Report Says Capitol Hazards Down

Office of Compliance Projects 30 Percent Decrease in Health, Safety Issues

Posted July 13, 2010 at 6:15pm

Changes in funding for maintenance and safety projects around the Capitol complex are unlikely in the wake of the fiscal 2009 annual report from the Office of Compliance.

The report projected a 30 percent decrease in health and safety hazards in Capitol Hill offices between the 110th Congress and the 111th Congress, and OOC Executive Director Tamara Chrisler emphasized that this was a victory.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, held a hearing earlier this month on funding for Capitol Hill projects in which the subcommittee decided to cut back by $8 million for the fiscal 2011 budget.

Wasserman Schultz’s communications director, Jonathan Beeton, said the decrease in violations is a result of the committee’s prioritization of legislative branch projects in previous fiscal years.

“What this shows is continued progress, and we want to stay on the path that we are on,” he explained.

On the corresponding Senate subcommittee, Chairman Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) emphasized in a March hearing that he would not increase funding for legislative branch projects, a stance his office reiterated this week.

“In keeping with the president’s call for a 3-year freeze on non-defense discretionary spending, Sen. Nelson has been clear that he will hold legislative branch spending flat for the next fiscal year,” his spokesman wrote in an e-mail. “He is aware of the large backlog of deferred maintenance projects facing the Architect of the Capitol and is encouraged that the Architect of the Capitol and the Office of Compliance have worked cooperatively in addressing these needs within limited resources.”

A few serious risks still exist, particularly in Senate office buildings and the Library of Congress. The OOC ranks risks on a three-point scale and estimates that about nine hazards in Senate office buildings will still exist at the most dangerous end of that scale during the 111th Congress. Addressing those will be a matter of prioritizing.

“Everyone is, I think, in the position that we have to do more with less,” Chrisler said. “We’re in an economy right now where there are cuts coming from all different directions.”

The report also hit on other OOC priorities. One is raising awareness of the services the OOC offers, a problem they discovered in a Congressional Management Foundation survey of about 900 Hill staffers. Chrisler said that in the next year her office hopes to increase outreach to Hill offices and would be able to measure success in the number of staffers reaching out to her office.

Another is the ability to subpoena documents.

“Right now we rely on employees to come forward with information,” she said. “We rely on offices to provide information when we request it — documents and records to aid in our inspections process.”

Being able to subpoena documents would make the inspections process easier and would probably mostly affect the Architect of the Capitol, which handles a lot of the construction and maintenance projects on the Capitol grounds, Chrisler said.

The OOC was created in 1995 as part of the Congressional Accountability Act to enforce labor and workplace safety standards on Capitol Hill. It is responsible for four programs, according to Chrisler: dispute resolution for employees and employers, safety and health, education and outreach, and regulations for the CAA.

The OOC is required to submit four reports to Congress. The annual report is a comprehensive look at the other three biennial reports on building inspections, implementation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the activities of the OOC’s board of directors, Chrisler explained.

Emily Yehle contributed to this report.