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Appropriations Democrats Call for Rules Change to Address Conflicts of Interest

January 24, 2017
Press Release

Appropriations Democrats Call for Rules Change to
Avoid Conflicts of Interest

Lowey Amendment Would Require Administration Witnesses to
Certify Compliance with Ethics Agreements

Dems: Basic, Good-Government Step to
Avoid Actual or Apparent Conflicts of Interest

Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, today offered an amendment to Committee rules that would require cabinet secretaries and agency heads testifying before the Appropriations Committee to certify that they are in full compliance with their Ethics Agreement reached with the Office of Government Ethics, and if unable to do so, explain why not.

More than a dozen Democrats spoke in favor of this basic, good-government step to assure the American people that Administration representatives are fulfilling their responsibilities to divest from financial interests relating to their official duties, and protect against other conflicts of interest.

The amendment was defeated on a party line vote of 22-28.

Congresswoman Lowey delivered the following remarks on her amendment:

Mr. Chairman, I have an amendment at the desk.

The Rules package before us calls on witnesses who appear before the Committee in a nongovernmental capacity to disclose the Federal grants, contracts or other payments they receive. This seems to be a reasonable check on potential conflicts of interest.

There is no requirement in our committee rules for the heads of Departments who appear as witnesses to disclose their potential conflicts of interest.  That is because nominees from previous administrations addressed potential conflicts in advance of their confirmation by the Senate through the Office of Government Ethics.

However, in the rush to move the current nominees through the Senate confirmation process this month, some nominees had hearings scheduled before they even filed their disclosure forms to the Office of Government Ethics.  During the 10-week transition period, that Office is supposed to review the disclosure forms of the nominees and work with the candidates on a plan to avoid potential conflicts. Each nominee then files a public ethics agreement, promising to take certain actions within a reasonable time frame to address all potential conflicts. 

Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, recently wrote to Congress to note that the hurried Senate schedule meant some nominees could be confirmed with unresolved ethics issues.

Soon after these individuals are confirmed, they will be coming to the Appropriations Committee to explain the new Administration’s requests for the FY 2017 and FY 2018 bills. 

My amendment requires the new heads of Departments to certify they have completed their disclosure forms and give us an update on the actions they promised to undertake in their ethics agreements.  The amendment simply asks them to certify they have divested the stocks or completed whatever else they promise to do to be cleared of conflicts of interest – or explain why not – before they give testimony to the committee.

For example, Tom Price, the nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, has promised that if he is confirmed, he will divest within 90 days the health care stocks he invested in as a Member of Congress, including holdings in the specific medical device manufacturer that led to recent inquiries and newspaper articles.  My amendment simply asks if he has fulfilled his promise.

The least we can expect of our government officials is to confirm they have lived up to their ethics agreements.  

I urge adoption of my amendment.

 

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115th Congress