OoC makes plans to add visitors center to its realm

While the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) is not scheduled to open until December 2006, the Office of Compliance (OoC) has expressed interest in reviewing the facility that will add thousands of square feet to the area the agency is required to inspect every two years.

“We have made our interest known to the Architect of the Capitol about letting us in before the CVC is opened,” said OoC spokeswoman Alma Candelaria. She said the office of the Architect of the Capitol (AoC) has been receptive to the request, and the two legislative-branch agencies are working together to execute such an inspection in the coming months.

“The CVC is not considered legislative-branch space yet,” Candelaria said, explaining that until the contractors are off the site the space is technically under the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, she said, as soon as the project is turned completely over to the AoC, the OoC hopes to begin inspecting the massive facility.

The CVC will add 580,000 square feet to the 17 million that the OoC is tasked with inspecting biennially. During fiscal year 2005, the OoC inspected approximately 5 million of the 17 million square feet and found more than 2,600 violations, according to its report in the 108th Congress, compared to the 250 violations found in the previous Congress. The violations ranged from minor repairs to serious problems such as unenclosed stairwells, electrical hazards and breaches in fire barriers. The report noted that some of the major hazards had been identified in earlier reports.

Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the AoC, said Architect Alan Hantman and Bill Thompson, director of the OoC, have talked about the CVC and the review of the facilities.
 
“For the past several months, AoC staff has been working closely with the OoC general counsel and have met as recently as last week to discuss the project,” she said. “Last fall, we took the OoC staff on a tour of the CVC site and have briefed them on fire and life-safety features as well as accessibility in the facility.”

She added, “I understand the OoC is putting together a plan as to how it proposes to conduct its review. The AoC will continue to work with the OoC as it drafts this plan.”
In its 2005 annual report, released this month, the OoC reported that it had developed new evaluation procedures and had adopted methods used by other government agencies to cope with the workload that the Congressional Accountability Act requires.

One of those methods, the Risk Assessment Code, is used by the Department of Defense and is a standardized system used to evaluate safety and fire hazards. In addition, the agency used measures developed by the National Fire Protection Association for evaluating the legislative facilities’ risk for fire.

“Both evaluation systems help eliminate the subjectivity of the inspection process,” the report said. “[The systems] enable the general counsel and his inspection team to take a more methodical approach to enforcement priorities.”

The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 requires the OoC to “inspect facilities in the legislative branch for occupational health and safety compliance once every Congress.”

In addition to improving the safety inspection systems throughout the Capitol complex, the OoC also sought to make the process through which it mediates disputes between legislative-branch employees and their agencies more efficient.

In an effort to make the most of the money that is allocated to the agency, the OoC has given more cases that are similar to fewer hearing officers — allowing the agency to save money without “compromising accountability.”

The agency is requesting $3.4 million for 2007. Last year, the OoC received $3.1 million for salaries and expenses.

The office has also revamped the process through which the cases are handled, focusing on “interest based” resolutions, which allows the review of all the “interests” of parties involved in pending alleged charges of unfair labor practices with the legislative branch. According to the report, the new approach allowed 13 cases to be resolved, including eight that had been stalemated in the past.

“Our efforts resulted in a better focus on the remaining unfair labor practice cases with significant merit,” the report said.

During fiscal year 2005, the AoC made up most of the requests for counseling of all the legislative-branch agencies, with 34 employees asking for outside assistance — up from 23 in last year’s report. The Capitol Police had 16 requests, down from 37 last year. Requests from other offices, including those of House and Senate committees and member offices, dropped from the 2004 report.