Home / World News / How House members guard their secrets in sexual harassment cases – The Denver Post

How House members guard their secrets in sexual harassment cases – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON – In the secretive system that governs most sexual-harassment settlements in the House, no single lawmaker or committee has a full picture of how many complaints were settled or how much public money was spent to resolve them.

Neither the speaker of the House nor party leaders are briefed on how many offices each year settle harassment complaints, which members are involved or how much they pay.

Neither are leaders of the House Ethics Committee, the body charged with enforcing a high standard of conduct among lawmakers.

The secrecy surrounding Capitol Hill is mandated under a law that shapes how workplace complaints are handled. Confidentiality agreements are routinely signed as part of the arrangements.

While settling cases does not in itself indicate wrongdoing, the lack of disclosure keeps congressional leaders in the dark about behavior by members or staff that might be stopped with earlier intervention.

“There is no transparency,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a nonprofit focused on government ethics. “How would you even know there was a pattern of misbehavior, by either a member or a staffer?”

Issues with the 20-year-old Congressional Accountability Act, which sets up Congress’ process for handling complaints, will come into focus Thursday at a House hearing on ways to improve the system. Several members have proposed bills that would rewrite parts of the law, responding to a public outcry over sexual harassment and use of taxpayer funds in resolving complaints.

Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., chairman of the House Administration Committee, said he wants to improve the process for handling sexual harassment and discrimination.

“Real reforms have not been made to this law since it was established in 1995, and our Committee believes reforms are long overdue,” Harper said in a statement.

Questions about the process have been building for weeks since the congressional Office of Compliance said that it had paid out more than $17 million insettlements through a Treasury Department fund set up to handle disbursements for harassment and other workplace complaints in Congress. But the payments were hardly a full accounting of money used to deal with harassment.

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