- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The compliance fund Congress has used to shield complaints of sexual harassment has paid out about $17 million over the past 20 years, but it’s unclear how much of that actually went to hush up harassment itself.

House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper said Congress’s Office of Compliance makes payouts for a host of issues that include Capitol police, the complex’s groundskeeping staff and others well beyond the 535 members of Congress themselves.

He said he’s still trying to figure out how many of the 260 or so complaints paid out since 1997 actually involved members of Congress.

“I think it would be fair to see what’s that breakdown,” Mr. Harper told reporters.

The Mississippi Republican said as chairman he has to sign off on any payments by the Office of Compliance. In his 11 months on the job, he said he has yet to have a single request — suggesting that the pace of payouts from the office is sporadic as well.

Mr. Harper said there were spikes in payouts in 2002 after the Anthrax attacks on the Capitol, and again in 2007 as Congress grappled with asbestos-related claims from workers.

Lawmakers are pushing for more transparency from the fund. Some say those House or Senate members who end up negotiating payouts from the Office of Compliance should be made public.

But lawmakers also settle complaints outside of the Compliance Office using their own budgets, in what critics call “hush funds.”

That was the case with Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat and the chamber’s most senior member with more than 50 years’ service, who has faced a series of accusations of harassment.

Meanwhile The Washington Times reported this week that Rep. Raul Grijalva, Arizona Democrat, paid out a severance package — apparently defying House rules — to a female employee who’d complained of a hostile work environment. The employee left her job after just three months, and was paid a five-month severance for time she didn’t work.

Mr. Grijalva said he arranged the payment after consulting with the House Employment Counsel, which is a set of in-house lawyers who work on employment issues for members of Congress and their tens of thousands of employees.

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