ethics oversight duties to the agency inspectors general.

As the chart below notes, OGE is responsible for a wide variety of ethics-related matters. Clearly an audit of the GSA Ethics program should have taken into account the warnings that the OGE previously received.  Furthermore, if the OGE is unable to truly discover these violations and are instead dependent on the Inspectors General, then would it not make sense to shift ethics oversight duties to the same Inspectors General that have the necessary investigative abilities? This is precisely what we asked in our letter to President Obama last Thursday.

Government agencies must be held accountable for their waste, fraud and mismanagement. It makes no sense to have a mechanism in place that allows for an agency to be given a clean bill of health for its ethics program just days after a huge ethics violation.  Taxpayers deserve a more efficient system that will prevent this type of disaster in the future.