Without additional funds and new inspectors, the Office of Compliance will be unable to complete the biennial health and safety inspections of the Congressional complex required by federal law, agency officials told Senate appropriators Wednesday.
Although the OOC initially requested a $2.6 million budget for fiscal 2006, an increase of 9 percent over its current funding level, Executive Director Bill Thompson said the office will need supplementary funds to carry out its mission.
“It became clear to us that we need additional funds,” Thompson testified before the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch during a hearing that also included officials representing the Government Printing Office and the Congressional Budget Office.
Created under the Congressional Accountability Act — which ended longstanding Congressional exemptions from 11 laws covering civil rights, fair employment and discrimination in 1995 — the OOC is responsible for conducting detailed health and safety inspections every two years, and then submitting its findings to House and Senate leadership.
Following recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office in a February 2004 report to improve the inspection process, Thompson said the inspection is now “much more thorough” but, as a result, has also become more time and labor intensive.
“To protect the men and women who come to the Capitol, we must have enough inspectors to inspect the buildings, help to remediate noted deficiencies and reinspect to ensure compliance,” OOC Board of Directors Chairwoman Susan Robfogel, stated in her written testimony.
The office currently functions with only one inspector, Robfogel noted, who is on assignment from the Labor Department. The office also hires inspectors on contract when funds are available, she said.
“Simply put, it is not enough manpower to inspect the entire Capitol Hill campus in a two year period,” she added.
According to the office, it would cost $570,000 to hire additional inspectors on a full-time basis, or $470,000 to hire contractors to perform the inspections. The OOC’s initial budget request had included funds for only one new full-time employee.
While the 2002 inspection process revealed 360 health and safety violations in the Capitol complex, Thompson said the 2004 report found more than 2,600 problems.
“These new violations spread across the spectrum, from very serious to not very serious at all,” he noted.
The Appropriations panel also reviewed the Government Printing Office’s $131.1 million fiscal 2006 request, an increase of 5.3 percent over its current budget.
The budget proposal includes a $5 million appropriation that would be used to provide job training to current GPO employees as the agency shifts to a digital information focus.
Without those funds, Public Printer Bruce James testified, from 400 to 500 workers could potentially lose their jobs because they would lack skills needed for the “new world” of printing.
Additionally, the GPO request included the reprogramming of nearly $20 million in funds already appropriated, which would be used to develop the Future Digital Content Management System to process and preserve digitally based materials produced by the government.
Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin also presented his agency’s $35.9 million budget proposal, a 3.5 percent increase over fiscal 2005 funding.
Holtz-Eakin described the proposal, which includes funds for pay increases, benefits and general inflation, as “a plain vanilla request.”