Small federal office at the heart of Biden’s equity agenda – FCW
The small federal office at the heart of Biden’s equity agenda
Photo credit: Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com
A civil rights office tucked away within the Department of Labor is gearing up to play an outsized role in the Biden administration’s work on racial equity.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCCP) may not be widely known, but it is familiar to federal contractors under its jurisdiction. It has the power to audit the internal human resource practices of private companies that perform work for the government.
“OFCCP, from a civil rights perspective, is probably the most influential civil rights organization in government, because it can tell contractors, ‘This is how we want you to do it.’ said Anthony Kaylin, vice president of the American Society. of employers, a professional human resources association.
OFCCP’s reach extends to the business of 25,000 entrepreneurs and 120,000 other companies, covering approximately 20% of the US workforce.
Office manager Jenny Yang wants to maximize what she called, “a chance to make the kind of transformative change … not seen since the 1960s.” But first, it will have to rebuild its workforce, which is the smallest in its history, and finish rolling back the machinery that emptied the policies of the Trump era.
The office provides compliance assistance to contractors, investigates complaints and assesses employment practices and positive actions of companies. Yang and his team want to rebuild the office’s enforcement program and focus on systemic discrimination in wages and hiring.
“Biden has made racial equity a central pillar of his administration,” said Dariely Rodriguez, OFCCP chief of staff, in an interview with FCW. “This fits perfectly with OFCCP’s mission to advance equity.”
Biden also stressed the importance of the office when he appointed his choice to lead the office on day one of his tenure. Yang is an Obama-era veteran of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she worked on data collection efforts aimed at addressing the wage gap.
“It was a really huge signal to the regulatory community of the importance of OFCCP under the Biden administration,” said David Cohen, co-chair of the Institute for Workplace Equality and president of DCI Consulting Group.
Biden also issued an executive order on the second day of his tenure calling for a “whole-of-government equity agenda,” in which he called on agencies to review their procurement practices for fairness issues. OFCCP is involved in this process for the Labor Ministry, officials said.
The Office of Management and Budget issued a request for information on May 5 following this, where they requested information on “approaches and methodologies for assessing equity in the procurement process. and contracting agencies “.
Biden’s budget request for fiscal 2022 also referred to the OFCCP’s “critical opportunity” to help promote racial equity. The office will develop a “comprehensive initiative to advance racial equity in the workplace” by helping to increase practices that help reduce racial pay gaps, for example.
Going forward, the office will work to ensure a fair economic recovery from the pandemic, the effects of which have been felt more by some communities than others, Rodriguez said.
Focus on entrepreneurs
Part of what gives OFCCP its reach is in the HR offices of employers is its focus on federal contractors.
“Because of their unique relationship with contractors, the government has the authority to modify and describe the terms and conditions of that relationship,” said Alan Chvotkin, former executive vice president and legal counsel of Professional Services Counsel and current partner by Nichols. Liu, a law firm specializing in public procurement.
In February, the office struck a deal with Google to resolve allegations of systemic compensation and hiring discrimination at facilities in California and Washington. The office found issues with hiring rates and pay differentials affecting female software engineers and Asian applicants during routine compliance reviews. Google is paying more than $ 3.8 million to more than 5,500 current employees and candidates as part of the settlement.
Addressing pay discrimination is a good example of the power of the office, Rodriguez said. It may uncover issues that employees or candidates are not necessarily familiar with, or see disproportionate effects that stem from seemingly neutral policies.
“Because of the culture of secrecy, workers often just don’t know if they are being paid less. So if you don’t really know if you’re getting paid less, how can you even complain about it? Said Rodriguez. “We actually have the ability to analyze the data and see if there are any patterns that might indicate potential disparities, and then proactively address them.”
For entrepreneurs, being required to comply with data reporting requirements can be enlightening in itself, said Mitchell Robinson, labor and employment attorney at Baker Hostetler.
“At a basic level, that means we’re in a situation where it’s now being recorded. That companies are forced, in many ways, because of these regulations, to become more aware of the fairness issues they may have in the workplace, ”he said.
In 2020, OFCCP was the loser in a discrimination lawsuit against Oracle America Inc. The result was factored into OFCCP’s analysis of the company’s salary data. Yang told an American Bar Association conference in April that she disagreed with the Labor Department’s administrative judge’s ruling and that a new wage data collection tool could be in preparation.