Ethics Office Nominee Easily Advances to Senate Floor

Tone from the top critical to fostering strong ethics culture, Rounds says

Emory Rounds cleared the latest hurdle, getting approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to becoming the next head of the Office of Government Ethics. (Courtesy C-SPAN screengrab)

Emory Rounds III is one crucial step closer to taking over the top spot at the Office of Government Ethics, an increasingly high-profile job in the Trump era.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved his nomination by voice vote Wednesday, paving the way for the full chamber to vote on Rounds’ nomination.

President Donald Trump nominated Rounds, a longtime ethics attorney, in February, earning widespread praise from those in the ethics bar, including from the person to hold the job most recently, Walter Shaub Jr.

Shaub stepped down in July 2017 and joined the watchdog organization Campaign Legal Center, where he has been a critic of ethics practices in the Trump administration. Shaub called the current state of governmental ethics a “crisis” because of the president’s refusal to divest of his private business holdings and for apparent violations of ethics rules by others in the administration.

Upon his nomination, Shaub said Rounds “represents a degree of stability in a sea of chaos.” 

“Some challenges will be insurmountable, such as persuading the president to divest his conflicting financial interests or getting the White House to be more transparent about the ethics problems of its immediate staff,” Shaub said at the time.

Rounds has served on the OGE staff since 2009.

“With the growing interest in and concerns regarding government ethics, OGE finds itself underfunded, understaffed, over-missioned, and to a great extent underappreciated,” Rounds said during his May 23 confirmation hearing. “But, to a person, OGE’s staff always performs above any reasonable expectations.”

“In my opinion, the tone from the top is critical to fostering and maintaining a strong ethics culture and a positive tone, which requires more than mere technical compliance,” Rounds added. “If confirmed as OGE’s director, I would take on the critical duty of ensuring that the executive branch’s ethics laws and rules are followed by calling upon government leaders to protect the integrity of government and strengthen the public’s confidence in government decision-making.”

In addition to advancing Rounds’ nomination, the committee also approved a slate of bills by voice vote, including a measure that would require lobbyists to disclose convictions for bribery, extortion, embezzlement, kickbacks or money laundering and other crimes.   

Lobbyists are split over the measure, though few believe the proposal — sponsored by Sens. John Kennedy, R-La., and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va. —  would curtail any real or perceived corruption on K Street.

Senators did not debate the measure, which Manchin and Kennedy have said was inspired by the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal of the mid-2000s.

Kennedy said during a recent MSNBC appearance the bill would allow a lawmaker to “find out if somebody who wants to talk to you professionally on behalf of a client has been convicted of bribing a congressman.”

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