Watchdog: Custodial staff alleged sexual harassment in lawmakers' offices

Custodial staff on Capitol Hill have reported sexual harassment while cleaning the offices of members of Congress, according to a recent inspector general report.
 
The revelation is part of a report on the Architect of the Capitol's (AoC)response to sexual harassment complaints over the last 10 years. The Architect's Office is responsible for managing and maintaining the Capitol, as well as House and Senate office buildings.
 
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According to the inspector general report, interviews with architect leadership revealed that "some custodial staff, especially those on the night shift, report exposure to harassment while working in the offices of Members of Congress."
 
"Some staff have reported overhearing harassing conversations, being the target of harassment, and observing materials such as pornography, but do not speak up due to fear of losing their jobs," the report states.
 
The inspector general report is dated March 15, but Roll Call first highlighted its findings on Friday.
 
The report said that those employees "feel unprotected and disadvantaged" and may not necessarily be aware of their options and protections from harassment, especially in situations with such an imbalance of power involving a member of Congress.
 
“No one had an answer when we asked 'What happens if the harasser is a member of Congress?' This was not a hypothetical question. It happens," one employee said.
 
Another response from an employee complained that the AoC inadequately handled allegations of misconduct from members of Congress.
 
“Past issues of temper, volatility and threatened violence by members of congress were weakly addressed by AOC executives and other members of Congress. I worked through my trauma through my own sources, subsequently," one employee said.
 
It's estimated that dozens of lawmakers in both parties sleep in their offices instead of renting or purchasing property in Washington, where the price of real estate is high. Even some members of leadership have taken to sleeping in their offices, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyGOP struggles with retirement wave Trump touts Washington Post story on GOP support Pence extends olive branch to Cummings after Trump's Baltimore attacks MORE (R-Calif.) and former Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea MORE (R-Wis.). 
 
Rank-and-file members of Congress earn $174,000 annually, while members of leadership earn more. But lawmakers acknowledge it can be difficult to maintain two homes on that salary, which has remained stagnant for a full decade. It can be especially difficult for lawmakers who represent high-cost areas in addition to spending multiple days a week in Washington, where the average one-bedroom apartment rents for about $2,000 per month.
 
Some members of Congress have been pushing to end that practice out of concerns that it could lead to uncomfortable, or even harassing, situations for congressional staffers if the boss turns the office into a bedroom every night. They also argue it potentially violates ethics rules prohibiting the use of official resources for personal purposes.
 
 
In testimony before the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress last month, Thompson suggested that the panel could consider ways to help lawmakers afford housing in Washington, like allowances or a tax deduction.
 
"If members say they can't afford it, then from the standpoint of the select committee, I referenced Treasury regulations that kind of say if your job requires you to be somewhere, that's a legitimate deduction. So I'm saying, why should members of Congress be treated differently? Just treat us like all other federal employees," Thompson told The Hill.
 
The select committee is expected to make recommendations on how to modernize legislative branch operations by the end of the year.