Cicilline, Rigell Press House Leaders to Adopt Stronger Ethics Training Rules

Nov 20, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – With more than 50 newly elected members of the House of Representatives in the upcoming 114th Congress, U.S. Representatives David N. Cicilline (D-RI) and Scott Rigell (R-VA) urged the House Rules Committee to include the bipartisan Ensuring Trust and Honorability In Congressional Standards (ETHICS) Act in the Rules package for the 114th Congress to strengthen ethics requirements for lawmakers. The ETHICS Act would amend and expand current law to require House Members, who are currently exempt from annual ethics training, to take annual ethics courses. According to the Washington Post, since the Office of Congressional Ethics was established in 2008 to review allegations of misconduct for referral to the House Ethics Committee, the number of actions taken by the committee has quadrupled.

In the letter to the House Rules Committee, the lawmakers wrote: “It is our belief that a change in House Rules will help increase understanding and reduce confusion of the rules, help decrease the number of future ethics violations by Members, and, most importantly, help restore the public’s faith and trust in Congress.” 

At the start of each Congress, the House Committee on Rules adopts a new set of guidelines for the upcoming 2-year session, and has the power to incorporate language from the ETHICS Act into the new House rules.

In 2007, the U.S. Senate passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which legally required Senators and their staff to take “ongoing” ethics training, in response to a culture of corruption on Capitol Hill that led to the convictions of former Representative Bob Ney and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Despite passing the House with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, the mandatory ethics training provisions in the bill only applied to the Senate. The ETHICS Act would amend and expand current law to require House Members to take annual ethics training. 

Under current law, all Senators and Senate staff are required to take ethics training every year. In addition, all House staff are required under House Rules to complete annual ethics training. Specifically, the ETHICS Act would make ethics training and awareness programs mandatory for House Members, Delegates and the Resident Commissioner of the House of Representatives beginning January 3, 2015 and:

  • Training will be completed no later than 60 days after starting service, and;
  • Training will be completed during each new session of  Congress beginning with the 1st session of the 114th Congress.

Text of the letter follows:

Dear Chairman Sessions and Ranking Member Slaughter:

We are writing to ask that you include a provision requiring that all House Members complete annual ethics training offered by the House Ethics Committee in the upcoming Rules package for the 114th Congress.  This issue is crucial to restoring the American people’s confidence and trust in Congress.

In 2007, Congress passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (P.L. 110-81), which required that all Senators and their staff complete “ongoing ethics training.”  In addition, current rules of the House of Representatives require that all House staff, and officers of the House, complete annual ethics training offered by the House Ethics Committee. Despite these requirements, federal law and House Rules remain silent in regards to Members of the House. That is why we introduced H.R. 5095, the Ensuring Trust and Honorability in Congressional Standards (ETHICS) Act, on July 14, 2014. This common sense, bipartisan legislation would permanently fix this issue by requiring all House Members to complete annual ethics training.

According to the Washington Post, since the Office of Congressional Ethics was established in 2008 to review allegations of misconduct for referral to the House Ethics Committee, the number of actions taken by the committee has quadrupled.  It is our belief that a change in House Rules will help increase understanding and reduce confusion of the rules, help decrease the number of future ethics violations by Members, and, most importantly, help restore the public’s faith and trust in Congress.  We respectfully ask that you include this common sense provision in any final House Rules package for the 114th Congress.