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Library of Congress Case Highlights Questions of Oversight

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The case of a fired Library of Congress staffer is prompting questions about whether the institution is being properly overseen by Congress and whether library employees have a fair process to appeal personnel decisions — including from members of Congress. Suzanne Hogan, 58, who worked as a special assistant to former Librarian of Congress James H. Billington for 11 years, was officially terminated in August. She is in the process of appealing her decision via a discrimination complaint, but is calling on Congress’ own independent agency, the Office of Compliance, to intervene, alleging she does not have an avenue for due process.

“There is no pathway for me to have a fair and just hearing.” Hogan said in an Oct. 23 interview.

According to LOC regulations, the Librarian of Congress makes any final agency decision about a discrimination complaint. Given that Billington stepped down at the end of September, Acting Librarian David Mao would likely make the decision. Mao, while serving as deputy librarian, wrote in an Aug. 6 letter obtained by CQ Roll Call that he upheld the decision to fire Hogan.

A spokesperson for the Library declined to comment on the case. But according to Mao’s letter, Hogan’s alleged misconduct involved receiving tickets to attend music events; including an outside contractor on internal emails, and sharing internal communications “in an attempt to damage the chief of staff [Robert Newlen]’s reputation,” among others.

Hogan refuted those claims, noting that she attended the events and emailed the contractor as part of her role in promoting and producing the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. She also pointed to positive performance reviews and a cash award in February for her work with the Gershwin Prize.

In a formal response to her proposed termination, her lawyers argued that Newlen, who became chief of staff in January, “demonstrated an open hostility” toward Hogan and “she sensed [Newlen] was looking for ways to get rid of her and assume responsibility for the prize himself.”

Because she is appealing to Mao, who has already said she should be terminated, Hogan and her lawyer argued her appeal is not reviewed by an independent entity. So she is hoping Congress’ Office of Compliance will step in to review her case. And she has the backing of some members of Congress.  

Oklahoma Republicans Sen. James M. Inhofe and Rep. Tom Cole both penned letters in August and September calling on the Office of Compliance to review her case.  

“Mrs. Hogan’s unique position at the Library, coupled with the Library’s current appeals process for employees in the Librarian’s office, resulted in her case being finalized by the same employees that initiated her termination,” Cole wrote in his letter to House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich.  

Cole told CQ Roll Call he has known Hogan for many years, dating back to when she worked for his predecessor in Congress: Republican J.C. Watts.  

“I think as a rule we don’t probably have the oversight [over the LOC] that we would like to have,” Cole said. “But very seldom Congress can or should get involved directly in personnel matters. … Our oversight tends to be financial, process and structure, but not personnel.”  

“But again,” Cole later added, “I know Suzanne and so this is somebody who’s not likely to be offering a frivolous complaint at all. So I just felt like it merited another look by somebody else.”  

The Office of Compliance is in the process of putting together a pilot grievance program for LOC employees, and discussions about the program are ongoing. In the meantime, Hogan is engaged in the library’s own discrimination complaint process, which could take several months.  

“Having the Office of Compliance look into it would be fantastic,” Hogan’s lawyer, Ari Wilkenfeld, said in an Oct. 27 phone interview.  

“It may solve her problem,” he later added. “I don’t think it will solve the problem of the next person down the line.”  

Wilkenfeld explained that LOC employees lack the same independent appeal process granted to executive branch employees, who have the option of appealing to the independent Merit Systems Protection Board.  

“The exemption of the Library of Congress employees from the Merit Systems Protection Board is a huge problem,” Wilkenfeld added. “Her bosses are free to pretty much do whatever they want.”  

So while the Office of Compliance puts the finishing touches on its grievance program for the library, Hogan’s only venue may be through Congress, even if members may be hesitant to dabble in personnel issues. For now, she says her case points to the need for better oversight.  

After all, Hogan said of lawmakers, “It’s your library.”

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