During my 12 years in Congress, whenever any question arises about what is ethical, I immediately ask for a determination by the House Committee on Ethics.
So when Ms. Tina Sablan, a staff of the Northern Marianas congressional office, was considering running for a seat in the Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature, we consulted the Committee on Ethics whether she could continue on the congressional payroll. The answer was yes.
There is specific discussion of this situation in the House Ethics Manual: “…no statutory provision or House rule absolutely prohibits a House employee from holding a local office… .”
The Ethics Manual further advises: “A staff member considering running for or serving in a local office should first consult with his or her employing Member on the matter, and should refrain from doing so if the Member objects.”
Ms. Sablan did consult with me first; and I encouraged her to run.
The Ethics Committee cautioned, however, that “federal statute (18 USC § 205(a)) prohibits an employee of the legislative branch of the United States from acting as agent for anyone before any department, agency, court, court-martial, officer, or civil, military, or naval commission in connection with any covered matter in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.”
Having determined that Ms. Sablan could continue working for the congressional office, she was contracted to perform part-time employment for about six months, from January to June 2019, primarily to wrap up pending projects and casework. Most of her casework at that time was FEMA-related and, based on our experience with Typhoon Soudelor, we thought we would start to see casework winding down within six to nine months after Yutu, which turned out to be true.
We had a conversation about whether to continue her employment beyond June, but by then she wanted to become more fully immersed in her legislative work—on the Health Committee, dealing with Medicaid and on other federal grants on the House Standing Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs—and agreed that would not be possible if she remained on as a congressional staffer. So she resigned her position and left her part-time employment with the congressional office when the contract ended in June 2019.
In my view, the care Ms. Sablan took in making sure there was no legal or ethical barrier for her to run for or serve in the Legislature is the very characteristic that makes her such a trusted member of our community.
Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan
Member of Congress