THIS WEEK Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved a proposal that creates within the Senate a formal grievance panel that can recommend ways of improving fair employment practices as well as judge complaints of discrimination. The measure is likely to reach the Senate floor in May. The panel, an independent board of six members appointed by the Senate majority leaders, would oversee a fair-employment-practices office, appoint hearing examiners for discrimination cases and collect information, to be published annually, on Senate employment practices. The board, upon a finding of discrimination, could also order a varity of remedies.
This proposal is an attempt to carry out a rule adopted by the Senate last year as part of its new ethics code. Several studies of congressional hiring patterns have documented what would appear to be clear discrimination, however unintentional, in jobs and salaries against minorities and women on Capitol Hill. The House essentially has tried to ignore the issue; it approved a voluntary employee grievance panel that can investigate complaints against only those members who have agreed to abide by its decisions. So, if there is going to be any breakthrough to end congressional job discrimination, the leadership will have to come from the Senate.
The committee's proposal is a good one, but it does have several weaknesses. In our view, the measure could be improved by stating that persons filing a complaint be given access to documentary evidence about Senate employment practices and be able to have testimony taken under oath, and by extending the period allowed for filing a complaint from 60 to 180 days. Both suggestions are standard federal procedure. It also seems to us that information about particular discrimination complaints should be kept confidential only why the matter is being adjudicated; as now written, the measure's provisions regarding confidentiality could mean that practically nothing about a complaint could be made public for five years. These revisions, we think, would make clear the Senate's commitment to practice the same hiring policies it has preached in the laws it has helped to pass for everybody else.