New Report Calls for Creation of Federal Enforcement Agency to Fight Corruption, Revamp of Post-Watergate Era System

Proposed Agency is Centerpiece of Comprehensive Plan to Rebuild Trust in Government

New York – Today, the Roosevelt Institute and the Great Democracy Initiative released a new report delineating a detailed agenda to reduce conflicts of interest and corruption in Washington. Unstacking the Deck: A New Agenda to Tame Corruption in Washington describes significant problems with the current approach for ensuring the integrity of government officials and government agencies. The report recommends consolidating the unwieldy set of government oversight bureaus in the U.S. into a single independent agency.

“Americans believe that Washington is rigged for the rich and powerful — and they’re right,” said Julie Morgan, Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and Co-Founder of the Great Democracy Initiative. “Too many policy insiders worship at the altar of big-money lobbyists. This report outlines ways to make Washington accountable to all of us.”

“Our research found that an alphabet soup of agencies is responsible for ensuring our government is operating with integrity. Consolidating these agencies into a single, more accountable agency with real enforcement teeth would help root out corruption and conflicts of interest,” said Rohit Chopra, Visiting Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, who contributed to the research.

On April 26, 2018, Chopra was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as Federal Trade Commissioner. He will depart the Roosevelt Institute upon assuming office.

Recent allegations of conflicts of interest in the executive branch are not a new occurrence. Government reformers have criticized officials in both parties for cozy ties with special interests, including through the fast-spinning revolving door, where government officials and corporate interests move back and forth between the public and private sector. Unstacking the Deck builds on efforts by reformers seeking to change campaign finance and ethics laws and outlines a comprehensive plan that modernizes our decades-old system designed after the Watergate era.

The report highlights a range of solutions to correct today’s approach to preventing corruption and conflicts of interest:

  • Establish a new, independent Public Integrity Protection Agency to strengthen enforcement. Today’s scattered collection of agencies that help to guard against conflicts of interest, including the Office of Government Ethics, the Department of Justice, and the Inspectors General, is too disparate and too weak. After Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater Investigation, Congress shut down the Office of the Independent Counsel. Today, there are serious questions about the viability of a strong, independent entity with vigorous enforcement powers. A new agency with independent funding and insulation from partisan politics would consolidate many of the existing entities and bring about real accountability for bad actors.
  • Modernize our inadequate and outdated ethics laws. Existing law largely rests on reforms from the Watergate era, which special interests have routinely sidestepped. The report describes how today’s system fails to ensure that policymaking is not tilted toward the priorities of special interests. Unstacking the Deck argues for new fiduciary duties for government officials, a full ban on stock trading by members of Congress, and the closure of conflict-of-interest loopholes.
  • Slow down the revolving door. The report highlights examples of the revolving door from both political parties. The revolving door reinforces a perception that corporate actors must capture government in order to compete. The report argues that the costs to public trust far outweigh the benefits of lax revolving door restrictions. Unstacking the Deck argues for heightened restrictions to slow down the revolving door, including outright bans for employees of certain government contractors and companies found to be violating the law.

The report provides detailed recommendations for reformers and policymakers to remake our post-Watergate era system. By tackling corruption and increasing transparency, government agencies will be more likely to act in the public interest — rather than on behalf of special interests.

Recently, the Roosevelt Institute released the report Powerless: How Lax Antitrust and Concentrated Market Power Rig the Economy Against American Workers, Consumers and Communities. The report examines the ways that excessive corporate power harms the broader economy and distorts effective policymaking. In 2016, the Roosevelt Institute released Untamed: How to Check Corporate, Financial, and Monopoly Power, which outlined new rules and regulations that would bring about a healthier, more broadly prosperous U.S. economy.

Unstacking the Deck is being released as part of the Great Democracy Initiative, a new project housed at the Roosevelt Institute that will develop a playbook of progressive solutions that make fundamental shifts — not just minor tweaks — to how our government and our economy work.