By: Julia Turner Baumhart
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) recently announced it is planning to listen to federal contractors. It plans to do so by surveying those contractors that completed an agency compliance review between October 1, 2012 and September 30, 2017. Through this anonymous survey, OFCCP will ask for concrete suggestions on improving interactions between the agency and the contractor community. Implicitly acknowledging these relationships need to improve, the surveys will cover communications, transparency, and timeliness.
To those who have been paying attention to the recent news out of OFCCP, the agency’s listening posture should not come as a surprise. Rather, OFCCP, under the leadership of recently appointed Director Ondray Harris, appears headed toward both downsizing and a major attitude adjustment. Evidence of both can be found in the OFCCP’s input to the fiscal year 2019 budget proposed by the Trump Administration, and a series of OFCCP-hosted stakeholder meetings in January 2018, as well as the newly announced anonymous survey effort.
According to the proposed FY 2019 budget for the U.S. Department of Labor, which houses OFCCP, the OFCCP’s estimated obligations for FY 2019 total $9.1 million, down 12.3% from current spending levels. This translates to a 14.2% reduction in headcount, to an historic low of 450 employees — in contrast to the recent high of 788 employees in FY 2010. Some of the forecasted reduction has already come from two rounds of buyout offers during the final months of 2017; other downsizing has been or will be achieved through attrition and an ongoing unofficial hiring freeze.
Both the FY 2019 budget proposal and the recent stakeholder meetings signaled a welcome shift in agency attitude. The January 2018 stakeholder meetings, led by OFCCP Director Harris, Senior Advisor Craig Leen, and Director of Policy Debra Carr, invited a number of federal contractors, representatives of civil rights groups, and representatives of several membership organizations, to three separate sessions. In meeting with federal contractors, Director Harris shared his goals for a new and improved OFCCP. The agency’s primary goal is to focus on developing apprenticeship programs in order to fill a defined skills gap nationwide and to develop better parity in the workforce. Other primary goals include (1) incentivizing employers to voluntarily comply with agency regulations; (2) increasing outreach for individuals with disabilities; and (3) increasing agency transparency through compliance assistance. The OFCCP, as led by Director Harris, recognizes that some 98% of contractors undergoing audits are found to be in full compliance, and so the agency going forward is planning an “innocent until proven guilty” approach rather than its old standard operating procedure, which assumed the opposite.
These goals are amplified in the FY 2019 budget proposal, which identifies technical assistance for federal contractors as one of two main priorities. Along with increased emphasis on systemic discrimination (the other budget priority), OFCCP plans to implement technical assistance through several initiatives. These initiatives include, in addition to the focus on apprenticeship programs, improving training for compliance officers; developing regional contractor training programs; reconstituting the Reagan-era contractor recognition programs; and reorganizing (and probably closing) many of OFCCP’s district and area offices. It is anticipated that several “skilled regional centers,” staffed by experienced and specialized compliance officers, will more efficiently replace many of the 50-plus local offices.
Harris quietly started his role as OFCCP’s newest Director on December 10, 2017, squelching speculation that the agency would soon merge into the EEOC. Harris had joined the Department of Labor in June 2017 as a senior advisor. He is a former management-side employment and labor lawyer in private practice, and also a former Department of Justice appointee, both of which should position him well for leading change at OFCCP.
Seemingly in keeping with its kinder and gentler approach, OFCCP mailed its Corporate Scheduling Announcement Letters to contractors on February 1, 2018, using the following guidelines:
- Setting no more than ten establishments of a single contractor on the audit scheduling list and no more than four establishments per contractor in the same district office;
- Intending to set no establishment on the audit scheduling list that had closed an audit within the last five years.
OFCCP started sending the actual audit scheduling letters on a rolling basis on March 9, 2018.
And now, OFCCP’s latest announced effort at transparency: seeking out contractor suggestions on how the agency can best improve its relationships with the business entities it audits. Contractors are keeping their fingers crossed that OFCCP truly is signaling the start of a new era.
This e-blast was written by Julia Turner Baumhart, who is a member of the Detroit SHRM Legal Affairs Committee. Ms. Baumhart is a partner in the labor and employment firm of Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton, P.L.C. in Birmingham, Michigan and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (248) 645-0000.
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