To the Congress of the United States:
During my campaign I promised the American people that as President I would assure that their government is devoted exclusively to the public interest. I began fulfilling that promise by making information on my own financial interests publicly available. I have also required that all Presidential appointees disclose their business and financial interests, to remove any possibility of hidden conflicts of interest. In addition, I have obtained a commitment from these officials to adhere to tighter restrictions after leaving government, in order to curb the "revolving door" practice that has too often permitted former officials to exploit their government. contacts for private gain.
To expand upon the actions I have taken so far, I am submitting to Congress the Ethics in Government Act of 1977. This bill will establish far-reaching safeguards against conflicts of interest and abuse of the public trust by government officials. The bill incorporates the standards I have required of my own appointees, and extends their coverage to other high-ranking officials. It builds upon the Comptroller General's two-year investigation of conflict of interest enforcement in the Executive Branch. It also parallels the unprecedented efforts the Congress has made to strengthen ethical standards for its members.
In addition to strengthening conflict of interest controls through the Ethics in Government Act, I am today announcing support for legislation to authorize appointment of a temporary Special Prosecutor to handle cases of misconduct by high-ranking Executive Branch officials.
Both Houses have recently adopted new Codes of Conduct which are milestones in the history of government action to prevent actual or potential conflicts of interest. The leadership of both Houses have also pledged personal support for enactment of these new Codes into law. The Senate is currently considering S. 555, the Public Official Integrity Act of 1977, and the House, in addition to creating a Select Committee on Ethics to enact its new Code into law, has also been working on legislation to establish government-wide ethical standards. I am confident that through our joint efforts, legislation prescribing government-wide standards of conduct will be considered and passed this year.
The Ethics in Government Act calls for a three-part program of financial disclosure, creation of a new Office of Ethics in the Civil Service Commission, and strengthened restrictions on post-employment activities of government officials.
First, the Ethics in Government Act would require policy-making officials, whether political appointees or top-level career civil servants, to disclose publicly their financial interests. Currently, policy-making employees must file statements of financial interest, but these statements are not available to the public. In addition to requiring public disclosure, the Act would require collection of more extensive information about employees' financial interests than the current Executive Order. Each official's report will include information on:
--income, whether earned or from investments;
--gifts, including travel, lodging, food and entertainment;
--assets, liabilities and financial transactions;
--positions held in business and professional organizations;
--agreements for future employment.
The vast majority of government officials, of course, have always followed strict ethical standards. I respect their efforts and integrity, and I have carefully considered the new obligations that this legislation will place on them. The provisions of the Act would strike a careful balance between the rights of these individuals to their privacy and the right of the American people to know that their public officials are free from conflicts of interest.
Second, the Ethics in Government Act would strengthen existing restrictions on the revolving door between government and private industry. All too often officials have come into government for a short time and then left to accept a job in private industry, where one of their primary responsibilities is to handle contacts with the former employer. To restrict this kind of arrangement I propose:
I. An extension of the current prohibition on appearances before an agency of former employment on matters that were under the official's responsibility:
--by extending the period of the prohibition from one year to two; and
--by including informal as well as formal contacts.
2. A new and broader ban on formal or informal contact on other matters with agencies of former employment, for a period of one year after the end of government service.
These rules also reflect a balance. They do not place unfair restrictions on the jobs former government officials may choose, but they will prevent the misuse of influence acquired through public service.
Third, this Act would establish a new Office of Government Ethics in the Civil Service Commission. Under the existing Executive Order, guidelines have often been unclear, and enforcement has been ineffective in some agencies. An effective oversight office is essential if strict ethical requirements are to be enforced throughout the government.
Because I believe these responsibilities are so important, I am asking that the Office be headed by a Director who is a Presidential appointee, confirmed by the Senate. I want to designate an individual who is clearly accountable to me, to the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission and to the Congress for the supervision of ethical standards in the Executive Branch. The Director and his new Office would:
--issue general guidelines to agencies on what constitutes a conflict of interest, and how those conflicts can be resolved;
--make recommendations to me on any changes needed in laws and regulations governing conflicts of interest;
--monitor compliance by agencies and individuals with established requirements; and
--increase understanding throughout the government and on the part of the American people of the ethical standards of conduct required of Executive Branch employees.
This new Office will ensure vigilant enforcement of the standards that are established to protect the honesty and integrity of our government.
To complement the Ethics in Government Act, I am also announcing my support for legislation which would require appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute alleged offenses by high government officials. I am not submitting my own bill, for legislation has already been introduced in the Congress which, with relatively small revisions, will conform to my own principles for sound Special Prosecutor legislation. Under those principles the Special Prosecutor would be appointed by a specially empaneled court. He or she could be removed from office only upon a finding of extraordinary impropriety or incapacity. The Special Prosecutor's jurisdiction would extend to alleged misconduct by the President, the Vice President, members of the Cabinet, and White House staff members.
This approach will eliminate all appearance of high-level interference in sensitive investigations and prosecutions. The American people must be assured that no one, regardless of position, is above the law.
I look forward to working with the Congress to enact both the Ethics in Government Act and Special Prosecutor legislation, so that we can help restore the faith of the American people in their government.
The White House,
May 3, 1977.