Reforming the Congressional Accountability Act for a Better Congressional Workplace

Jan 18, 2018

WASHINGTON – Today, a bipartisan group of Members introduced the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act (CAA Reform Act). Led by Committee on House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper (MS-3), the CAA Reform Act is co-sponsored by Committee Ranking Member Robert Brady (PA-1), and the Members of the Committee on House Administration, Representatives Rodney Davis (IL-13), Barbara Comstock (VA-10), Mark Walker (NC-6), Adrian Smith (NE-3), Barry Loudermilk (GA-11), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Jamie Raskin (MD-8). In addition, the bill is cosponsored by Representatives Bradley Byrne (AL-1), Jackie Speier (CA-14), and Committee on Ethics Chairwoman Susan Brooks (IN-5) and Ranking Member Ted Deutch (FL-22).

The Committee has undertaken a comprehensive review of the laws, procedures, and resources relating to sexual harassment in the House. The reforms to the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA), as well as to the House of Representatives, will make for a safer and more productive work environment in the House and across the Legislative Branch.

Together, the Members issued the following statement:

“From the beginning of this review, we sought to work collectively and in a bipartisan manner to identify the necessary reforms that ensure the initiation, investigation, and adjudication processes, protect the rights of employees, as well as create a safer work environment within the Legislative Branch. The Committee held two hearings with experts on these topics, listening sessions with Members, a roundtable with stakeholders, as well as meeting with victims’ advocates.

“The CAA Reform Act brings more transparency, accountability, and stronger protections for employees. It institutes a respectful, more streamlined process for individuals to report claims and reach a resolution. Ultimately, these reforms will strengthen protections for individuals and needed accountability in the workplace. In addition to the reforms made to the CAA, the Committee recommends a number of House administrative reforms that will take immediate effect upon passage of the CAA Reform Act. The reforms will support the CAA Reform Act, including prohibiting Members Representational Allowance (MRA) funds from going to any future sexual harassment settlements. We are appreciative for the bipartisan support in this process. We believe the proposed comprehensive reforms will pave the way for a safer and more productive congressional workplace.”

Background:

H.R.4822, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act

 Strengthens the Dispute Resolution Process and Protections of Employee Rights under the Congressional Accountability Act

 Hold Members Personally Responsible

 Increases Transparency of Member Conduct, Awards, and Settlements through the Office of Compliance (OOC)

• Protects employees:

o 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;
o Provides opportunities for employees to work remotely or request paid leave without fear of retribution;
o Ensures confidentiality of processes;
o Directs the OOC to conduct climate survey of employees every two years that would include surveying attitudes on sexual harassment in the workplace; and
o Ensures every House Office has an anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policy.

• Streamlines and strengthens the dispute resolution and reporting processes:

o Eliminates the mandatory counseling and mediation provisions allowing an employee to proceed to an investigation or to file in federal court;
o Directs the OOC General Counsel to make one of three findings: 1) reasonable cause for claim; 2) no reasonable cause for claim; and 3) no findings of reasonable cause can be made before any hearing on the merits can be held; and
o Maintains opportunities for the employee to engage in mediation.

• Members held personally responsible for any sexual harassment award or settlement:

o 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;
o Ensures Members who leave office will still be responsible for repaying the Treasury, including garnishing annuities to ensure full repayment;
o Requires claims to be automatically referred to the Committee on Ethics when there is a final award or settlement reached against a Member;
o Ensures due process by allowing a Member to protect their interest;
o 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:

o Requires the OOC to report and publish online every six months 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.

CHA