House Starts Up New, Independent Ethics Office

House leaders on Thursday announced the six members and two alternates who will make up the Office of Congressional Ethics, an outside independent group created to restore integrity to a flawed ethics process.

With the creation of the new office, said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who selected members of the bipartisan office with Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, "we bring a new element of transparency and accountability to the ethics process."

The office will be charged with reviewing cases and referring them to the House ethics committee, which in recent years has often been inactive or ineffective because of partisan fighting. House Democrats pushed through the measure creating the outside panel last March.

The panel will be chaired by former Rep. David Skaggs, D-Colo., and co-chaired by former CIA director and Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla. Other members are former Rep. Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, D-Calif.; former House Chief Administrative officer Jay Eagen; former Rep. Karan English, D-Ariz., and George Mason law professor and former Federal Election Commission chief of staff Allison Hayward.

The two alternatives are former federal judge and former Rep. Abner Mikva, D-Ill., and former Rep. Bill Frenzel, R-Minn.

Under the new rules it will take two members of the office, one from each party, to initiate a preliminary investigation of a member. Three board members must vote to move to a second phase review. The panel has 45 calendar days to review a case and there is no public disclosure if it dismisses the case. Authority to make recommendations of censure or punishment still rests with the ethics committee, which is made up of House members.

The new office applies only to the House.