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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

House Office of Congressional Ethics: History, Authority, and Procedures

Jacob R. Straus
Analyst on the Congress

The House Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) was established on March 11, 2008, with the passage of H.Res. 895. It was reauthorized by the House as part of the rules package (H.Res. 5) adopted by the 113th Congress on January 3, 2013.

This action followed years of efforts by groups within and outside Congress to create an independent entity to investigate allegations of misconduct by members, officers, and employees of Congress. During the 110
th Congress (2007-2008), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner created the bipartisan Special Task Force on Ethics Enforcement, chaired by Representative Michael Capuano, to consider whether the House should create an “outside” ethics-enforcement entity. The task force worked for nearly a year before issuing its recommendations for the creation of the OCE.

The mandate of the OCE, which has jurisdiction only in the House, is to review information, and when appropriate, refer findings of fact to the House Committee on Ethics. Only this committee, pursuant to House rules, has the authority to recommend House discipline of members and staff. Information of alleged wrongdoing by members, officers, and employees of the House may be accepted by the OCE from the general public, but only the OCE board can initiate a review.

The OCE is composed of six board members, and at least two alternates, each of whom serves a four-year term. The Speaker and the minority leader are each responsible for the appointment of three board members and one alternate. The chair is selected by the Speaker and a co-chair is selected by the minority leader. Current members of the House, federal employees, and lobbyists are not eligible to serve on the board.

OCE rules for the conduct of investigations and code of conduct can be found at their website,

This report describes the history and rationale behind the creation of the OCE, its operations, and its relationship with the House Committee on Ethics, and options potentially available for Congress if further amendments to the House ethics process are desired.

For additional information, please refer to CRS Report RL30764, Enforcement of Congressional Rules of Conduct: An Historical Overview, by Jacob R. Straus; CRS Report RL30650, Senate Select Committee on Ethics: A Brief History of Its Evolution and Jurisdiction, by Jacob R. Straus; and CRS Report 98-15, House Committee on Ethics: A Brief History of Its Evolution and Jurisdiction, by Jacob R. Straus.

Date of Report: March 8, 2013
Number of Pages: 33
Order Number: R40760
Price: $29.95

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