Thursday, June 23, 2005

Democrats continue crusade over Congressional ethics staffing

Representative Mollohan confronts the slacking behavior in the Ethics Committee.

The slacking behavior of the Ethics Committee to fill these vacancies looks to be another tactic by the majority party to hault the investigations on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. So Mollohan lays some rules down.

June 21, 2005


Dear Colleague:

In recent weeks a number of Members have made the point that the House of Representatives needs to have a functioning, effective Ethics Committee. As the Ranking Minority Member of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, I could not agree more. Why, then, is the Committee not proceeding to fill the many vacancies in its staff, so that the Committee can begin to address the heavy workload that it is now facing?

The reason is that an issue has arisen within the Committee that is, in essence, whether the House Rules on the staffing of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will be complied with. My position on this matter is very straightforward -

The House Rules on committee staff are clear and unambiguous,

Those rules require that the Committee have a nonpartisan professional staff that is selected by vote of the full Committee, and

In staffing the Committee for the 109th Congress, it is critically important that the Committee comply with those rules.

The rules relating to the Ethics Committee staff are set out in clause 3(g) of House Rule XI, and their full text is set out in an attachment to this letter. Those rules provide that the Committee staff is to be "assembled and retained as a professional, nonpartisan staff," and they further provide that -

all members of the professional staff "shall be appointed by an affirmative vote of a majority of the members of the committee."

1. "each professional staff member shall be professional and demonstrably qualified for the position for which he is hired";

"the staff as a whole and each member of the staff shall perform all official duties in a nonpartisan manner," and

"no member of the staff shall engage in any partisan political activity directly affecting any congressional or presidential election." [Emphasis added.]

These rules were authored by the 1997 House Ethics Reform Task Force, and the report of the Task Force highlights the importance of these rules to the proper functioning of the House ethics process:

In order for the Standards Committee to function effectively, its professional staff must operate in a completely nonpartisan manner, and each member of the staff must have the trust and confidence of all Committee members. A nonpartisan staff is also essential to engendering confidence, both within and outside the House, in the impartiality of the Committee as a whole.

Unfortunately, the Chairman of the Committee has been insisting on implementing an entirely unprecedented proposal on Committee staffing that disregards these key rules. His proposal asserts that the Chairman has the unilateral power to appoint as "Majority Staff Director" of the Committee an individual who is a shared employee of his personal office and the Committee - an appointment that would be made without any vote of the Committee, let alone complying with the rule's requirement for a majority vote of the Committee, and without regard to the rules' clear requirements for staff of professionalism and a nonpartisan background. There could hardly be a worse time to inject partisanship into the Committee staff, in total disregard of both the terms of the rules and the consistent manner in which those rules have been implemented over the past seven years.

After you review the applicable rules, I believe you will be as impressed as I am that this is not a complicated matter, and it does not involve any question of interpretation of the rules. Instead, this is a simple matter of applying the terms of the rules according to their plain meaning. I have repeatedly made my views on this matter known to the Chairman of the Ethics Committee, but with this issue remaining unresolved after several months, I believe it is important that each Member be apprised of the basic questions that are at issue here. I would be happy to respond to any questions you may have on this matter.


Alan B. Mollohan Member of Congress

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