Term Limits Loom for Office of Compliance Appointees

Posted September 17, 2004 at 5:34pm

With only two weeks remaining before term limits would force out a majority of the Office of Compliance’s five-member oversight board, Congress has yet to implement a key Government Accountability Office recommendation which would allow the directors to serve more than one five-year term.

Three of the five directors, including the chairwoman, will see their terms expire Oct. 1 without a statutory change. The remaining two will be term-limited in May 2005 without Congressional action.

The then-General Accounting Office (since renamed the Government Accountability Office) released a report in February concluding that the Office of Compliance is in the early stages of a “concerted and vitally needed” effort to refocus on its overall goal of implementing the Congressional Accountability Act. One of the report’s most pointed assertions included a recommendation that Congress revise the landmark 1995 law to allow the board of directors and appointed officers to serve longer than one unrenewable five-year term each.

A spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) indicated last week that there is some effort on the House side to lift the board term limits.

“I know that there is a move afoot,” John Feehery said Friday. He declined to be more specific or indicate whether the change would also include the Office of Compliance’s top officers.

The executive director, general counsel and two deputy executive directors are also term-limited, and the GAO report included those positions in its recommendation to remove the five-year restriction.

Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has acknowledged that the proposal is before his panel, but he didn’t give specifics as to whether or when it would be taken up.

Eight out of nine members of the office’s senior leadership will be gone by September 2006. The terms of the entire board are up within eight months of each other, beginning later this year. Additionally, the terms of every senior executive — except the general counsel, whose tenure began later because of the early exit of a previous general counsel — will expire within six months of each other in 2006.

When the CAA was written, term limits were at the height of their popularity, but the GAO report stated that, in the case of the Office of Compliance, the “lack of institutional continuity” they create was harmful to the long-term mission of the organization.

The Office of Compliance was set up in 1995 to administer the CAA, which applied 11 federal workplace laws to the legislative branch for the first time. The agency educates employees and employing offices about their rights and responsibilities under the act, provides an impartial dispute resolution process, and investigates and remedies safety and health violations.