Following two high-profile employer misconduct scandals last year, the House is taking a new approach to educating the incoming class of Members. A session on the responsibilities of Members of Congress as employers will be included for the first time in the training program for Representatives-elect.
The Office of Compliance will manage that part of today’s biennial new Member orientation, which is being held this week in the Capitol Visitor Center.
Spokesmen for the Office on Compliance and the House Administration Committee, which runs the introductory convention, declined to talk on the record about the session’s content. But past comments from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and the OOC’s last annual report show the new focus was prompted by allegations that aides to former Rep. Eric Massa endured months of sexual harassment before the New York Democrat resigned in March.
In an April letter to the House Administration panel, Hoyer said Massa’s staffers tolerated the abuse because they had “nowhere to turn” and recommended adding to the orientation a section on workplace laws, which would be mandatory for both newly elected lawmakers and at least one aide.
“The current ethics training rightly emphasizes the ethics responsibilities of House staff, but it is generally silent on staff rights in the workplace,” the Maryland Democrat wrote.
Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant said her boss “is pleased that the Committee on House Administration acted on that request and added it as part of the orientation schedule.”
A September OOC report found many staffers were unaware of their workplace rights and recommended the office engage in broader outreach efforts, which this session would accomplish. The report also recommended Members post notices of employee rights in their offices in order to inform staff and remind Members of the rules.
The instruction is expected to make incoming Members aware of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, which applied 12 civil rights, labor and workplace safety and health laws to Congress.
But it’s unclear whether Massa and ex-Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), who resigned in May after allegations that he had an extramarital affair with a part-time aide, will be brought up by name in the session.
Other than the new compliance session, it will be business as usual for the marathon weeklong freshman orientation, which kicked off Sunday night with a joint welcome reception and separate conference dinners led by Hoyer on the Democratic side and Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) for Republicans.
The only difference is that this is the first year the orientation will be held in the CVC.
Senate orientation also starts today and will run through Thursday. A spokeswoman for the Secretary of the Senate declined to comment, except to say the orientation will be run by current Members and will cover Senate rules, ethics and parliamentary procedure.
In the House, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will head a section today dealing with Congressional ethics. It will only have to point down the street to show an example of real-life consequences: The ethics trial of Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) starts today.
Members-elect will be briefed on Capitol security and emergency preparedness, learn about their Members’ Representational Allowance, pay and benefits, as well as receive a primer on how to set up and staff Capitol and district offices.
There will be a panel of sophomore lawmakers, called “If I Knew Then What I Know Now,” including Republican Reps. Gregg Harper (Miss.) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) and Democratic Reps. Marcia Fudge (Ohio) and Gerry Connolly (Va.).
On Tuesday morning, the freshman class will meet on the Capitol’s East Front steps for a group photo.
After that, they will head to the House floor for an overview of the chamber and an introduction to the role of the parliamentarian and the electronic voting system.
The section might be complicated, however, by the fact that Congress will be in session. Tuesday’s orientation coincides with the opening day of the lame-duck session, which will include the swearing-in of two new House Members: Republican Reps. Marlin Stutzman (Ind.) and Tom Reed (N.Y.), taking over for Souder and Massa, respectively. The new Members will have to split time between floor votes and actually learning how to cast floor votes.
Tuesday afternoon will bring a luncheon hosted by the House Administration Committee, followed by an optional tour of the CVC.
Wednesday and Thursday are set aside for Republican Conference and Democratic Caucus activities, though leadership on both sides of the aisle have been quiet about what that will entail.
The two days of meetings will be split by a Wednesday night reception for incoming and current Members at the Botanic Garden, hosted by House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.).
And finally, Friday will be the day for the much-anticipated room selection lottery, where Members-elect will find out which office will be theirs for at least the next two years.