Watson Coleman, House Democrats to Labor Department: Protect Civil Rights in Federal Contracting
WASHINGTON – Today, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and several House Democrats sent a letter to the Director of the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) in strong opposition to the agency’s recent guidance allowing new service, supply, and construction contracts related to coronavirus response to avoid federal affirmative action requirements. The letter was also signed by Committee on Education and Labor Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), Committee on Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (WA-09), and Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services Chairwoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1).
In March, the OFCCP issued a National Interest Exemption (NIE) which, as the Members note, has been used in regional emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina and the California wildfires but has little precedent for national emergencies. Accordingly, the Members note, federal contracts to address the COVID-19 pandemic crisis will be magnitudes greater in cost and likely far longer in duration than those of previous emergencies.
The Members demanded to know how many contracts the NIE will impact, how many qualified candidates will lose opportunities for employment, and whether the NIE will further weaken enforcement of our civil rights laws with respect federal government contractors.
“In issuing the NIE, the OFCCP did not present any compelling evidence that qualified contractors needed for the coronavirus response have been deterred from bidding due to OFCCP’s requirements for affirmative action plans,” the Members wrote. “It is not only important for all Americans to have equal access to federal opportunities; it is equally important for the federal government to benefit from the contributions of a diverse group of people in this critical effort to address the largest public health crisis of our time.”
The Members also note OFCCP’s history of challenges in its oversight of federal contractors, including separate reviews by both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and OFCCP’s Inspector General revealing OFCCP’s failure to focus on compliance and, as a result, a failure to ensure that hiring by federal contractors fairly reflect the diversity of our nation’s workforce.
To read the full text of the letter, click here.