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House Moves on OOC Tenures

With a majority of the Office of Compliance’s five-member oversight board set to be term-limited out of their positions Friday, Congress began moving rapidly this week to allow the directors — widely hailed for their ability to work cohesively and without partisanship — to serve a second term.

A bill to that effect introduced by House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and ranking member John Larson (D-Conn.) last week was discharged from their panel Tuesday and passed the House by unanimous consent the same evening.

As of press time Wednesday, the measure was awaiting action on the Senate floor. Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) spent Wednesday seeking approval from his panel members to discharge the bill and expected that it would be passed Wednesday or Thursday, according to his spokeswoman.

“Senator Lott definitely supports the extension,” Susan Irby said. “We’re holding the bill at the desk, and we’re hoping to clear it as soon as possible.

“He and [Senate Minority Leader Tom] Daschle were the ones who actually put this board together,” Irby added, explaining that it was significant because Lott, then the Majority Leader, and the South Dakota Democrat both agreed on each director, instead of alternating picks. Irby said Lott has been very supportive of the group.

“This one has worked very well together,” she said.

Indeed, the contrast with the first board is stark. That group’s fights with Congress were legendary, and the bitterness lingered for years. Charged with enforcing the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, which brought the legislative branch under 11 federal labor laws for the first time, the first board took a confrontational approach with the institution and engaged in near-constant intramural disputes. Many decisions were made 3-2, and board members openly feuded.

Acutely aware of this fractious history, current Chairwoman Susan Robfogel said in an interview earlier this year that the board members who took over in 1999 “work very hard to find solutions that all of us can buy into. It’s quite rare that we can’t reach a consensus. We are remarkably collegial.”

She credited much of that collegiality with the selection process. While many boards in Washington — including the Federal Election Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission — are comprised of partisan appointments, all five members of the Office of Compliance’s board are chosen by the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional leadership. Board candidates are thus more likely to compromise rather than dividing into Democratic and Republican camps.

The current board has a dearth of Washington “insiders.” Three of the five previous board members were partners at prominent D.C. law firms; only one of the current crop even lives in Washington, D.C.

Robfogel has previously indicated a willingness to serve again if asked.

Three of the five directors, including Robfogel, will see their terms expire Friday without a statutory change. The remaining two would be term-limited in May 2005 without Congressional action.

In February, the then-General Accounting Office (since renamed the Government Accountability Office) released a report asserting that the Office of Compliance is in the early stages of a “concerted and vitally needed” effort to refocus on its overall goal of implementing the landmark statute. One of the report’s most pointed assertions included a recommendation that Congress allow the board of directors and appointed officers to serve longer than one unrenewable five-year term each.

The bill that passed the House on Tuesday does not include the agency’s staff in lifting the one five-year term limit for appointed officers. The executive director, general counsel and two deputy executive directors are all term-limited.

When the CAA was written, term limits were at the height of their popularity, but the GAO report stated that, in the case of the Office of Compliance, the “lack of institutional continuity” they create was harmful to the long-term mission of the organization.

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