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Accomplishments in FY 1999

In the 1996 Report and again in the 1998 Report, the General Counsel had noted that “serious and widespread problems” persisted in the area of fire safety, and that remedial action was necessary. In early 1999, the OGC received several formal requests for inspection of fire hazards in the Congressional Office Buildings and in the Library of Congress. These requests were submitted pursuant to Section 215(c)(1) of the Act by interested labor unions, seeking a more definitive inquiry into the problems generally noted in the 1996 and 1998 Reports. The requests followed shortly after the issuance of citations by the OGC because of an electrical fire in the Madison Building, and the publication by the House Inspector General of a highly critical report on the subject of fire safety in the House Office Buildings.

Concluding that the requests for inspection provided an appropriate opportunity for a comprehensive and detailed examination of an important subject, the OGC initiated a comprehensive expert investigation. Tom Seymour, a nationally recognized fire safety expert, was retained to assist OGC staff in the inspection and evaluation of the Capitol Building, the Hart, Dirksen and Russell Senate Office Buildings; and the Rayburn, Longworth, and Cannon House Office Buildings. Each building's structure was appraised for effectiveness in retarding the spread of fire, in addition, the staff evaluated emergency lighting, sprinkler and alarm systems, emergency response processes, evacuation procedures, egress barriers and signage. All of these features were measured against the appropriate legal standards - such as the OSHA standards in Part 29 of the Code of Federal Regulation, and the Life Safety Code of the National Fire Protection Association to determine compliance with the Congressional Accountability Act.

A separate written report was then prepared for each inspected building, containing both a general explanation of the problems found and a detailed chart precisely locating each deficiency. In addition, for reasons of security, a redacted version of each report has also been prepared for public distribution. Taken as a whole, these reports point the way to a dramatic reduction of risk in connection with the most serious likely threats --- fire, smoke and panic -- faced by Hill employees, Congressmen, and visitors alike.

Meanwhile, the OGC also handled 16 other requests for inspection during 1999, compared to 28 during fiscal 1998, and issued 5 citations (9 in FY 1998) on subjects as varied as the lack of fall protection for workers on Capitol Hill rooftops, failure to test frequently for Legionella in the Power Plant water, and lack of periodic maintenance and testing of electrical switchgear.

Plans for FY 2000 and FY 2001

Periodic inspections for the report to the 106th Congress have already begun, and it is expected that this report will be submitted to the Congress, as required, during the year 2000. In the interest of economy, the questionnaire process for surveying health and safety conditions at Congressional offices in home districts has been streamlined; likewise, based upon past experience,

inspectors will focus the investigations upon areas and subjects likely to reveal violations, and spend proportionately less time examining Congressional office space.

For the past three years, the Office has made use of the full time services of a detailee provided under an interagency agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has also facilitated and funded activities including water and sample testing, and provided certain technical equipment for the use of the Office. If this assistance were no longer available, an additional FTE position and funding would be required to continue performing these critical functions.

Public Services and Accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Inspections: Pursuant to section 210 of the CAA, the Office of the General Counsel conducts inspections at least once each Congress to determine compliance with the rights and protections against discrimination in the provision of public services and accommodations established by the Americans with Disability Act. The inspection cycle is similar to the cycle for the safety and health inspections described above. However, since only public areas, and not those areas used exclusively by employees, are subject to this provision of the CAA, less space is inspected - an estimated 8 million square feet rather than the 20 million square feet inspected for safety and health.

Technical Assistance: The CAA directs the OGC to provide employing offices with technical advice to assist them in complying with disability access requirements. In addition, the OGC routinely answers questions from Congressional offices on disability access laws.

Accomplishments in FY 1999

During 1999, the OGC received only one charge alleging a violation of disability access laws and that charge was dismissed. Ten requests for technical assistance were received regarding disability access requirements.

The OGC also prepared and distributed materials explaining the disability access requirements that typically apply to Congressional offices and the public services and activities they undertake. This information is also published on the Office of Compliance web page.

Plans for FY 2000 and FY 2001

Funding needed to administer and enforce the disability access provision of the CAA is expected to remain at roughly its current level in FY 2001. In FY 1997, 1998, and 1999, considerable assistance was received from the Department of Justice and the Access Board. If this assistance were no longer available to the OGC, it is estimated that an additional 150 consulting hours per year at roughly $80 per hour would be necessary to fulfill the mandatory functions.

Unfair Labor Practices

The General Counsel is responsible for receiving and investigating allegations of unfair labor practices filed under section 220 of the CAA, and for filing and prosecuting complaints of unfair labor practices.

Accomplishments in FY 1999

Eight unfair labor practice charges were filed with the OGC during 1999. By the end of the year, five of these charges had been dismissed or withdrawn after investigation; two were still under investigation; and one charge had resulted in the issuance of a formal complaint. When the named respondent, the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, disputed the complaint, a Hearing Officer was appointed as contemplated by the Act and, after adversary proceedings, a formal Decision and Order issued upholding the General Counsel's complaint and directing compliance with his proposed remedial order. In addition, the OGC also received seven requests for technical assistance or information about labor-management relations issues covered by Section 220 of the Act; by year-end all of the inquiries had been answered.

Plans for FY 2000 and FY 2001

The OGC's unfair labor practice workload will likely increase significantly in the coming years, as bargaining proceeds within the units already certified, and new efforts at unionization of other employees are undertaken. Although the General Counsel's policy of encouraging settlement prior to the issuance of complaint will continue, experience suggests that settlements are difficult to secure, and that a high percentage of meritorious charges may require litigation, despite the attendant costs and delays.


Under the CAA, the Office of Compliance provides education and information to Congress, other employing offices of the legislative branch, and covered employees. In order to fulfill its mandate to inform covered employees and employing offices of their rights, protections and responsibilities under the CAA, the education and information program distributes written materials and publications, conducts briefings, maintains a web site on the Internet and provides counseling, referrals, and information to employees and employing offices on an individual basis.

Accomplishments in FY 1999

The third annual report, presenting statistics on the use of the Office of Compliance, was submitted to Congress in January of 1999. The report covers the period from January 1, 1998 to December 31, 1998. A three-year report, reviewing the accomplishments of the Office, was produced and distributed in May of 1999.

On a monthly basis, the Office mailed its two brochures detailing the rights and protections afforded under the CAA to all newly hired covered employees.

Monthly briefings were presented by the Office to new Senate employees in order to familiarize them with the CAA and the Office of Compliance. Regularly scheduled monthly briefings were conducted for senior staff in House employing offices. These briefings have focused on specific areas of the CAA, including employment discrimination, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The Office of Compliance world wide web site disseminates information via the Internet. The website (, located on a Government Printing Office (GPO) server and accessible via GPO's Access system, is updated on an ongoing basis. It currently includes the 400 page Guide to the Congressional Accountability Act manual, employee rights and protections brochures, regulations promulgated by the Board of Directors, decisions by the Board, Office reports and studies, and information on ADA public access and accommodations and OSHA compliance.

An interactive telephone information line provided callers with recorded information (this data was included in the annual report to Congress), or directed them to an Office staff member who discussed claims and provided resource referrals.

Plans for FY 2000 and FY 2001

The report on the use of the Office, required under section 301(h) of the CAA, will be produced and distributed, as required by the Act.

The Office will prepare, publish, and distribute written materials to meet its Congressional mandate to "educate and inform❞ covered employees, including, if appropriate, employees of GAO and the Library. The materials will include the Guide to the Congressional Accountability Act resource manual, informational posters, quarterly newsletters, and brochures.

The Guide to the Congressional Accountability Act manual will be updated as needed and distributed to employing offices. Throughout the year, new employees covered under the CAA will be mailed brochures describing the rights and protections afforded under the CAA.

The CAAnews, with additional information on the CAA and the Office of Compliance, will continue to be published on a quarterly basis and mailed to covered employees' residences.

In fulfilling its statutory responsibilities, the education and information program will continue to update, reprint, and distribute existing materials and produce new publications, fact sheets, posters, and updates for employing offices and the over 28,000 covered employees.

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