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Watchdog Groups Urge House Leaders to Fill Vacancies on Ethics Board

Eight government watchdog organizations today urged House leaders to fill four soon-to-be-vacant seats on the Office of Congressional Ethics’ board of directors.

At the end of this Congress, the terms of four members of OCE’s eight-member board will expire, leaving just the two chairmen – former Reps. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) and David Skaggs (D-Colo.). Departing members cannot be reappointed, creating the first mandated turnover since the independent office was created.

In a letter sent today, the groups described the ethics office as “one of the stellar ethics accomplishments of the House of Representatives” and urged Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to appoint replacements before the start of the 113th Congress.

The groups were the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S. PIRG.

Boehner and Pelosi must fill the open board slots. Though both have pledged continued support for the OCE, neither has detailed a plan for the appointment process.

The groups floated the names of two of the current alternate members of the board – ex-Reps. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.) and Abner Mikva (D-Ill.) – as possible appointees.

“Otherwise there is a wide selection of other qualified persons, many of whom have had previous congressional experience, who may be interested in appointment to the board as well,” the groups wrote. “Whatever your choices, we urge your offices to begin considering potential replacements for the four expiring positions on the board at your earliest convenience so that the important work of ethics monitoring and accountability will not be neglected as the new Congress convenes.”

The OCE is a quasi-independent fact-finding entity that reviews allegations of wrongdoing within the House. It conducts its reviews in two stages: a 30-day preliminary review, followed by a 45-day second-phase review that may be extended for an additional 14 days. At that point, the board votes to send the matter to the House Ethics Committee with a recommendation for further review or dismissal. The votes are nearly always unanimous.