Lawmakers move to extend ethics requirements

Bill would extend cooling-off period for political appointees and procurement officials.

The House Government Reform Committee unanimously passed ethics reform legislation Thursday to place stricter post-employment limitations on political appointees and procurement officials.

The bill would extend the cooling-off period -- where procurement officials cannot work for contractors they dealt with while federally employed -- from one to two years. Procurement officials also would be required to disclose job offers from contractors made to relatives, and would have a reverse two-year cooling-off period when moving from the private sector to government, during which they would not be able to award contracts to the company for which they had worked.

The act also lengthens from one to two years the cooling-off period for political appointees before they can lobby former colleagues. It bars them from negotiating future employment with any private interest they influence in the course of official duty.

The bill does not impose the limitations on nonprocurement career civil servants, even those in the Senior Executive Service.

"We did have a concern that going from the one-year to the two-year could be blanket, but obviously that did not happen, which was good," said Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association. "We're just glad that the problem was not compounded."

Some members of the SES are covered by the current one-year prohibition, and the Office of Government Ethics proposed extending the cooling-off period to the entire corps.

If the 2006 Executive Branch Reform Act (H.R. 5112), sponsored by committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., and ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., were to become law, it would require political appointees to file quarterly reports detailing all contact they have with private parties seeking to influence government policy. The reports would have to include dates of meetings, names of attendees and the topics discussed.

"This is ethics reform with teeth," Davis said. "Our bipartisan proposals will help renew public trust in our government and restore transparency to the way members of Congress, congressional staff, political appointees and other key executive branch employees interact with lobbyists, potential employers and others."

"These are significant and meaningful reforms," Waxman said. "Indeed, I would characterize them as landmark reforms."

The bill comes in the aftermath of government ethics scandals including one in which Darleen Druyun, a former top Air Force procurement executive, negotiated a job with Boeing while overseeing billions of dollars in contracts with the firm.

The committee also passed a separate bill (H.R. 4975) that would deny defined federal retirement pensions to political appointees convicted of crimes in an ethics scandal.