Jacob R. Straus
Analyst on the Congress
The Constitution vests Congress with broad authority to discipline its Members. Only since 1967, however, have both houses established formal rules of conduct and disciplinary procedures whereby allegations of illegal or unethical conduct may be investigated and punished.
In 1964, the Senate established its first permanent ethics committee, the Select Committee on Standards and Conduct, which was renamed the Select Committee on Ethics in 1977. In 1967, the House first established a permanent ethics committee, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which was renamed the Committee on Ethics in 2011. A year after being established, each chamber adopted rules of conduct. Previously, Congress had dealt case by case with misconduct and relied on election results as the ultimate arbiter in questions of wrongdoing.
In 2008, with the adoption of H.Res. 895, the House created the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to review allegations of impropriety by Members, officers, and employees of the House and, when appropriate, to refer “findings of fact” to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The OCE board of directors comprises six board members and two alternates. Current Members of the House, federal employees, and lobbyists are not eligible to serve on the board. The OCE was reauthorized at the beginning of the 113th Congress. The Senate has not established a comparable office.
This report describes the evolution of enforcement by Congress of its rules of conduct for the House and Senate and summarizes the disciplinary options available to the House Committee on Ethics and the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
For additional information, please refer to CRS Report RL30650, SenateSelect Committee on Ethics: A Brief History of Its Evolution and Jurisdiction, by Jacob R. Straus; CRS Report 98-15, House Committee on Ethics: ABrief History of Its Evolution and Jurisdiction, by Jacob R. Straus; CRS Report R40760, House Office of Congressional Ethics: History, Authority, andProcedures, by Jacob R. Straus; and CRS Report RL31382, Expulsion,Censure, Reprimand, and Fine: Legislative Discipline in the House ofRepresentatives, by Jack Maskell.
Date of Report: November 12, 2013
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RL30764
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