The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition


Testimony of Wade Henderson, President & CEO
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

December 4, 2013

EXAMINING RECENT ACTIONS BY THE OFFICE OF FEDERAL CONTRACT COMPLIANCE PROGRAMS - House Education and the Workforce Committee Subcommittee on Workforce Protections

Categories: Jobs & Economy

Chairman Kline, Ranking Member Miller, Subcommittee Chairman Walberg, Ranking Member Courtney, and Members of the Subcommittee: I am Wade Henderson, president & CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony for the record regarding hiring policies for federal contractors and recent actions by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. Founded in 1950 by A. Philip Randolph, Arnold Aronson, and Roy Wilkins, The Leadership Conference works in support of policies that further the goal of equality under law through legislative advocacy and public education. The Leadership Conference’s more than 200 national organizations represent persons of color, women, children, organized labor, persons with disabilities, the elderly, the LGBT community, and faith-based organizations.

The Leadership Conference is committed to building an America that is as good as its ideals – an America that affords everyone access to quality education, housing, health care, collective bargaining rights in the workplace, economic opportunity, and financial security. Today, many workers are unable to secure equal access to employment and to be protected against workplace discrimination.

Equal opportunity initiatives in the employment context are designed to ensure that all individuals have a fair chance to access opportunities in the workplace. Equal opportunity programs have opened up job opportunities for qualified women and minorities to achieve high wages, advance in the workplace, and pursue nontraditional careers. Continued use of equal opportunity programs in employment and contracting is necessary to help break down barriers to opportunity and ensure that all Americans have a fair chance to demonstrate their talents and abilities. The Leadership Conference strongly supports the Department of Labor’s (DOL) OFCCP efforts to strengthen the affirmative action and nondiscrimination obligations of government contractors regarding individuals with disabilities and veterans, and encourages efforts to ensure equal access to job and apprenticeship opportunities for women and minorities.

According to DOL, nearly one in four American workers are currently employed by a business that receives federal funds for contracted work. That’s more than 200,000 businesses with contracts totaling almost $700 billion. Therefore, it is critical to ensure adequate protections for workers employed by federal contractors or those seeking employment with such a substantial sector of our workforce. The purpose of OFCCP is “to enforce, for the benefit of job seekers and wage earners, the contractual promise of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity required of those who do business with the Federal government.”[1] OFCCP’s authority to enforce nondiscrimination and affirmative action hiring policies for federal contractors is clear. OFCCP enforces Executive Order 11246, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA). Collectively, they require contractors and subcontractors that do business with the federal government not to discriminate in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran.

Receipt of a federal contract comes with a number of responsibilities beyond compliance with federal nondiscrimination and anti-retaliation laws. It also requires developing meaningful and effective efforts to recruit and employ underrepresented individuals, creating and enforcing personnel policies that support the contractor’s affirmative action efforts, maintaining accurate records on its affirmative action efforts, and providing OFCCP access to these records upon request. Failure to abide by these responsibilities may result in various sanctions, including withholding of progress payments, termination of contracts, and debarment from receiving future contracts.

The VEVRAA rule provides contractors with a quantifiable metric to measure their success in recruiting and employing veterans, by requiring contractors to annually adopt a benchmark either based on the national percentage of veterans in the workforce (currently 8 percent), or their own benchmark based on the best available data. The rule strengthens accountability and record-keeping requirements, enabling contractors to assess the effectiveness of their recruitment efforts. It also clarifies job listing and subcontract requirements to facilitate compliance.

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act requires government contractors to take “affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities.”[2] However, until now, these programs have been largely ineffective. Implementing new rules that give clear guidance, require data collection, and set out baseline goals for hiring is crucial to ensure equal access to employment for people with disabilities as well as to promote economic opportunities. The Section 503 rule introduces a hiring goal for federal contractors and subcontractors that 7 percent of each job group in their workforce be qualified individuals with disabilities. The rule also details specific actions contractors must take in the areas of recruitment, training, record keeping, and policy dissemination – similar to those that have long been required to promote workplace equality for women and minorities.

The Leadership Conference supports OFCCP’s work to help contractors recruit, retain, and hire people with disabilities and veterans. Many unemployed veterans and individuals with disabilities are ready, able, and willing to work. Employment opportunity increases access to economic security and independence. Furthermore, we strongly support additional efforts to encourage recruitment and training of women and minorities employed by federal contractors and efforts to prevent and enforce nondiscrimination based on sex or race. 

The Leadership Conference believes that the federal government should continue to hold its contractors to a standard of taking affirmative steps in recruiting, retaining, and advancing qualified employees including women, minorities, veterans, and people with disabilities. Affirmative action or equal opportunity is not a “quota,” nor the substitution of numerical dictates for merit-based decisions. Some affirmative action plans include the management tools of numerical goals or targets for representation of women or minorities, and timetables for meeting those objectives. OFCCP’s final rules set fair and reasonable standards and guidelines for federal contractors, which employ approximately a quarter of the civilian labor force. Affirmative action programs expand the talent pool for businesses to draw on, and many companies report that a diverse workforce has led to enhanced performance and productivity.[3]

The Leadership Conference and its members look forward to continuing its work with the Committee and the Department of Labor to find solutions to securing fair employment opportunities for our most vulnerable workers. Thank you for your leadership on this critical issue.

[1] Office of Federal Contract Compliance Mission Statement at http://www.dol.gov/ofccp/aboutof.html.

[2] Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 USC Sec. 793(a)(1993).

[3]Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, Good for Business: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital at 5 (1995). (a study of the Standard and Poor’s 500 found average annualized returns of 18.3% for companies committed to affirmative action, compared to 7.9% for businesses where glass ceilings were firmly in place). 

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