Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, joined Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and and House Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, on Jan. 18 to introduce the Transition Team Ethics Improvement Act, legislation that would enhance the ethics requirements that govern presidential transitions.
To facilitate an orderly transition of power from one presidential administration to the next, the federal government provides presidential transition teams with financial support, access to executive agencies and nonpublic documents and other resources. Despite their public support and level of access, transition team members are not required to comply with federal ethics laws, including those regarding conflicts of interest, because they are not categorized as federal government employees.
The act would require eligible presidential candidates to develop and release transition team ethics plans, require transition team members to sign an ethical code of conduct, enhance disclosure requirements for "landing team" members and strengthen congressional oversight of transition team members receiving security clearances.
“Recently, a nonpartisan Government Accountability Office report examined the most recent presidential transition and found glaring inefficiencies with ethics planning. It's common sense and a good government policy to ensure that every incoming administration plans ahead to protect ethics, which is what this bill does,” said Carper. “Making ethics a higher priority in presidential transitions will help new administrations inoculate against potential conflicts of interest, improve the vetting process for nominees and preserve the integrity of our executive branch.”
In September 2017, the Government Accountability Office compiled a report at the members’ request that found the Donald Trump transition team ignored ethics compliance laws governing presidential transitions. GAO's review found that the Trump transition team did not develop an enforcement mechanism for its ethics code — leading to numerous reports of transition team members not signing or complying with the ethics policies. Overall, the GAO findings demonstrated the transition team's lack of attention to ethics and disregard of ethics precedents from previous Administrations — with little recourse from Congress.