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35th Anniversary of the Ethics in Government Act

November 8, 2013

by Walter M. Shaub, Jr.

This autumn, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) marks the 35th anniversary of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, the law most directly responsible for the executive branch ethics program as we know it.  The Ethics in Government Act grew initially out of post-Watergate, civil service reform efforts of the late 1970s.  In 1976, the General Accounting Office (GAO), now the Government Accountability Office, reported to Congress on deficiencies in procedures within the executive branch to detect and prevent actual and potential conflicts of interest.  GAO concluded that “a major and perhaps the most substantial contributing factor to all these problems was the decided lack of a central supervisory authority.” 

In the same year that saw enactment of the sweeping Civil Service Reform Act, Congress responded by passing both the Inspector General Act of 1978 and the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.  The Inspector General Act established independent investigative offices in major executive branch agencies, and the Ethics in Government Act established OGE as the leader of executive branch ethics policy and program oversight.  Although separate from the Inspectors General, OGE works closely with them, offering guidance on the application of ethics laws and regulations to ethics matters that arise in their investigations.

Over the decades since enactment of the Ethics in Government Act, OGE has provided a stable, central supervisory authority to an executive branch ethics program designed to prevent and resolve conflicts of interests.  As Director, I am proud to lead an agency and a program that has such an impact on the integrity of government.  Every day, some part of the ethics program that OGE oversees is at work in every agency in the executive branch.  It is ensuring that ethics is a top priority for appointees as they begin government service.  It is ensuring that public servants at all levels of government remain free from conflicts of interest and even the appearance of conflicts of interest as they do their jobs.  It is ensuring that employees who seek to leave government remain impartial in their government work as they look for new employment and, after these employees leave government, that they do not have undue access to their former agencies on behalf of others.  Above all, it is working to protect the public’s trust in government.

As we commemorate this milestone of the executive branch ethics program, OGE is mindful of the agency’s and the executive branchwide program’s important history and accomplishments.  But our work is not done.  OGE is finalizing a new strategic plan that will enhance the program by emphasizing uniformity, continuity and transparency.  Listening to input from our many stakeholders, including the public, OGE continues to study and improve on strategies for achieving the agency’s mission of preventing conflicts of interest and fostering public confidence in the integrity of executive branch programs and operations.  Looking beyond this 35th anniversary of the Ethics in Government Act to the future, OGE will continue innovating, collaborating and seeking out new and better ways to implement the rigorous legal framework for ethics in the executive branch.