WASHINGTON — New questions are being raised about the lack of accountability in how sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill are handled, an issue that gained more attention Tuesday after Rep. John Conyers acknowledged he had settled a complaint with an accuser in virtual secret. The settlement reached between the congressman and a former Conyers staffer was done outside the scope of the official reporting mechanism and used the congressman's taxpayer allocated discretionary fund to pay the victim, adding another layer of secrecy to an already confusing and byzantine process that leaves the public and members of Congress, including leadership, in the dark. Conyers’ acknowledged in a statement that his office paid his accuser $27,000, an amount he said was tantamount to a severance package. A report by BuzzFeed Monday night alleged that Conyers had settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with the ex-staffer who claimed she’d been fired after refusing his "sexual advances," an allegation Conyers "vehemently" denied. The House Ethics Committee announced on Tuesday that it has opened an investigation into the matter. "The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative John Conyers, Jr. may have engaged in sexual harassment of members of his staff, discriminated against certain staff on the basis of age, and used official resources for impermissible personal purposes," House Ethics Committee Chair Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and Ranking Democrat Ted Deutsch, D-Fla., said in a statement. But Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., one of the House members pushing hardest to reform the system of reporting sexual harassment complaints within Congress, said Conyers’ settlement simply represented another way to bypass accountability. Speier has been critical of the reporting process run under the auspices of the Office of Compliance in Congress, which has settled all types of work place complaints. She noted that the avenue Conyers used has even less oversight. “Beyond the sexual harassment allegations are allegations that call into question the amount of money that is used to settle sexual harassment cases, and whether some Members are using their taxpayer-funded