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Compliance Office Gets New Terms

The Senate last week passed a measure that would allow the executive staff of the Office of Compliance to be appointed to a second five-year term. Previously passed by the House, the bill represents an effort to create institutional continuity in an agency that is charged with implementing and enforcing the Congressional Accountability Act.

In a report evaluating the effectiveness of the office, the Government Accountability Office last year recommended a repeal of the term limits originally imposed on the agency’s five-member board of directors and four top staffers. Among other things, GAO said that in order for the agency to successfully carry out its mission, its top leadership needed time to develop the necessary relationships and institutional knowledge of Capitol Hill to be effective. To that end, GAO suggested that Congress remove the five-year term limits altogether.

With only days until a majority of the board members, including the chairwoman, were set to be termed-out, Congress modified the statute to allow for their reappointment. All were appointed by the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional leadership to a second five-year term.

The terms of every senior executive at the agency — except the general counsel, whose tenure began later because of the early exit of a previous general counsel — were still set to expire within six months of each other in 2006, beginning in April. Now the executive director, his two deputies and the general counsel are all eligible for appointment to a second five-year term.

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

The Office of Compliance was set up in 1995 to administer the CAA, which applied 11 federal workplace laws to the legislative branch for the first time. The agency educates employees and offices about their rights and responsibilities, provides an impartial dispute resolution process, and investigates and remedies safety and health violations.

Although the GAO recommended that the term limits be removed entirely, House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who sponsored the bill in the House, said approving the second terms will allow Congress to “re-evaluate whether term limits serve the interests of the Office of Compliance and this institution.”

Ney said he would like to see the current executive staff have the opportunity to serve an additional term.

The bill now awaits action from President Bush, who is expected to sign it.

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