Information that would clear up just how big of a problem sexual harassment is on Capitol Hill will not be released, a congressional office decided in a letter seen by NBC News on Monday. The correspondence from the Office of Compliance said that the agency would not release information on sexual harassment settlements in the Senate, as requested by Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.
On Dec. 6, Kaine requested information on the settlements awarded against accused senators and staffers from 2007 to 2017, and the amount paid out in each case. He promised to make those findings public. Susan Tsui Grundmann, executive director of the OOC, said in the letter dated Monday that the office could not comply given confidentiality requirements set forth in the law that created the office, the Congressional Accountability Act.
Earlier this month the OOC 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 CAA involving the Senate.
Grundmann said in her letter that giving out more information would require searching through "strictly confidential records, which would be contrary to existing law." Furthermore, she explained that because of the way the office gathers claims — it does so against a senator's office, rather than an individual — means that it's impossible to release a list of sexual harassment claims against senators because staff members' settlements would be filed with them.
Bustle has reached out to the Office of Compliance for comment.
This response was not sufficient for Kaine, who maintained that no privacy rights would be violated if the names of the accusers and accused were not released.
"If Congress truly wants to fix a broken system, we need to understand the scope of the problem. I'm disappointed the OOC didn't release any information to help us do that," Kaine said in a statement. "I'm going to keep pushing for public release of this data and working on reforms that help prevent harassment and assault."
The information on the Senate that was given to the committee earlier this month has not been made public. The Senate Chief Counsel for Employment settled a harassment claim against a member of the House in 2014, but that information is so far the only public data out there with any ties to the Senate.
Other arguments that Grundmann made included that the office had long filed sexual harassment claims as a form of sex discrimination, and therefore in the files they are indistinguishable from other types of sex discrimination or pregnancy discrimination. In addition, other files regarding sexual harassment may have just been classified under "civil rights."
Grundmann did note that she shares Kaine's concerns about sexual harassment, but that there might be other avenues to get the information.
The Senate Chief Counsel for Employment submits settlement agreements to my Office, after obtaining whatever approval is required by internal procedures, in all cases when payment is to be made from the Treasury account. However, if some other account is used to make a payment, we would not necessarily know about the settlement. Thus, the office of the Secretary of the Senate possesses more accurate and detailed information regarding settlements than we do.
What's clear is that this response did not satisfy Kaine, and the senator pointed to the importance of such a release in a statement accompanying first letter asking for the information.
A lax or indifferent response, marked only by symbolic changes, signals that we consider the issue a low priority. But a strong response that seeks to establish true accountability will hopefully encourage others to follow. The right response, however, requires disclosure of the extent of the problem and information about the resolutions the parties reached.
Without the requested data, even understanding the magnitude of the problem is difficult.