Legislation Would Increase Accountability and Transparency During Presidential Transitions
Washington, DC - United States Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) yesterday introduced the Transition Team Ethics Improvement Act to enhance the ethics requirements that govern presidential transitions.
Senators Carper, Warren and Chairman Cummings introduced the Transition Team Ethics Improvement Act in the last Congress to ensure that the government is focused on the public interest during transitions from one presidential administration to the next, not just on the issues raised by special interest lobbyists. The bicameral bill was included in the For the People Act of 2019 (H.R.1) -- House Democrats' first piece of legislation introduced in the 116th Congress that includes proposals related to voting and election laws, campaign finance, redistricting, and Executive Branch ethics requirements.
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.
"It's too easy for the wealthy and well-connected to rig the system to their own benefit during presidential transitions," Senator Warren said. "The Transition Team Ethics Improvement Act puts the government's focus during transitions where it belongs: on the needs of the American people."
"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 Senator 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. Along with my colleagues in the House and Senate, I will keep pushing to provide 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."
"President Trump's lack of transparency during his transition shows there is a greater need to improve the process in the future," Chairman Cummings said. "Our bill will ensure that future presidential transition teams disclose their conflicts of interest and prevent transition members from using their positions for personal gain."
In September 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) 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.
The Senate version of the Transition Team Ethics Improvement Act is co-sponsored by Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), 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. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).