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What’s the Score? The Outcome of the Debate Over the OFCCP

With so much debate on either side about whether the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) should be dissolved, overhauled or left alone, it can start to feel like you’re watching an intense and highly competitive match between the agency, employers and political groups.

And it can be difficult to keep up with the score.

In one corner is the OFCCP and the civil rights watchdogs and employer groups. Although those two entities don’t often stand together on issues, they want to see the arm of the U.S. Department of Labor – which ensures companies doing business with the federal government follow nondiscrimination laws – remain in its current form.

In the other corner is President Trump, who proposed a merger of the OFCCP with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in his version of the FY2017 budget, and lawmakers on his side of the aisle who agree or are at least willing to consider some changes to the agency.

Trump’s proposal appeared to be a logical move, since it could have potentially promoted better communication across agencies and reduced cost by eliminating redundant processes and staff structure. As reported by Rich Tonowski, Chief Psychologist for the EEOC, in The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, the president’s move has had the effect of uniting antagonistic stakeholders: Civil rights advocates and employer groups joined in calling it a bad idea.

Depending on your perspective, the proposed merger could have created an agency that is too weak or too powerful, Tonowski wrote in a September article on as-yet undecided legal issues in The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist.  The argument against the merger lies in the mission and placement of the agencies.

While both the EEOC and OFCCP fall under the labor department, they are independent federal agencies. The EEOC administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination for applicants and employees in most organizations with at least 15 employees. The OFCCP is limited to handling those claims within companies of 50 or more employees that contract or sub-contract with the government.

The Short Game

John C. Fox, former OFCCP official and current president of Fox, Wang and Morgan, P.C., refers to a current battle over OFCCP funding as a “rugby scrum” for the program’s fate.  In light of the protests against the proposed merger – and the fact that the proposal is now dead – in September, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended cutting the OFCCP’s budget by $2 million and strongly urged the agency to look for cost-savings measures, including the consolidation of offices. The OFCCP was directed to report to the committee with an inventory of current infrastructure and a consolidation plan to right-size the agency within 180 days.  And the White House’s budget proposal included 440 full-time equivalent employees, down from the current estimate of 571.

Now that the House has narrowly passed the FY2018 budget, it’s unclear what the impact on the OFCCP will be. While a $2 million shortfall would not be “devastating” to the OFCCP, Fox noted, the cuts would essentially render the agency ineffective.

The number of onsite audits are already down, a decrease that should come as a relief to the average federal contractor, which might spend weeks and hundreds of thousands of dollars in preparation for a visit from the OFCCP. According to Fox, only three to five percent of the agency’s audits currently result in onsite visits. That small number, coupled with a reduction in audits, adds up to an estimated 1,000 audits in FY2017, down from the 4,000 to 5,000 per year just a few years ago.

In a perfect world, enforcement agencies such as the OFCCP would not be needed. Many would argue that we are at this point now. Still, just as many might vehemently oppose this sentiment.

No one knows, for certain, the fate of the OFCCP – Fox predicts a winding down of the agency will be a difficult adjustment but one that will likely happen. And it remains unclear how that will in turn impact federal contracting behavior, but it appears that minority contractors are potentially in a losing game.

David Smith, PhD, is the president and CEO of EASI•Consult®. EASI•Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government   agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI•Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI•Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.

 

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