On Monday, November 13, we delivered a letter* to House and Senate leadership asking for reform of Congress's sexual harassment policies. The letter was organized over four days and signed by over 1500 former Congressional staff.
November 13, 2017
Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan, Minority Leader Pelosi, Chairman Shelby, Ranking Member Klobuchar, Chairman Harper and Ranking Member Brady:
As former staff of the U.S. Congress, we urge you to take action to require mandatory in-person sexual harassment training for all Members of Congress and Congressional staff, and reform the system for filing sexual harassment complaints in the Office of Compliance (OOC).
A CQ/Roll Call survey of Congressional staff in July 2016 reported that 40% of women responding believed that “sexual harassment is a problem on Capitol Hill.” In the same survey, one in six women responding reported that she had been the victim of sexual harassment. The CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting Congressional offices and staffs, has stated that “we have no doubt that sexual harassment is underreported in Congress, just as all workplace infractions are underreported in Congress.”
The OOC is charged with adjudicating workplace disputes, as required by the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (P.L. 104 - 1). The same CQ/Roll Call survey found that nine in ten staffers were unaware of the OOC. This is consistent with our experience, as most of us were not aware of the OOC during our time in Congress. Although the OOC has urged Congress to require mandatory staff training to deter sexual harassment since 1996, this training has not been required.
Furthermore, the dispute resolution process at the OOC may actually discourage victims from filing a grievance because of the excessive waiting period it imposes on victims. The OOC requires an individual to wait at least 90 days from the alleged incident before the filing of a sexual harassment complaint. This includes requiring the complainant to undergo 30 days of mandatory counseling and 30 days of mandatory mediation between the employee and his or her employing office. Only if mediation is unsuccessful can the staff then pursue legal action.
We believe that Congress’s policies for preventing sexual harassment and adjudicating complaints of harassment are inadequate and need reform. We are pleased that the Senate acted last week to require mandatory harassment training for all Members and staff. This is an important first step, but additional action is necessary.
We urge the House and the Senate to change current policy to require mandatory in-person harassment training for all Members of Congress and Congressional staff, and to make counseling and mediation voluntary for individuals wishing to file a complaint with the OOC. Members of Congress and Chiefs of Staff should be made aware of their responsibility for preventing and reporting cases of sexual harassment and the OOC should have the authority to investigate complaints of abuse or harassment. Finally, Congress should, every two years, survey Congressional staff in order to understand the rates of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill and determine the effectiveness of prevention and reporting programs.
We are encouraged to hear that the Committee on House Administration will be exploring changes to sexual harassment policies in the House of Representatives at a hearing on Tuesday, November 14, 2017. We applaud this step and encourage the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration to do the same. Thank you for your consideration of our views.
*The final letter is available here