Efforts to increase diversity and revamp reading rooms at the Library of Congress need to step up, according to a report by the agency’s inspector general that was released last week.
The report, a comprehensive examination completed every six months, is positive about the Library’s progress on some recommendations made by the IG in the past. But it also highlights the inefficiencies of several agency offices, criticizing their use of resources and their internal checks and balances.
In general, semiannual reports are almost always critical, said Nicholas Christopher, the assistant inspector general for audits. In fact, the Library’s is more positive than in the past: Amid the recommendations of what needs to be changed are praises of the LOC’s willingness to make improvements.
“I think that we’re generally pleased with the Library’s progress on implementing the recommendations,” Christopher said. Chief Operating Officer Jo Ann Jenkins, he said, has “taken seriously” the report and its findings.
The Office of Workforce Diversity, which oversees affirmative action programs and dispute resolution services, received one of the harshest reviews. The report found that most divisions in the OWD are “overstaffed, over-graded, unable to reliably demonstrate results, not cost effectively aligning its staff resources, and not properly focusing its affirmative action program.”
It was this part of the report that stood out to Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), chairman of the Oversight and Governmental Reform Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia. Recently, the subcommittee completed a report on the diversity of legislative branch agencies and found that the numbers were not up to Members’ hopes. Davis has asked legislative branch inspectors general to review each other’s agencies; he expects the reports to be out in the first quarter of 2008.
Davis said the semiannual report simply confirms what he already knew. Now that it’s done, he said, management should move forward to solve the problems. The Library seems dedicated to doing it, he said: It was on Jenkins’ request that the IG began the review in the first place.
“We expect to be scrubbing these things pretty clean,” he said. “We expect to look at them rather comprehensively to try to determine that we know where things are and so we can move the entire operation toward a higher level of diversity.”
But while the Library has moved forward in addressing the shortfalls of its diversity programs, the report found that it has stalled on some other needed improvements. In 2004, the inspector general recommended that the Library re-evaluate the space allocated to its reading rooms because they are underused.
By July, the Library of Congress still hadn’t decided how to address this problem, arguing that it was waiting to see whether the opening of the agency’s New Visitors Experience would increase visits to the reading rooms. But the IG argues that visits won’t drastically increase and something should be done now. One option is to consolidate several specialized rooms into a single location.
Additionally, both the Office of Contracts and the Facility Design and Construction Office were criticized for slow turnaround. Giving out about $189 million in contracts every year — ranging from purchases of materials to agreements for cleaning services — the Office of Contracts is understaffed and can’t meet the expectations. The construction office, which plans and designs Library spaces, suffers similarly: High staff turnover and unstructured programs impede management’s ability to complete projects timely, according to the report.
Christopher said Library of Congress officials have been receptive to these criticisms, resolving some issues before the report was even published. When told that all employees weren’t going through police inspections at the Library’s loading dock, for example, management immediately fixed the problem. And sometimes it’s out of the agency’s hands. Many of the program’s problems can only be solved by more money — not a popular method among Members of Congress.
Because Members just received the report last week, many haven’t yet studied it. But House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) said in a statement that he hopes to also address “other pressing matters” in 2008, including the Library’s inventory control.
A spokesman for the Library declined to comment on any of the report’s findings, except to say that officials are “happy that the Office of the Inspector General has reported that it is pleased” with the Library’s efforts to improve. In a letter sent to Members, Librarian of Congress James Billington highlighted the positives in the report — specifically the fact that the IG found the Library’s strategic plan “structurally sound and properly focused.”