The Office of Compliance may soon get a permanent executive director after waiting almost 18 months for Congress to fix a provision in the Congressional Accountability Act.
That provision restricts the agency from promoting its own employees to the executive positions. So the OOC has had to hire from the outside, denying experienced staff the ability to climb the ladder.
Awaiting a move to the top rung is Tamara Chrisler, the OOC’s deputy executive director for the Senate. She has taken the position of acting executive director, completing the same tasks as an executive director without the benefit of formal approval. Meanwhile, she’s kept her former position, juggling both responsibilities for more than a year.
Doing both “has been quite challenging, since each position is a full-time position,” Chrisler said. But the OOC “continued to meet its mandates and continues to move forward with its efforts and initiatives.”
Chrisler’s juggling could change soon. Last week, House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) introduced a bill that would not only clarify the legislation to allow OOC employees to be promoted to executive positions, but also would change the term limit for such positions to two five-year terms instead of one.
“The agency is unable to continue smooth and seamless transitions during employee turnover,” committee spokesman Kyle Anderson said. Since former Executive Director Bill Thompson left in 2006, the OOC has been unable to find an outside candidate “with all the essential qualities and experience.”
The agency is tasked with enforcing the CAA, which protects Congressional employees under 11 laws covering fair employment and discrimination. It acts as a nonpartisan watchdog, conducting health and safety inspections on Congressional buildings and mediating disputes for legislative employees.
The restriction appears to be unintended — a consequence of an act that prohibits anyone who has worked for a legislative office in the previous four years from taking a top position at the nonpartisan agency. The OOC isn’t mentioned in the specific restriction, which only singles out the House, Senate and any “entity” of the legislative branch.
Specifically exempting OOC employees from the provision will open the door for many experienced employees to move up, Chrisler said.
“The office is staffed with many talented employees who are knowledgeable of both the inner workings of the office as well as the substantive laws covered by the act,” she said. “As it stands now, these employees are barred from internal promotion to any of the statutorily appointed positions.”
The OOC board of directors decided to pursue a legislative fix by late summer 2006, after it couldn’t find a suitable candidate from outside the agency. The board concluded that Chrisler was the most qualified, said Chairwoman Susan S. Robfogel, but was faced with a CAA that wouldn’t allow it.
Brady’s bill is the first attempt at offering a permanent solution to that problem. A 2005 bill provided for a temporary solution, allowing the then-current executive staff members to stay on for a second term. Two of those members, including Chrisler, remain on staff. Thompson also was able to continue for a second term but left early in April 2006.
It’s unclear when the House Administration Committee will consider Brady’s bill, but OOC officials are simply pleased that a solution is on its way.
“I am delighted to learn that an amendment to the law which would permit us to promote Tamara Chrisler to the position has been introduced,” Robfogel said in an e-mail.