November 15, 2021
By: Dale "Chip" Christopher, Deputy Director for Compliance
OGE is not an oversight agency in the way most people expect. OGE doesn’t investigate individual violations of ethics rules. OGE doesn’t prosecute violations of the ethics laws. The Offices of Inspectors General and the Department of Justice are responsible for those functions. OGE does, however, conduct various kinds of oversight.
Primarily, OGE oversees agency ethics programs. Every 4-5 years, an OGE review team evaluates each executive branch agency’s ethics program. The review team looks at the agency’s ethics policies and procedures for administering the program, as well as individual program elements. They review the timeliness of the agency’s financial disclosure reviews. They evaluate whether the agency is properly training its employees. They assess the ethics-related counseling provided to employees. These reviews culminate in a report on the health of the program. OGE publishes its oversight reports so you can see how individual ethics programs are doing.
OGE review teams sometimes find flaws in the ethics programs they review. When they find a problem, they make a written recommendation for improvement in the oversight report. OGE then follows-up on the recommendation until the agency under review demonstrates it has fixed the problem. OGE tracks all of these recommendations so it—and you—can follow trends in program deficiencies and make sure agencies are coming into compliance.
As noted, OGE does not conduct investigations or prosecutions of individuals regarding alleged ethics violations. But, OGE does track such actions on the part of Inspectors General and the Department of Justice. Agencies are required to notify OGE when they refer a case to the Department of Justice for prosecution. If the Department of Justice declines to prosecute, agencies have to notify OGE whether or not they took administrative action—just because an act is not criminally prosecuted doesn’t necessarily mean that a violation of the ethics rules did not occur. OGE publishes a chart every quarter summarizing ethics-related referrals. OGE also publishes summaries of criminal prosecutions annually. We make all of this information available to the public so you can see how your government is overseeing compliance with the ethics rules.
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