A posting from the Office of Government Ethics says the agency often is asked why it “doesn’t do more ethics investigations” and that the answer is that its role is to set and oversee ethics policies while it is the role of agency IGs to investigate possible violations.
In recent years OGE often has been asked by members of Congress to investigate or otherwise provide information about potential ethics violations by members of administrations of the opposite party. Democrats made such requests during the Trump administration, while Republicans have done the same during the Biden administration.
The posting said the roles of the OGE and IGs date to the post-Watergate period when “Congress was considering a number of reforms to protect the American people from government corruption and misconduct. Two functions that Congress determined to be essential in these reforms were (1) the development and oversight of ethics policy, and (2) the investigation and remediation of violations of ethics policy.”
A question arose whether those functions should be in a single office or separated and Congress ultimately decided on the latter, passing the Ethics in Government Act creating the OGE and the Inspector General Act creating those offices in all but the smallest agencies, it said.
“Among other things, separating the policy function from the investigative function allows agencies and federal employees to seek policy guidance without fear that their inquiries will be used against them by investigators. This also allows investigators to prioritize investigations based on the needs of the agencies they are overseeing, free from the influence of the policy office,” it said.
The posting added that IG offices do at times seek technical assistance from OGE while OGE at times refers ethics-related matters that come to its attention to IGs for possible investigation.