The Hill: Scuttled Effort to Weaken OCE Hurts Efforts to Win Back Public Trust
The following article was published by The Hill on January 6, 2017. A link to the article can be found here.
By Rep. Quigley
An individual cannot be an effective leader without trust.
Less than two months ago, Americans across the country exercised their most fundamental right in our democracy – the right to vote. They made their voices heard at the ballot box; casting their choice for the men and women they trust to represent and serve them in Congress. In order to honor this trust, Members must be held to the highest ethical standards.
Unfortunately, the first order of business for House Republicans in the New Year was a secret Caucus vote, held behind closed doors to gut the independent ethics watchdog that oversees this chamber. As the first, and only, autonomous body to have an oversight role in the House, the Office of Congressional Ethics plays a critical role in upholding the mechanisms of justice, transparency, and accountability, which fortify the public respect and trust needed to govern.
A recent Gallup poll puts Congress’ approval rating at just 18 percent. Regrettably, this is due in large part to the erosion of public trust. Scandals, conflicts of interest, and overlooked ethics charges continue to plague both federal and state governments, which makes this move a shameful reminder of what can happen when elected officials prioritize their own self-interest ahead of those they represent. The tax payers lose and our entire political system suffers.
As a member of Congress from the state of Illinois, I am sadly no stranger to the effect government corruption can have on the public’s trust. In fact, two of my predecessors who sat in this seat before me have served time behind bars for corruption. This is why I came to Congress with the intention of shining a light on the shadows in the halls of our government. We must put government accountability first, and as co-founder and co-chair of the House Transparency Caucus, I have made the fight to strengthen accountability, increase transparency, and foster public trust a personal one.
If this week’s vote is a sign of things to come under the Republican-led 115th Congress, we will only further chip away at good governance and erode the foundations of our democratic institutions. And while Republicans eventually backed down from their plan after being confronted by overwhelming outrage from their constituents, the American people still got a glimpse into the dysfunction and partisanship that could be headed our way. Instead, we should embrace commonsense legislation, such as the Transparency in Government Act, which I have repeatedly introduced since joining Congress. This bill remains one of the most comprehensive approaches to address a wide range of government transparency issues and would give the public unprecedented access to the inner workings of the government.
There is no time like the present to usher in a new era of open government. The American people deserve better than a return to darker days. It is not only feasible, but imperative, that we win back the people’s trust and prove to our constituents that we are worthy of the responsibility with which we have been entrusted. That begins by safeguarding the tools created to hold government officials accountable.
Voters did not send us to Washington to pursue schemes, stunts, and secret votes. They sent us to Washington to address the challenges we face as a nation. As Members of the “People’s House,” let us return to the people’s business.
Rep. Quigley represents Illinois 5th District and is founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Transparency Caucus.