Agency Questions Hill Commitment to Obey Labor Laws: Rule Change Could Impose `Gag Order'

Article excerpt

The independent agency charged with administering federal labor laws on Capitol Hill yesterday expressed "serious concerns" with proposed changes in the regulations approved by a House committee earlier this week, saying they raise questions about the commitment of Congress to live under the same laws that govern private-sector employers.

In a four-page letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman William Thomas, California Republican, Office of Compliance Board Chairman Glen D. Nager said one change would institute a "gag order" on congressional staffers who file employment complaints at the office. The committee action would require the compliance board to enforce the confidentiality provision.

The provision "could impede the effective implementation" of the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA), Mr. Nager warned. The CAA, approved with great fanfare last year by the new Republican majorities in Congress, applies key labor laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act to Congress for the first time.

A second change contained in a March 11 Oversight Committee resolution would require the Office of Compliance to issue "advisory opinions" to congressional offices on hiring and employment questions.

The compliance board also objected to the committee's attempt to amend the regulations through an approval resolution, which was expected simply to endorse the interim CAA rules that went into effect Jan. 23.

"The board has some very serious concerns both on procedure and substance," said compliance office Executive Director Ricki Silberman. "Our mandate was to have Congress live under the same laws that the private sector faces, and the fear is that this resolution could effectively prevent us from establishing our credibility as an independent agent."

The House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee approved the CAA regulations March 6 without change. …