A nonpartisan ethics watchdog group alleged that the federal government is failing to adequately enforce conflict-of-interest rules, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) called on the executive-branch agency that oversees ethics rules to investigate what it called deficiencies in enforcement at several agencies, WSJ reported Tuesday.
The CLC also requested that internal investigators at four federal agencies examine if their ethics programs complied with federal rules.
The group made the claims and requests in court filings that followed a series of WSJ stories that revealed thousands of federal employees held stock in companies that were regulated by the agencies where they worked.
"The [agencies] have repeatedly allowed senior officials to own and trade stock in companies that appear to create conflicts of interest with their official duties," the complaint said, WSJ reported.
"An investigation can determine whether the scope and severity of deficiencies in the ethics programs' guidance on financial conflicts of interest is greater than currently publicly known."
Examples cited by the CLC included:
- An Environmental Protection Agency (EOA) official who reported owning oil and gas stocks with his husband.
- A Defense Department (DOD) official who traded stock in a Chinese company while the agency deliberated over whether to add the company to a blacklist.
- A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) official who traded stock in Facebook while his office coordinated an investigation involving the company.
In addition to the inspectors generals of those three agencies, the CLC filed a complaint with IG of the Health and Human Services Department.
"The public has a right to know that the officials tasked with protecting the security of our country are always acting in the public's interest, not in their own private financial interest," said the complaint filed with the DOD, WSJ reported.
WSJ reported that some of the 50 federal agencies defended their ethics programs.
The DOD told WSJ it has "extensive guidance" on implementing ethics laws and regulations; an FTC spokesman said the agency refers possible ethics violations to the inspector general; the EPA has said officials are allowed to invest in energy companies so long as they aren't working on policies that could affect their investments.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in line to become speaker of the House in January, is considering a wide-ranging ethics-reform package aimed at restoring public trust in the government, an aide told WSJ.
Under consideration is legislation to ban or restrict members of Congress and senior executive branch employees from owning or trading stock, the aide said.
Nick Zeller, a spokesman for Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, said that the Republican-controlled House in the next Congress "creates an opportunity" for approving a stock ban, because the GOP's slim majority will require bipartisan cooperation.
A similar effort in the Senate will face greater challenges, though.
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