He did, however, suggest that the agency was — and still is — overwhelmed by the number of hazards in Congressional properties and lacked sufficient resources to fully inspect all facilities.
Though the OOC is responsible for monitoring safety compliance in legislative branch agencies on and off Capitol Hill, it wasn’t until fiscal 2006 that the OOC had the money to hire a full-time employee to conduct Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspections. Prior to that, the OOC had one detailee from the Labor Department and two part-time contractors to cover the entire 16 million-square-foot Capitol campus.
Today, the agency has three staffers monitoring all legislative branch facilities for OSHA compliance, but only one is full time.
“Given the aging of the facilities on Capitol Hill and the complexity of the maintenance, certainly having one full-time inspector to address all the various types of hazardous conditions is woefully inadequate,” said David Marshall, an attorney with Katz, Marshall & Banks who represented the tunnel workers’ retaliation complaint.
Thayer, who still harbors considerable resentment about the case, attributed the AOC’s delay in addressing the hazards to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.
“We’re talking about a 100-year-old tunnel system that nobody sees. Nobody ever goes down there,” he said.
He added that while the OOC was also evidently understaffed and overworked, he couldn’t condone the decision not to take the AOC to court.
“I told them this when they signed the ‘landmark agreement,’” Thayer recalled of his conversation with the OOC in 2006. “I told them, ‘Why aren’t you holding [the AOC] responsible for the citations, and not only citations, but the reissuing of citations? Now you’re going to give them another five years to fix the problem? You let them off the hook.’”
However belated the OOC’s actions may have been, Eveleth said the complaint and its fallout carried real weight — and, like Chrisler and Malecki, he is willing to give the AOC some credit for its compliance post-settlement.
“Filing the complaint sent a message that we will not put people’s lives at risk in circumstances when employing offices offer no viable solutions for abating a very serious hazard,” he said. “This settlement could serve as a template for mutually resolving future complex abatements of dangerous safety hazards.”