Office of Congressional Workplace Rights: Using Key Management Practices Would Help to Fully Implement Statutory Requirements

GAO-20-222 Published: Dec 30, 2019. Publicly Released: Dec 30, 2019.
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Fast Facts

The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights enforces fair employment and occupational safety and health rules for over 30,000 employees in the legislative branch. Due to heightened awareness of workplace sexual harassment, Congress passed a 2018 law requiring the office to revise the process for resolving discrimination and harassment claims.

Other requirements included

creating an online option for filing claims

creating a permanent records program

conducting workplace climate surveys

educating employees on their workplace rights

Our 6 recommendations are to help the office better implement these and other requirements of the law.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights' (OCWR) mission is to effectively implement and enforce the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (CAA), as amended in 2018 by the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act (Reform Act). OCWR has implemented three of the four Reform Act requirements that generally became effective June 19, 2019, as shown below. Three other Reform Act requirements—track and report data and assessments, conduct a workplace climate survey, and educate and assist legislative branch offices—are in progress.

Implementation Status of Reform Act Requirements Generally Effective June 19, 2019

Requirement

Statusa

Manage changes to the Administrative Dispute Resolution process

Completed

Appoint or designate confidential advisor

Completed

Create a secure electronic claims reporting systemb

Completed

Establish and maintain a program for the permanent retention of its records

Not completed

Source: GAO analysis of OCWR information and the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act, Public Law No. 115-397 (2018). | GAO-20-222

aGAO obtained updates on implementation status as of October 9, 2019.

bIn 2020, GAO will issue two reports on OCWR's cybersecurity practices. The reports will discuss the extent to which OCWR has implemented security controls for its electronic claims reporting system.

OCWR has incorporated some key management practices when implementing requirements, such as managing risks associated with appointing a confidential advisor. However, opportunities exist to further incorporate key management practices in OCWR's work. For example:

  • Addressing risks . OCWR has not yet developed policies and procedures to address the risks associated with permanently retaining sensitive records, such as ensuring they remain confidential when stored in multiple locations.
  • Measuring performance . OCWR has not established measurable performance targets and milestones or related performance measures. Doing so would allow OCWR to determine if it is making progress toward its long-term goals and better communicate with congressional and other stakeholders about its progress.
  • Monitoring effectiveness . OCWR routinely conducts educational activities, such as holding brown bag events and online training, and performs a variety of outreach activities. OCWR has new opportunities every 2 years to collect data through the workplace climate survey on the extent to which legislative branch employees are aware of OCWR's services and their rights under the CAA.

GAO found that OCWR implemented most recommendations from a 2004 GAO report examining OCWR's management controls. GAO also found that OCWR later stopped implementing a recommendation related to information technology (IT) planning, including ensuring that it obtained necessary IT skills. Without IT strategic planning, including recruiting and retaining staff with mission-critical IT skills, OCWR may be less able to carry out its strategic initiatives.

Why GAO Did This Study

OCWR is an independent, non-partisan office that administers and enforces various provisions related to fair employment and occupational safety and health within the legislative branch. Responding to concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace, Congress passed the Reform Act in 2018, which expanded worker protections and overhauled the process for resolving workplace claims, including claims relating to discrimination and harassment. The act also required OCWR to create a secure, electronic claims system and appoint a confidential advisor to assist claimants, among other requirements.

The Reform Act includes a provision for GAO to review OCWR's management practices. This report examines (1) the status of OCWR's efforts to address new requirements in the Reform Act; (2) how OCWR is incorporating key management practices to implement the new requirements; and (3) the extent to which OCWR implemented recommendations from a related 2004 GAO report.

GAO reviewed documentation on OCWR's processes, interviewed officials from OCWR and selected legislative branch offices, and assessed how OCWR's actions aligned with key organizational change management practices that GAO identified and key project management practices from the Project Management Institute.

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Recommendations

GAO is making six recommendations to OCWR to better incorporate key management practices as it implements requirements, and to improve its strategic planning. OCWR agreed with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Congressional Workplace Rights The Executive Director of OCWR, in collaboration with relevant managers, should establish a policy that requires a schedule of tasks to be developed, documented, and updated throughout the lifetime of IT system projects. (Recommendation 1)
Open
The agency agreed with the recommendation. OCWR officials stated they will be implementing a policy to ensure that project planning steps, including a schedule of tasks, will be included and documented for future IT projects. As of June 2021, OCWR had not yet hired an IT security project manager. It planned to fill this position by July 2021 and have the policy for documenting IT project planning steps in place by September 2021. We will follow up with OCWR to determine the status of these actions.
Office of Congressional Workplace Rights The Executive Director of OCWR should identify and assess risks in establishing and maintaining a permanent records retention program, and develop policies and procedures to ensure that risks are properly addressed. (Recommendation 2)
Open
The agency agreed with the recommendation. OCWR officials stated that they have hired a contractor to assist with various risk management activities related to OCWR's permanent records retention program, including identifying and assessing risks and developing policies and procedures to address any risks. As of March 2021, OCWR identified four areas of risk related to its permanent records retention program and will begin to implement its Permanent Records Retention Policy to address these risks. We will continue to monitor OCWR actions to verify the implementation of this policy.
Office of Congressional Workplace Rights The Executive Director of OCWR should identify desired performance results, develop performance measures that demonstrate the degree to which the desired results were achieved, and report progress toward those results in OCWR's annual reports. (Recommendation 3)
Open
The agency agreed with the recommendation. OCWR officials stated that they are reassessing desired performance results, developing new performance measures to monitor progress towards those results, and will clearly report OCWR's progress in future annual reports. In summer 2021, OCWR published its strategic plan for 2021-2026, which outlines its goals, initiatives, and action items. OCWR's strategic plan also includes established performance measures and articulates the desired results of the goals that will enable OCWR officials to demonstrate progress toward each goal. We will review OCWR's 2020 annual report and monitor future annual reports to determine if OCWR is making progress on its performance goals.
Office of Congressional Workplace Rights The Executive Director of OCWR should collect relevant data through a survey or other mechanisms, and use the information to evaluate the effectiveness of education and outreach efforts and the extent to which they are reaching all covered legislative branch populations. (Recommendation 4)
Closed – Implemented
The agency agreed with the recommendation. OCWR completed the climate survey for all offices in December 2020. We reviewed OCWR documentation and found that OCWR used the survey results and several other sources of information to ensure that its education and outreach programs are effective and reaching all covered populations. For example, according to OCWR, survey participants believed that OCWR's training programs were more effective than their own offices' internal training. OCWR used these survey results to persuade more offices to (1) work with them to develop and present education and training programs to address the particular needs of their offices, and (2) better integrate OCWR's education and training programs into each office's overall training program.
Office of Congressional Workplace Rights The Executive Director of OCWR should integrate IT planning and implementation into the agency's strategic planning process. (Recommendation 5)
Closed – Implemented
The agency agreed with the recommendation. In summer 2021, OCWR revised its strategic plan for 2021-2026 to include a goal focused on information technology. We reviewed OCWR's revised strategic plan and found that its Goal 5 is to "maximize use of evolving technologies and social media to advance OCWR goals and maintain security."
Office of Congressional Workplace Rights The Executive Director of OCWR should incorporate key strategic human capital management practices, such as developing strategies to recruit and retain staff with mission-critical skills, into the strategic planning process. (Recommendation 6)
Closed – Implemented
The agency agreed with the recommendation. As of August 2021, OCWR finalized its Human Capital Plan for 2021-2026. As part of this plan, OCWR completed a compensation study and revised its pay schedule based upon the study. Also, we reviewed OCWR's 2021-2026 strategic plan and found that it includes a goal focused on human capital management: to "optimize OCWR performance by developing and maintaining a highly motivated, talented, and satisfied workforce." This goal has three performance measures, including on-boarding high-quality candidates and improving the work experience.

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