Mikulski assails Capitol architect

May 13, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski lambasted the manager of the 2,200-person work force that operates the 285-acre Capitol complex yesterday, saying that he has responded to employees' complaints of discrimination with inadequate, "teensy-weensy" measures.

Speaking at a hearing of the subcommittee that reviews the complex's maintenance budget, the Baltimore Democrat said that George M. White, who oversees the complex as architect of the Capitol, has failed to improve what many employees see as a hostile, racially and sexually discriminatory work environment.

Over the years, Ms. Mikulski said, many of Mr. White's employees -- a large share of whom live in Maryland -- have come to her office with complaints because they felt they had nowhere else to turn. Once those complaints were relayed to Mr. White's office, she said, he failed to take decisive action. "I'm looking for systemic change," Ms. Mikulski said.

Once, she said, a black employee came to her office so shaken that he appeared on the verge of a breakdown. The reason: He had found a hangman's noose in the locker room.

zTC After the man complained to a supervisor, Ms. Mikulski said, the stunt was dismissed "as a joke." Several days later, another noose was found in a paint shop.

In another instance, the senator said, a female employee complained to management that she had been sexually harassed by a supervisor for years. The supervisor tried to fire her for taking time off for what were described as stress-related headaches.

Those were among the incidents that led Ms. Mikulski to order an investigation by the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, which two weeks ago issued a report highly critical of the architect of the Capitol.

Mr. White, 73, heads the operation and maintenance of the 200-year-old Capitol, Senate and House office buildings, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the Botanical Garden and the Capitol police headquarters, as well as the grounds.

Among the GAO's findings:

* Minorities and women are underrepresented in the agency's work force, especially in better-paying jobs.

* The agency has no formal performance evaluation process.

* There is no agency-wide merit-based hiring and promotion plan.

he result, according to the GAO report, is that many workers -- especially blacks -- languish in low-level jobs and are given few promotions, only minimal raises and few clues about what it takes to advance their careers.

On the heels of the report, Ms. Mikulski demanded Mr. White's resignation -- something he revealed no intention of complying with yesterday. But as he was grilled by subcommittee members, a contrite Mr. White promised to reform the operations of his office, which he has run for 23 years.

"The deficiencies that have been found need to be corrected," Mr. White said. "They shall be corrected."

Those promises were met with skepticism by Ms. Mikulski -- who pledged to push legislation to formalize those proposed reforms. Capitol maintenance workers who squeezed into the subcommittee hearing room to watch Mr. White on the firing line also were leery of the promises.

"I heard him, but I'm going to look down the line to see what they're going to do," said Darrell Reeder, whose job for nine years has been to unload coal at the Capitol Hill power plant. In that time, he has gotten no promotions. His salary has crept up from about $8 a hour to $11.16 an hour.

"All of this sounds good," he said. "But I want to see the final outcome."

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