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Congress Fails To Fill Positions In Ethics Office

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Government watchdog groups fear congressional leaders are trying to quietly kill an outside ethics panel that keeps watch on the House of Representatives. 

After a series of scandals helped sweep Democrats into power in 2007, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised to  drain the swamp on Capitol Hill. Part of the  draining was setting up the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The independent panel conducts investigations and refers them to the House Ethics Committee, which is comprised of sitting lawmakers. 

In OCE's short, four-year existence it's forced the Ethics Committee to issue about three times as many disciplinary actions as were issued in the previous decade. 

"As a result it isn't very popular among members of Congress," says Craig Holman of left-leaning watchdog group Public Citizen. 

The OCE is supposed to be comprised of six members, but House leaders haven't filled four vacancies. Holman says that leaves the OCE powerless because four votes are needed to refer a case to the Ethics Committee. 

"So with just two members on the board it goes defunct," Holman says. 

Public Citizen believes the Office of Congressional Ethics is essential because lawmakers policing lawmakers hasn't worked, Holman says.

"The House Ethics Committee has a horrible track record of just burying everything under the rug," he says. "I mean, even during the Jack Abramoff scandal they hardly came out with any sort of punishments for anybody." 

Both party leaders in the House have signaled they want to fill the vacancies on the OCE, but no announcements have been made. 

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