Office Of Compliance Refuses Kaine’s Request For Harassment Numbers

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, responds to questions about the poison gas attacks and ongoing “war crimes” in Syria, during a television news interview on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Kaine blasted blasted President Donald Trump for relying on his criticism of former President Obama’s approach to Syria now that he’s in charge, adding, “He’s got to put on his big boy pants and own up to the job.”   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The Office of Compliance, which has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for its role in overseeing secret sexual harassment disputes in the legislative branch, refused to release simple data on settlements resulting from those disputes to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

In a letter to Kaine shared on Tuesday with TPM, the office’s director, Susan Tsui Grundmann, wrote that she had already provided the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration with a “statistical breakdown of settlement amounts involving Senate employing offices from 1997-2017.”

“That information represents the full extent of what we can provide with regard to settlements under the [Congressional Accountability Act] involving the Senate,” she wrote. (Read the full letter below.) 

Kaine had asked in a Dec. 6 letter for the number of claims filed against senators or their personal or committee staffs, any resolutions thereof, and the amount of any settlements reached.

“If Congress truly wants to fix a broken system, we need to understand the scope of the problem,” Kaine told TPM in a statement following the rejection. “I’m disappointed the OOC didn’t release any information to help us do that. I’m going to keep pushing for public release of this data and working on reforms that help prevent harassment and assault.”

He didn’t go as far in that request as the House Administration Committee, which had asked that the Office of Compliance name names regarding claims against members of the House or their staffs. (That request was rejected.)

That committee, however, did release what data the office has provided it so far — namely, amounts of individual claims from fiscal year 2013 to the present, with no other identifying information attached.

Based on that disclosure, the Washington Post reported on Dec. 1 that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) had used $150,000 in taxpayer dollars in late 2016 to settle a claim with a former staffer on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Bradley Podliska, who’d alleged his supervisors had retaliated against him for taking leave to fulfill his service as an Air Force reservist.

The Post also confirmed that Rep. Blake Farenthold had used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment suit with a former aide in 2014. Farenthold announced on Dec. 14 that he would not seek re-election.

On Tuesday, the House Administration Committee published newly-released data from 2008 to 2012.

Politico reported that the Senate Rules Committee has not released its “statistical breakdown of settlement amounts” that the office had provided.

In addition, the office has also released a year-by-year breakdown of the total amount in settlements paid. In 2016, across 16 settlements that the office noted “could resolve multiple claims across fiscal years,” taxpayers covered $573,929 in resolved disputes.

BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner noted in November, in a report on the office’s sometimes inexplicable secrecy, that it “already publishes more information than it is required to by law in its annual report, and a spokesperson would not explain why they argue that same law prevents them from providing additional transparency that the OOC currently lacks.”

Read Office of Compliance Director Susan Tsui Grundmann’s letter to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) below: 

This post has been updated.