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Office of Compliance Releases Plan Outlining Its Mission

Marking a new era of improved relations with lawmakers, the Office of Compliance has released its first strategic plan outlining a mission for the agency as well as specific goals and measures to gauge its success.

The independent legislative branch agency — established to implement workplace and safety laws first granted to Congressional employees under the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act — drew up the three-year directive to “become better focused in implementing the requirements of the act,” said Executive Director Bill Thompson.

“This plan is an effort on the part of the agency to interact with all of the stakeholders, which was a critical part in the development of this plan, in clarifying the position that this agency occupies in the legislative branch,” Thompson added.

In many places the plan echoes recommendations made in a General Accounting Office report released earlier this year. That report urged both the agency and Congress to develop protocols for communications that foster “mutual understanding” and “build trust.”

Such cooperation between the office and Congress has been “uneven” in the past, GAO wrote, and a comprehensive strategy could assist the office in becoming “more collaborative and partnerial.”

The strategic plan acknowledges GAO’s observation that the agency has often quantified results by “outputs” rather than “outcomes.” The report says that the office “intends to obtain base line data regarding several dimensions of our impact on workplace practices which will enable us to establish true, quantifiable measures of the success of this agency.”

The report outlines three long-term goals for the office: protecting the health and safety of Congressional employees and assuring equal access to persons with disabilities; improving knowledge and understanding of employees’ rights and responsibilities under the statute, as well as prompt and fair resolutions to disputes; and suggesting legislative and regulatory improvements for the administration of the act.

The office has had a tumultuous relationship with Congress since its creation in 1995. That tension is partially due to the burdens placed on Congress by the dozen laws themselves, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Act.

But bitter personal relations between some former officials in the office and key Members and committee aides made matters worse.

GAO touched on much of that history in its February report, citing revised opinions of the agency among relevant Congressional staffers’. According to GAO, staffers representing the agency’s oversight committees said the office has “shown a new attitude and approach in its work that is characterized by greater collaboration and cooperation rather than a ‘gotcha’ approach that they said often characterized OOC’s past efforts.”

Thompson said the strategic plan was crafted in that spirit and both influenced and was influenced by the GAO report.

“It was prompted by the desire of the agency to become better focused on implementing the requirements of the act,” Thompson said. “We also are in a process of responding to comments and criticism that have been made in the past about the style and method that we use in carrying out our responsibilities. The office saw the GAO engagement and the process leading up to its report as a unique opportunity for this agency to engage in a parallel process for developing a strategic plan. The two things cross fertilized.”

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