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Agency Faces Big Job, Small Budget

Swett and Shays have different memories of the events that transpired. Swett, who was defeated in 1994, said the House Republicans’ bill was “weaker” and
“watered-down,” while Shays, who lost his seat in 2008, credits his party for finally shepherding the legislation to law.

But neither could say whether all that was even important if the OOC, vested with implementing the Congressional Accountability Act, has had to consistently pick and choose which mandates to fulfill and which to cut at the corners because of funding shortfalls.

All legislative branch entities have been forced to make budget cuts in recent years, with the OOC being no exception. Veteran workplace rights attorney Debra Katz, however, said that appropriators’ choice to withhold necessary funding from the OOC has always been a deliberate one.

“Members of Congress are very happy with the state of the Office of Compliance, which is an office that is so under-resourced it really can’t do much and discourages employees from filing charges,” Katz said.

Ornstein, a contributing writer for Roll Call, agreed that the agency is cash-strapped but said it shouldn’t surprise anyone: “It’s not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem: It’s a Congressional problem. There’s a fear that if you give [the OOC] a lot of money, they will spend it. ... You hire more traffic cops, you’re going to get more traffic violations.”

Of all the lawmakers interviewed by Roll Call who were involved in drafting the Congressional Accountability Act, no one said there were discussions about whether Congress would financially empower an Office of Compliance.

“When we passed the law, we were leaving funding up to the appropriators,” Grassley said recently. “I don’t recall any discussion that this shouldn’t be passed for budget reasons.”

As for whether the OOC has the money it needs now to do its job, Grassley said he hadn’t heard anything about that.

“If they don’t have the money, they have to tell us,” he said.

It’s true the agency has only asked for slim increases from one year to the next, but Chrisler said that doesn’t reflect the OOC’s true financial needs.   

“The OOC has been underfunded for many years. In each appropriations cycle, we have requested funding that would help to shorten the gap. ... [It] doesn’t mean we don’t need the funding we didn’t ask for; it just means that we recognize everyone has to tighten their belts,” Chrisler said. “However, it comes a point where you don’t have any more notches left in the belt, and that’s where we are right now.”

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