Legislative Employment:

Operations of the Office of Fair Employment Practices Could Be Improved

GGD-94-36: Published: Dec 9, 1993. Publicly Released: Dec 9, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the House of Representatives' Office of Fair Employment Practices' (OFEP) procedures for: (1) educating House employees and employers about their equal employment opportunity (EEO) rights and responsibilities; (2) handling inquiries and complaints about alleged violations of fair employment practices and fair labor standards; and (3) carrying out hearings.

GAO found that: (1) OFEP has not consistently disseminated information about its existence, employees' rights, and the process for enforcing these rights, in spite of an average annual 25-percent turnover rate among House employees; (2) unlike its Senate counterpart, OFEP does not conduct formal training for employees and employers to make them aware of their rights and protections; (3) House Rule 51, which established OFEP, does not give the Clerk of the House or the OFEP Director the authority to require employing offices to continually post information on employee rights and the complaint process; (4) a survey indicated that only 22 percent of House employees understood the OFEP mission and only 14 percent understood OFEP services; (5) OFEP collects limited, broadly categorized data on inquiries, which limits its ability to target educational efforts and anticipate its complaint workload; (6) House Rule 51 allows the appointment of House employees as hearing officers, does not require that officers have knowledge of various EEO laws, and does not adequately address burden-of-proof requirements; (7) Rule 51 does not include about 800 Architect of the Capitol employees who work for the House as covered employees; and (8) recent legislative proposals regarding the handling of employment discrimination complaints and sexual harassment could affect OFEP operations.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The recommendation is being dropped because the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 has created an Office of Compliance to carry out a program to educate members and other employing authorities about laws that apply to them and to inform individuals about their rights under laws applying to the legislative branch. Under section 301(h) of the act, the Office also is required to conduct seminars and other activities to educate employers and employees about the laws and their rights. This section further states that, in carrying out the educational program, the Office of Compliance shall distribute, in a manner suitable for posting, information on the Office's procedures for considering alleged violations.

    Matter: The House of Representatives may wish to consider revising Rule 51 to require that OFEP maintain an ongoing, consistent educational program. Consideration should also be given to revising Rule 51 to specifically require that employing offices post the fact sheet that describes employees' rights and the OFEP complaint process.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OFEP's director provided GAO a document showing the requirements for the position of hearing officer have been changed. The document says that, prior to serving as hearing officer, the person must have experience and/or knowledge of "Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended...other EEO and employment statutes that might be applicable..."

    Matter: The Director, OFEP, should strengthen the OFEP hearing procedures by taking the necessary steps for changing the criteria for the hearing officer position to include a requirement that individuals selected for this position have knowledge of the various EEO and civil rights laws.

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: OFEP's director said his office has developed a computerized system for maintaining the data on the inquiries it receives. GAO is dropping the recommendation because the new Office of Compliance that was created by the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 will be collecting and maintaining data on contacts or inquiries that it will receive. Section 301(h)(3) of the act requires the Office of Compliance to compile and publish statistics on the use of the Office by covered employees, including the number and type of contacts made with the Office, and on the reason for such contacts.

    Matter: To assist OFEP in targeting its educational efforts, anticipating its complaint workload, and maintaining an accurate recordkeeping system, the Director, OFEP, should collect and maintain more specific data on the inquiries it receives. At a minimum, such data should include: (1) who made the inquiries; (2) a description of the specific nature of the concerns expressed and of the information requested; and (3) information on whether individuals kept the appointments that were set up to discuss a specific concern and on the outcome of discussions with individuals about their concerns.

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The recommendation is being dropped because section 301(h) of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 requires the new Office of Compliance to carry out an educational program for members of Congress and other employing authorities of the legislative branch regarding the laws applicable to them and a program to inform individuals of their rights under laws applicable to the legislative branch. This section further states that in carrying out the educational program, the Office of Compliance shall distribute information on the Office's procedures for considering alleged violations and conduct seminars and other activities designed to educate employing offices and covered employees. The Office is scheduled to open no later than January 1996. Although the act does not state that OFEP will be abolished once the new Office of Compliance opens, the OFEP director said it is safe to assume this will be the case.

    Matter: The Director, OFEP, should develop and implement an educational program that includes providing formal EEO awareness training and ensures consistent publicity about its office. The OFEP program could be implemented in a manner similar to the Senate's and should continue to include disseminating information on: (1) its procedures for processing and resolving discrimination complaints; (2) House Rule 51, which prohibits discrimination; and (3) the EEO rights and responsibilities of employees and employers.

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: With passage of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 in January 1995, the House does not need to revise Rule 51 to require selection of hearing officers who are not members, employees, or officers of the House. Section 405(c)(1) of the act requires the use of non-House and non-Senate employees, officers, etc., as hearing officers. The House also does not need to revise Rule 51 to cover AOC employees who work for the House because under the Architect of the Capitol Human Resources Act, enacted on July 22, 1994, all AOC employees can file a complaint with GAO's Personnel Appeals Board. AOC employees are also covered under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1994.

    Matter: To strengthen OFEP hearing procedures and eliminate a possible deterrence to participation in the process, the House of Representatives may wish to consider revising Rule 51 to require selection of hearing officers who are not members, employees, or officers of the House. Also to allow Architect of the Capitol (AOC) employees who work for the House the same rights as their Senate counterparts, the House may wish to consider revising the Rule 51 definition of covered employees to include those AOC employees who work in House buildings and garages.

 

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