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Federal Ethics Office Wants To Know If Trump Appointees Are Keeping Their Promises

President Trump holds his first official meeting with members of his Cabinet, including Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke (from left), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in March.

When the Senate was preparing to confirm President Trump's Cabinet and other top officials, the nominees negotiated ethics agreements, promising to rearrange their financial lives to avoid conflicts of interest.

Now the Office of Government Ethics wants to know if they kept their word.

OGE is requiring the Cabinet secretaries and other Senate-confirmed officials to fill out a new Certification of Ethics Agreement Compliance. NPR obtained a copy of the form before its release Thursday.

The form asks whether appointees followed through on pledges to resign from private-sector positions that posed conflicts of interest, divest financial holdings they had promised to sell and recuse themselves from any issues where they have had conflicts.

OGE plans to post the completed forms online, each one paired with the ethics agreement that the appointee signed during the Senate confirmation process. As with other federal documents, false statements run the risk of criminal penalties.

This is the latest round in a battle between OGE, which oversees but cannot enforce federal ethics law, and the Trump administration, which has shown little concern for it. Before Trump was inaugurated last January, OGE Director Walter Shaub Jr. sharply criticized his decision to keep ownership of his corporate empire. Shaub said, "The president-elect must show those in government — and those coming into government after his inauguration — that ethics matters."

Since then, the White House has delayed the release of appointees' financial disclosures. And as the New York Times reported, it hasn't disclosed ethics waivers that allow newly appointed agency officials to make decisions affecting companies for which they formerly lobbied.

Both financial disclosures and ethics waivers were routinely disclosed in the past.

Last month, OGE went after the missing ethics waivers. In a "data call," it directed the ethics officers in federal agencies to send it copies of all recently issued ethics waivers by the end of May.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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