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House Lawmakers Exempt From Ethics Training in Emerging Rules Package

Sessions says he does not see mandatory ethics training as "proper." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Sessions says he does not see mandatory ethics training as "proper." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Despite a bipartisan push to make ethics training mandatory for members of the House, the GOP rules package taking shape for the 114th Congress won’t put lawmakers on the hook for any such schooling.  

The January rules resolution being hammered out next week will likely include changes to the way staffers are hired for congressional membership organizations, an idea pitched by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. — but mandatory ethics training is off the table. House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions said Thursday he does not view it as “proper” to add ethics training to the list of requirements for serving in the chamber.  

“We look at the Constitution and say 25 years old, elected, and that’s your obligations,” the Texas Republican told CQ Roll Call, when questioned about a letter from Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline and Virginia Republican Scott Rigell asking leaders to mandate training.  

Sessions will address the issue by mailing a letter reminding members of their “authority and responsibility” to make sure all their staff undergo mandatory training, he said. Sent to the home address of each incoming freshman, the letter reminds members of the requirement that Capitol Hill and district staff must undergo training within 60 days of their employment.  

“The rationale behind it is that we’re encouraging them to be aware they’re still responsible,” Sessions said. “Just because they don’t take the training, that’s no excuse.” Though his panel has jurisdiction over the issue, “mandatory on members to attend the training is not viewed as proper, and I view it that way still today, but we’ll advise people they are still responsible.”  

New members received a briefing from staff of the House Ethics Committee, the Office of Compliance and the Office of House Employment Counsel during orientation, but House rules and federal law remain silent in regard to formal training. In the Senate, lawmakers and staff are obligated to undergo “ongoing” ethics training in accordance with a 2007 law.  

“It is our belief that a change in House Rules will help increase understanding and reduce confusion of the rules, help decrease the number of future ethics violations by Members and, most importantly, help restore the public’s faith and trust in Congress,” Cicilline and Rigell wrote on Nov. 19.  

Cicilline attended a September hearing of the Rules panel responsible for organizing the package to plead his case, and pointed to a bill he introduced in July that would have the same effect.  

Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., who holds the gavel on the Rules and Organization of the House Subcommittee, said he heard a couple pretty good ideas from both sides of the aisle during that hearing, and his staff has been working with leadership to craft the final package. On Scalise’s plan in particular, Nugent said, “It just makes sense.”  

Under current House Rules, caucuses cannot function as employing authorities, so staffers have to be hired and fired from month to month, rotating from different members’ payrolls  for accounting purposes. Nugent called the process “government bureaucracy at its worst.”  

The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Jim McGovern, said he would be inclined to include mandatory ethics training in. “But we don’t control what goes in the rules package,” the Massachusetts Democrat added, “they do.”  

Democrats controlled the House in 2007 when the Senate’s mandatory ethics law easily cleared Congress.  


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