We shouldn’t bail out public officials

When most men are found to have harassed or attacked women, they pay a price. It may be dismissal from a job. It may be a hefty lawsuit judgment or out-of-court settlement. Sometimes, that helps predators escape criminal prosecution.

You will not be surprised to learn things are different in Congress. They usually are.

More than 20 years ago, Congress set up a sweet deal for both lawmakers and Capitol Hill staff members. It provided that when one of them is accused of sexual misconduct, financial settlements are paid out of the Treasury. That means you and me as taxpayers.

The program covers more than sexual harassment. Other misdeeds in the workplace also are covered.

That makes it difficult, if not impossible, to learn how much money has been paid out to settle sexual harassment claims. But during the past 20 years, the government has shelled out more than $17 million to resolve 264 situations, including some of sexual misbehavior.

Also not clear is what level of accountability was enforced against those on Capitol Hill who were guilty of intentional harassment.

From time to time, a major scandal will result in dismissal of some congressional staffers or even the resignation of a lawmaker. But taxpayers have paid for the right to know more, including the nature of situations covered by the payments and what, if anything, was done about the perpetrators.

Meanwhile, taxpayers should be furious we are paying to cover for sexual predators serving in Congress or as members of their staffs. It is one thing to pay for an unintentional management error such as, say, a mistake in calculating overtime pay. It is quite another to bail out public officials who misbehave intentionally.