Top ethics official cites steps taken against appointees including former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Top ethics official cites steps taken against appointees including former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Mark Reinstein/MediaPunch /IPX

Government Ethics Chief Warns Trump Appointees That Agreements Are ‘Not Mere Aspirations’

Top ethics official notes that he can take steps to punish those who violate pacts to avoid conflicts.

The federal government’s top ethics official is warning political appointees in the Trump administration they cannot change their agreements with his office without his signing off and cautioned that he can take disciplinary action when necessary. 

In a memorandum issued last week to agency ethics officials, Office of Government Ethics Director Emory Rounds cautioned federal agencies against unilaterally making changes to agreements that spell out appointees’ potential conflicts of interest and steps those officials will take to avoid them. OGE is responsible for reaching those agreements with each presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed (or PAS) appointee. 

“This Program Advisory is to remind ethics officials that the OGE must approve any proposed modification to an ethics agreement of an executive branch official who was appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate,” Rounds wrote. 

Rounds noted that appointees must comply with both the substantive terms of their ethics agreements as well as the timeframes set out in them. Agency ethics officials must discuss any changes to those agreements with OGE, which will then determine if the modifications are appropriate before agreeing to them. If approved, OGE would then notify Congress of the changes and make them public.  

“The ethics agreement communicates a [presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed] official’s specific commitments to resolve potential conflicts of interest and a timeframe for executing those commitments, not mere aspirations,” Rounds said. “PAS officials must timely comply and personally certify compliance with their ethics agreement.”

In another memo posted on Wednesday, Rounds reminded appointees of his authority to challenge those who do not meet their agreements.

“If an appointee does not comply with either the terms or the timeframes of their ethics agreement, the director of OGE will take appropriate steps,” Rounds wrote. “These steps may include declining to certify the appointee’s annual public financial disclosure report, and/or notifying the agency head or the White House, as appropriate.”

In the memo, Rounds cited steps OGE has taken against Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. In Pruitt's case, OGE followed up with the EPA inspector general to request further investigation.