May 25, 2023
Emory Rounds, Director
When I was confirmed nearly five years ago, I committed to issuing a regulation governing legal expense funds (LEF) for executive branch employees. Today, OGE published that rule.
Thank you to everyone who actively participated in this important, public rulemaking process. OGE received nearly 7,000 comments to the proposed rule. Each comment was considered and is addressed in the preamble to the final rule.
This new rule creates standards for an executive branch employee’s acceptance of payments for legal expenses through a legal expense fund, as well as an employee’s acceptance of pro bono legal services.
These standards apply for legal matters that arise in connection with the employee’s current or former official position, the employee’s prior position on a campaign of a candidate for President or Vice President, or the employee’s prior position on a Presidential Transition Team. Employees may not set up an LEF under these new rules to accept gifts of legal expenses arising from strictly personal legal matters.
To allow time for an orderly implementation, the regulation becomes effective in six months on November 21, 2023. OGE is already working on finalizing the forms that will be used to comply with the requirements of this new regulation. In addition, in the near future, OGE will issue advisories and other resources to assist both ethics officials and employees with implementing this new regulation.
The regulation will provide clarity to executive branch employees by articulating the process for establishing an LEF and the requirements for maintaining one, including: donation caps; the process for review and approval of LEF trust documents; the definition of prohibited donors; and the submission of quarterly, publicly available reports. As a result of these requirements, as well as the increased public reporting requirements, the public will have increased confidence in the decision-making of executive branch employees who accept gifts of legal expenses consistent with the new regulation.
It is my hope that this regulation will provide a framework for screening for conflicts of interest and transparency, which will serve to protect both the agency and the employee, as well as the public.