Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, applauded on March 8 the passage of H.R. 1, the For The People Act, a landmark government reform package that includes proposals related to voting and election laws, campaign finance, redistricting and Executive Branch ethics requirements.
The For The People Act includes legislation introduced by Carper along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and House Committee Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, that would enhance the ethics requirements that govern presidential transitions.
“It is just common sense that the individuals running for the highest office in our land should be required to address any ethical issues before they take the oath of office. That's not a partisan issue; it's a good government policy that is necessary for a healthy democracy,” said Carper. “Regardless of their political party, presidential candidates and their transition teams should disclose how they will address their own conflicts of interest before the election and develop an ethics plan that the American people are able to see and evaluate. Today, we are one step closer to providing more accountability and transparency in presidential transitions by helping new administrations address potential conflicts of interest, improve the vetting process for nominees and preserve the integrity of our executive branch. I’m glad we were able to get this important bill through the House, and now it’s time for the Senate to do its job. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this common sense legislation.”
The federal government provides presidential transition teams with financial support and access to executive agencies, non-public documents and other resources. Despite their public support and level of access, transition team members are not required to comply with federal ethics laws, including those regarding conflicts of interest, because they are not categorized as federal government employees.
Although recent presidents-elect have adopted ethics plans, the law does not require it. The Transition Team Ethics Improvement Act would:
— Require eligible presidential candidates to develop and release transition team ethics plans and disclose how they will address their own conflicts of interest before the election;
— Require transition team members to sign an ethics-specific code of conduct;
— Establish a set of minimum requirements for transition team ethics plans;
— Enhance disclosure requirements for "landing team" members; and
— Strengthen congressional oversight of transition team members receiving security clearances.
In September 2017, the Government Accountability Office compiled a report at the Members' request that found the Trump transition team ignored advice from the Office of Government Ethics and failed to follow past precedents regarding ethics and presidential transitions. GAO's review found that the Trump transition team did not develop an enforcement mechanism for its ethics code — leading to numerous reports of transition team members not signing or complying with the ethics policies. Overall, the GAO findings demonstrated the transition team's lack of attention to ethics and disregard of ethics precedents set by previous administrations — with little recourse from Congress.