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“The irony is the OCE is working much better than any of us really thought it would,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center.

Mrs. McGehee gives much of the credit for the office’s success to its leaders, former Rep. David Skaggs, a Democrat from Colorado, and former Rep. Porter Goss, a Republican from Florida who served as CIA director during the Bush administration, and their ability to put aside politics and work together.

She worries what will happen to the new office if either one of the two co-chairman should leave.

And Mrs. McGehee is quick to note that the Ethics Committee itself, which has the final say in whether a member is punished, is still opaque and secretive, slow-walks cases and can’t figure out how to handle the case against Mrs. Waters after hiring a special counsel to investigate complaints that the panel mishandled the case against her.

Last month, all lawmakers who served on the panel during the Waters investigation were forced to recuse themselves from anything dealing with the Waters issue. 

Despite the outside praise, the OCE stoked resentment among members of Congress in 2010 by launching a wide-ranging investigation of eight lawmakers’ fundraisers held with the financial services sector in December 2009 within days of voting on the Wall Street reform bill.

At the time, OCE letters requesting information from several K Street firms quickly leaked to The Hill newspaper, which ran photos of all the members whose fundraising practices were under review.

The OCE ultimately only recommended that the Ethics Committee look into the fundraising of three of the members.

The Ethics Committee later cleared all involved, but House members complained that their names had been unfairly sullied.

Omar Ashmawy, a former military prosecutor who serves as the OCE’s staff director and chief counsel and has worked at the office since its inception, said accuracy and confidentiality are the two principles the office takes most seriously. “Everything we do is done with those two principles in mind,” he told The Washington Times.

“We are proud of the role that we’ve played in the House ethics process — in that we have performed exactly as the House expected us to — and the process has been working,” he added.

As to lawmakers’ outrage over the fundraising investigation, Mr. Ornstein said fundraising has become so all-consuming in Washington and deserves more ethics scrutiny.

“This is the one place where I don’t mind firing a shot across members’ bows once in a while,” he said.