The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is an independent, non-partisan, entity created by the House of Representatives to review allegations of misconduct by Members of the House of Representatives and their staff.
Upon review of alleged misconduct, the OCE may refer matters to the House Ethics Committee for investigation, which could lead to discipline. The OCE can initiate a review based on a complaint by another House Member, by a member of the public, or on its own from information obtained from the media or elsewhere.
Due to internal time restrictions imposed on the OCE, an OCE reviews proceed very quickly. Requests for information, documentation and/or interviews can arise with very little notice.
IMPORTANT: If you receive contact from OCE about a review or to request documents, information or an interview, you need legal advice about your rights. Whether you are the subject of an OCE review or a witness, you have rights that need to be protected. Your member of Congress may want you to co-operate with the OCE, and that may well be in your personal interest, but it also might not be. And, even if you do participate in the OCE review, you must be careful in how you do it. There are real legal dangers to dealing with the OCE process, not just political ones.
You'll be better off - and definitely no worse off - by consulting with an attorney about participating in the OCE process. And note that anyone who discourages you from consulting an attorney about a process that has legal consequences, DOES NOT have your best interests at heart.
Office of Congressional Ethics
Dangers of the OCE Process
While the OCE review process is entirely voluntary, that is not usually made clear by the OCE during the process, especially to staffers. Individuals may feel obligated to participate, given the nature of their jobs.
Moreover, OCE takes the position that it may draw a negative inference against an individual due to his or her "non-cooperation," and report that negative inference to the House Ethics Committee. We believe this"negative inference" is unlawful. OCE uses it, however, to coerce people into complying with a supposedly "voluntary" investigation.
You are entitled to have an attorney assist you in an OCE investigation or represent you in the investigation. This is also something that OCE is not good about making clear to people. This right is important because there can be serious legal consequences from the OCE process. You will be asked to make a statement under oath, and to sign documents under penalty of law saying that you have complied with OCE's requests.
OCE has, and will, refer cases for criminal prosecution to the Department of Justice if, in the opinion of the OCE, a Member or staffer lies during the investigation or "interferes" with the investigation.
OCE reviews can be intimidating, complicated, and difficult to navigate on your own. Talk to a member of our team about it. Call our office at 202-293-0534 or send us a message below.