Politics

Congress Mandated Harassment Training; Now They Have to Pay for It

Costs, details of the popular resolution still up in the air

Lawmakers, with Gretchen Carlson, unveil sexual harassment legislation earlier this month. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

 

The House and Senate each adopted resolutions mandating harassment and discrimination training for employees of Congress and legislative agencies. Yet it’s not clear how much the training will cost and what it will include.

Lawmakers from both parties are only now starting to take a hard look at the details as allegations against members and taxpayer-funded settlements are being unearthed almost daily.

The House Administration Committee is scheduled to take an initial step on Tuesday when it marks up guidelines for implementation of the resolution that the House adopted Nov. 29, mandating training for all House members and staff.

The panel will approve instructions “so each office knows how to complete this training and provide the necessary documentation,” Chairman Gregg Harper, R-Miss., said in an announcement of the meeting.

Watch: Hill Sexual Misconduct Could Muddy 2018 Wave Potential

Still to be tackled is the question of finding the money for the huge training effort for some 30,000 members and staff, an effort that likely will fall to members of the respective appropriations committees.

Appropriators have already begun reaching out to the Office of Compliance to find out what’s needed to meet the training requirements. The new costs could end up in the fiscal 2018 Legislative Branch appropriations bill, which has yet to be finalized.

The answers are proving elusive so far. The OOC, which handles the sexual harassment training and complaint process in Congress, doesn’t yet know what the new mandates will cost, according to spokesperson Laura Cech.

“The office has been very encouraged that appropriators in the House and Senate have inquired about what staffing and program increases might be required to respond to the mandates in the resolutions,” Cech said.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, the ranking member on the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, said in an email that new funding is needed to address harassment on Capitol Hill. He has called for investment in mandatory, in-person harassment training.

“This funding is a critical first step to addressing the deep-seated problems we are seeing in the halls of Congress,” he said.

The subcommittee chairman, Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., has yet to say how he wants to proceed on any new appropriations for training.

Lawmakers face a deadline on Friday to head off a partial government shutdown, and are expected to pass another short-term continuing resolution into January while they continue talks on overall spending levels and an expected omnibus bill for the rest of fiscal 2018.

But it looks unlikely anti-harassment and discrimination training funds will be attached to the continuing resolution this week. Ryan said he does not see it being practical as the Senate is expected to accept only a stripped-down resolution this week with few if any extraneous riders.

Ryan doesn’t think tacking funds on to the House continuing resolution will get the job done, calling the bill “dead on arrival in the Senate.”

Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Chairman James Lankford, R-Okla., supports new funding, aide D.J. Jordan said. Lankford hasn’t made clear what vehicle he’d rather see the training funds hitch a ride on, however.

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., the ranking member on the panel, supports funding the training in a final fiscal 2018 appropriations measure, according to Murphy aide Laura Maloney.

Republicans and Democrats in both chambers are pushing more expansive efforts to reduce harassment on Capitol Hill beyond funds for training. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Patty Murray, D-Wash., are looking for sweeping changes to shift the culture — and change the rules.

“The reported accounts of misconduct on Capitol Hill necessitate a review of our workplace culture and processes to ensure that equality and justice prevail throughout,” they wrote in a letter Thursday to Senate leaders and fellow appropriators.

Congress enacted the Congressional Accountability Act in 1995, setting workplace protections for its offices and establishing the Office of Compliance. But at that time, lawmakers exempted themselves from mandatory sexual harassment training, which is required in the executive branch.

Collins and Murray urged changes to the CAA to improve the ways that congressional offices respond to both the causes and consequences of sexual harassment. They say parts of the law “are out of step with best practices and fall short of the expectations for ourselves as public servants,” and changes should be made part of a continuing resolution or omnibus bill, along with adequate funding.

Under current policy, the OOC requires 60 days of counseling and mediation before an accuser can request a hearing or file a federal district court case. Interns and fellows cannot use the office to report harassment under current policy.

Their letter followed a series of hearings in the House Administration Committee aimed at addressing shortcomings in the process for reporting and responding to harassment complaints.

“Unfortunately, due to the system that Congress created to protect itself from being exposed, there has been no accountability,” California Democrat Jackie Speier said in a November floor speech. “It’s now clear that this misguided attempt to protect the institution is instead harming it and leaving victims in its wake,” she said in support of the Barbara Comstock, R-Va., resolution that mandated House harassment training.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., sponsored the Senate version, which was adopted Nov. 9.

The push for training spending comes as a growing list of lawmakers have already resigned or said they will not run again due to harassment allegations, including Reps. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.; Blake Farenthold R-Texas; Trent Franks, R-Ariz.; Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev.; and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

Clarification: This story has been clarified to reflect the position of Sen. Chris Murphy on adding training funding to a final fiscal 2018 omnibus bill.

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