When a partisan member of the bureaucratic swamp resigns, that’s something to cheer about. And huzzahs were certainly in order last week when the nation’s top “ethics” officer, Walter Shaub, announced that he is resigning, effective July 19.
Barack Obama appointed Shaub to head the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) back in 2013. It’s a five-year appointment, so Shaub’s resignation merely ends his reign six months early.
Shaub has already lined up a new gig. He is headed to the Campaign Legal Center, a partisan, Soros-funded advocacy group that has been working for years to restrict your First Amendment right to speak and engage in political activity. That tells you a lot about Shaub’s politics and why his resignation is cause for celebration.
His old sinecure, the Office of Government Ethics, was established by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. Its function is to oversee the ethics rules governing federal employees, including the public disclosure process that requires high-level civil servants to disclose their financial holdings. Given the enormous effect that charges of unethical conduct can have, it is critical that this agency have a head who is ethical, highly professional, and unwilling to use his power in a partisan manner.
Shaub fell far short of that mark. After Donald Trump became president, he directed his staff to use the official OGE twitter account to send out a series of mocking tweets about the president. The tweets were designed to pressure Mr. Trump into jettisoning all of his business interests—despite the fact that no federal law or ethics rule requires divestment.
Unsurprisingly, the OGE under Shaub has treated many of President Trump’s nominees and potential nominees shabbily, too. Clearly, the agency is doing everything it can to slow down the clearance process.
One tweet promised that OGE would “sing your praises if you divested.” It is not OGE’s job to “praise” or criticize anyone. Its sole job is to determine what ethics rules apply to government employees and to advise them accordingly. As its website says, its mission is prevention; it does not “adjudicate complaints” or “prosecute ethics violations.”
The head of OGE is not a superhero. He doesn’t have the power to impose drastic requirements, such as complete divestiture, that have never been authorized by Congress.
It was unethical of Shaub to publicly air his erroneous opinion that the president and his transition team needed to jettison their business holdings. No ethics agency can operate if those it is meant to advise have no assurance that their requests for guidance will be kept confidential.
Not only was Shaub unapologetic about abusing his authority in an attempt to publicly embarrass the president into complying with a nonexistent “ethics” requirement, he went so far as to criticize the president for declining to release his tax returns. Again, there is no federal law requiring such disclosure. As the head of an agency charged with implementing existing ethics law, Shaub had no business publicly commenting on the president’s decision.
Unsurprisingly, the OGE under Shaub has treated many of President Trump’s nominees and potential nominees shabbily, too.
Several individuals going through the approval process with OGE have told me that the agency has been raising bogus ethics and conflict of interest claims when no conflict exists and no federal ethics law or regulation supports the claims and demands being made by OGE. Clearly, the agency is doing everything it can to slow down the clearance process.
Fittingly, Shaub may have committed an actual ethics violation in terminating his employment: 5 CFR 2635.702(c) specifically prohibits government officials from endorsing “any product, service or enterprise…including nonprofit organizations…and persons with whom the employee has or seeks employment.” Shaub submitted his resignation letter on July 6 with an effective date of July 19. Yet on July 6, his future employer published a press release prominently mentioning Shaub’s current and future titles and quoting him as looking forward to improving the OGE’s program through his work at the Campaign Legal Center.
Shaub’s post-election actions at OGE abused his authority and contributed to the noxious political environment that infests the nation’s capital. He severely damaged the reputation of the Office of Government Ethics as an unbiased, objective agency that helps government employees comply with federal ethics rules no matter what political party they support.
Now he is shipping off to an advocacy organization that wants to curtail the First Amendment rights of candidates and the general public to speak and work in the political arena. Good riddance.