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Remarks on Signing Into Law the Ethics in Government Act of 1978

October 26, 1978

THE PRESIDENT. I'm very pleased this morning to participate in a ceremony that has great significance for our country. During my own campaign for President, I promised the American people that I would do everything in my power to guarantee integrity in the executive branch of Government, and also obviously I have been joined with great enthusiasm by the Members of Congress and members of the judiciary as well.

On May 3 of 1977, shortly after I became President, I proposed legislation to the Congress to meet these commitments. And today I'm pleased to sign into law the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which gives us added tools to ensure that the Government is open, honest, and is free from conflicts of interest.

I am pleased that no major provision of my own original proposal has been deleted or weakened, and that the Congress, with our support, has actually extended important provisions to the legislative and judicial branches of Government. This is a good indication of cooperation in extending these ethical standards throughout the entire Government of our country.

This bill will provide for mandatory, personal financial disclosures for high officials in the executive branch of Government, for all Members of the Congress, and for all senior members of the judicial branch of Government as well.

The ultimate authority for-or responsibility for endorsing and interpreting the provisions of the act lies in the executive branch of Government. Substantially, it broadens protection against abuses caused by postemployment conflicts of interest, so that people who have been employed in the Government cannot use this employment to go and enrich themselves by going into an area of private employment which would use their influence recently derived from Government service. It closes the revolving door that has been so significantly abused in the past.

This legislation also establishes a Special Office of Government Ethics in the new Office of Personnel Management, which was brought about by a revision of the civil service system of our country.

This bill responds to problems that developed at the highest level of Government in the 1970's.

If in the future there are ever substantial allegations of criminal violations by the President or the Vice President, by Members of the Congress [Cabinet] or senior members of the President's staff, a Special Prosecutor will be appointed by a panel made up of U.S. Court of Appeals judges of the District of Columbia to prosecute or investigate and see if a prosecution is necessary. This Special Prosecutor could only be removed on the basis of extraordinary impropriety or incapacity, which gives the Special Prosecutor in the future, if needed, a great protection in carrying out his responsibilities without interference.

I'm hopeful, of course, that this authority will rarely be needed, but I believe it is necessary in response to the lessons that we have learned to the embarrassment of our country in the past.

Enactment of this legislation would not have been possible without the outstanding leadership and enthusiastic personal involvement by Speaker Tip O'Neill. And I would like to point out too that Congressman George Danielson, the floor manager of the bill in the House, and Senator Abe Ribicoff, the floor manager in the Senate, did truly outstanding jobs in their successful efforts on behalf of this legislation. Senator Percy, Senator Robert Byrd, Senator Case, and Representatives Pat Schroeder, Richardson Preyer, Samuel Stratton, James Mann, and others deserve congratulations for their excellent work on this bill.

There was a great deal of pressure from many sources to weaken the provisions of this ethics legislation. That pressure was successfully withstood by those that I've described. I'm very pleased that we've achieved this milestone in the history of safeguards against abuse of the public trust by Government officials.

I believe this act will help to restore public confidence in the integrity of our Government, and I think it might serve as a bellwether or a guide to other elements of our government at the State and local level who might wish to imitate what has been done so well by the Congress this year.

It's with a great deal of pleasure that I sign the ethics legislation, which guarantees higher standards of performance and accountability to the public in all the branches of the Federal Government.

[At this point, the President signed the bill.]

Mr. Speaker, I thank you.

SPEAKER O'NEILL I recall the first session that we ever had, when I had been designated as Speaker of the House, with the President of the United States. It was down in Georgia, and he had four goals. One of them was an economic stabilization package. Secondly was a strong ethics package. Thirdly was reorganization, and fourth was an energy package. It took us a little while to accomplish them all, but we did do them, and I think we did them well.

And so, Mr. President, those are the four goals of the first 2 years. They were the main goals, and the ethics package, as I say, was one of them. And I'm pleased to be here in the participating of your signing this legislation. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

Senator Case, would you like to make a comment?

SENATOR CASE. Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, this is a very poignant moment for me. Twenty years ago Dick Neuberger and I introduced the first disclosure bill in the Congress. And it's kind of nice to have it come to fruition before I leave. And so, I thank you for asking me here.

I thank you, Tip, for your leadership, and I'm grateful indeed for all the Members of the House and Senate who came to see the light. Thank you.

SPEAKER O'NEILL. You've been a good man, Senator.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:03 a.m. at the signing ceremony in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

As enacted, S. 555 is Public Law 95-521, approved October 26.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks on Signing Into Law the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243561

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