Office of Compliance Offers New Rules for Grievances

Posted September 12, 2003 at 2:15pm

The Office of Compliance has put forward for comment proposed changes to the regulations that govern how Congressional employees file grievances.

Many are merely minor procedural adjustments, but a few could dramatically affect how legislative branch workers — including Capitol Police and Architect of the Capitol employees — seek and receive resolution for violation of the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, Congress’ first broad measure to apply federal labor standards to itself.

“Little issues have arisen with regard to procedures that we wanted to clarify. These are a series of housekeeping changes,” OOC Executive Director Bill Thompson said.

“We try not to be so bureaucratic,” he added, but such rules allow employees to be guided “by clear next steps.”

Some of the more significant proposed changes include:

• Allowing the executive director to disqualify a representative of an employee or an employing office if he deems the representative (who could be, but is not limited to, an attorney) to have a conflict of interest.

• Permitting the executive director to impose sanctions on a representative for “inappropriate or unprofessional conduct.”

• Requiring the Office of Compliance’s general counsel to provide to the responsible employing office a copy of any Occupational Safety & Health Administration report at least seven days before its publication and allow the employing office to have its written comments append the report.

• Clarifying what constitutes a settlement agreement between parties and the default dispute resolution procedure if a party deems that the settlement has been violated.

The proposed change with regard to the OSHA reports seems to respond to Members’ concerns, especially in the House.

Last summer, Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), then chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, inserted language into the fiscal 2003 spending bill that would have required the Office of Compliance to include in its final publication of a decision or report any written responses received from any person on the decision or report. The language was taken out in conference, but it reflected a growing sense on Capitol Hill that the office, and the general counsel in particular, was playing “gotcha” with legislative branch offices. Critics derided the language as an attempt to undermine the agency’s credibility.

The rest of the proposed changes to the regulations that govern the office primarily deal with logistical issues, such as how employees can file a claim, request counseling and file motions for attorney’s fees. The new regulations would also mandate that any party filing a civil action with U.S. District Court (under the authority of the act) provide a copy of the complaint to the office.

Interested parties have 30 days from the day the proposed regulations were entered into the Congressional Record, Sept. 4, to submit comments to the office’s executive director.