Carper, Warren, Cummings Introduce Transition Team Ethics Improvement Act

Legislation would increase accountability and transparency in the presidential transition process

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to introduce the Transition Team Ethics Improvement Act, legislation that would enhance the ethics requirements that govern presidential transitions.

To facilitate an orderly transition of power from one presidential administration to the next, the federal government provides presidential transition teams with financial support, access to executive agencies and 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.

The Transition Team Ethics Improvement Act would require eligible presidential candidates to develop and release transition team ethics plans, require transition team members to sign an ethical code of conduct, enhance disclosure requirements for “landing team” members, and strengthen Congressional oversight of transition team members receiving security clearances.

“Recently, a non-partisan Government Accountability Office report examined the most recent presidential transition and found glaring inefficiencies with ethics planning. It’s common sense and a good government policy to ensure that every incoming administration plans ahead to protect ethics, which is what this bill does,” said Senator Carper. “Making ethics a higher priority in presidential transitions will help new administrations inoculate against potential conflicts of interest, improve the vetting process for nominees and preserve the integrity of our executive branch.”

“Presidential transitions shouldn’t be a boon for special interest lobbyists. Ethical shortcomings can turn into crises that extend beyond the transition period into an entire presidency – hurting millions of ordinary Americans,” said Senator Warren. “Our bill will ensure that presidential transition teams are working to create a government focused on the needs of American workers, not industry insiders trying to rig the system and control the levers of power in Washington D.C.”

“President Trump set a tone from the top that ethics do not matter. This bill would make future transitions more accountable by requiring candidates to disclose how they will address their own conflicts of interest and how they will prevent transition team members from using their position for personal gain,” said Ranking Member Cummings. “The bill would also allow for more responsible oversight by requiring candidates to disclose to Congress the names of individuals they submit for security clearances, as well as those who receive them.”

In September 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) compiled a report at the Members’ request that found the Trump transition team ignored ethics compliance laws governing 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 attention to ethics and disregard of ethics precedents from previous Administrations – with little recourse from Congress.

The Senate version of the Transition Team Ethics Improvement Act is co-sponsored by Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

The House version of the Transition Team Ethics Improvement Act is co-sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.).