Reforming the Congressional Accountability Act for a Better Congressional Workplace

Issues: Administration
In December 2018, House negotiators reached an agreement with the Senate on a strong package of reforms to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 that focuses on protecting victims, strengthening transparency, holding Members accountable for their personal conduct, and improving the adjudication process.
 
Over the past year, the House has taken a number of steps to ensure a safer and more productive work environment. Those steps include implementing mandatory training for all Members and staff, creating the Office of Employee Advocacy, setting minimum requirements for each office with respect to anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, and amending House rules.
 
The agreement reflects the first set of comprehensive reforms that have been made to the Congressional Accountability Act since 1995.
 

The Congressional Accountability Act Reform Measures:

 

  • Strengthen the Dispute Resolution Process and Protections of Employee Rights under the Congressional Accountability Act
  • Holds Members Personally Responsible and Increases Transparency of Member Conduct, Awards, and Settlements through the Office of Compliance (OOC)
Protects employees:
  • Provides House employees with immediate access to a dedicated advocate who will provide legal consultation, representation, and assistance in proceedings before the OOC and Committee on Ethics;
  • Provides opportunities for employees to work remotely or request paid leave without fear of retribution;
  • Ensures confidentiality of processes;
  • Directs the OOC to conduct climate survey of employees every two years that would include surveying attitudes on sexual harassment in the workplace; and
  • Ensures every House Office has an anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policy.
Streamlines and strengthens the dispute resolution and reporting processes:
  • Eliminates the mandatory counseling and mediation provisions allowing an employee to proceed to an investigation or to file in federal court;
  • Maintains opportunities for the employee to engage in mediation.
Members held personally responsible for any sexual harassment award or settlement:
  • Holds Members personally accountable for their conduct and requires awards or settlements to be repaid by the Member to the Treasury account within 90 days;
  • Ensures Members who leave office will still be responsible for repaying the Treasury, including garnishing annuities to ensure full repayment;
  • Requires claims to be automatically referred to the Committee on Ethics when there is a final award or settlement reached against a Member or a Senior Staffer; 
  • Ensures due process by allowing a Member to protect their interest; 
  • Clarifies that Member-on-Member harassment is a violation of the Official Code of Conduct; and   o Requires the Member or Employing Office to certify that no Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) or official House funds are used to pay a settlement in connection with conduct - prohibited under the Congressional Accountability Act.
Strengthens transparency:
  • Requires the OOC to report and regularly publish information on awards and settlements. Reports must include: the employing office; the amount of the award or settlement; the violation claim(s); and, when a claim was issued against a Member, whether the Member has personally repaid the Treasury account.
  • Requires the OOC to publish within 30 days all settlements and awards, the amount, and the public funds used for all section 201(a) claims.