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OFCCP: back in business.

Three decades after the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and on the eve of celebrating the signing of Executive Order 11246, affirmative action awaits to be fully embraced. There have been pockets of success, and some progress has been made. But much remains to be done to improve the level of employment opportunities for minorities and women in today's job market.

Under the leadership of Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich, Assistant Secretary for Employment Standards Bernard E. Anderson and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Federal Contract Compliance Programs Shirley J. Wilcher, the Labor Department has embraced an aggressive program to enforce compliance with the nation's antidiscrimination laws and to rule effectively.

This program includes the following: targeting the worst offenders and the worst offenses by identifying and vigorously prosecuting the "low readers," a phrase coined by Secretary Reich for those contractors found to be the worst offenders; protecting low-wage earners, the elderly and children, who are often vulnerable to abuses by employers interested in gaining a competitive advantage at the expense of workers; deterring violations by imposing. significant monetary and legal penalties; and getting results as swiftly and efficiently as the law permits.

Bernard Anderson, formerly a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance and Commerce and an economist who headed his own consulting firm before joining the Labor Department, said that one of his priorities is bringing about a measurable change in the employment of minorities and women among government contractors.

He acknowledges that some companies have implemented personnel practices that truly give all workers full access to employment opportunities. But despite measures of success, much remains to be done to eliminate job barriers and to help workers remain competitive in today's job market, he says.

When Shirley Wilcher took the oath of office as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), she emphasized that "OFCCP is back in business. We intend to enhance compliance efforts related to equal employment opportunity and affirmative action. This agency helps employers fully use the skills and diversity of people in a way that benefits wage earners as well as employers."

She came to the Labor Department with deep insight into OFCCP's responsibilities, having served as associate counsel to the House Education and Labor Committee where she monitored enforcement efforts of this agency. A Harvard Law School graduate, Wilcher has previously worked in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

With that background of experience, she quickly provided leadership and direction for nearly 830 executives, managers, compliance officers, technicians and support staff who make up the OFCCP team in the national office and 10 regional offices across the country.

OFCCP enforces federal equal employment laws, namely, Executive Order 11246, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 and the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Act. It also shares responsibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, and more recently, some responsibility under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

These laws prohibit contractors and subcontractors from discriminating on the basis of race, gender, color, national origin, religion, disability and veteran status. Unlike Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the executive order requires contractors with 50 or more employees and who have contracts of $50,000 or more to take affirmative action to ensure that minorities and women are employed in these projects. Contractors are required to make a "good faith effort" to include everyone, but are not subject to sanctions if goals are not met despite good faith efforts. Contractors are not required to hire applicants who are not qualified. OFCCP enforces these laws through more than 4,000 annual compliance reviews and complaint investigations and corporate management reviews, more commonly known, as "glass ceiling'' reviews. The term, "glass ceiling" refers to the invisible barriers which prevent minorities and women from moving up the career ladder into high level executive positions.

After nearly one year on the job, Wilcher reported that nearly $40 million was recovered for 12,574 workers who were victims of discrimination during the 1994 fiscal year, an accomplishment she proudly describes as "remarkable" in view of her working with a reduced staff and the scope of the investigations that covered more than 1.7 million workers nationwide.

"More importantly, the record monies recovered in the 553 financial agreements clearly reflect the commitment of Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich, Assistant Secretary for Employment Standards Bernard E. Anderson and Solicitor of Labor Tom Williamson, the Department's top legal officer, to enforce equal employment laws that protect victims of discrimination," Wilcher said.

"The financial settlements, reached on behalf of 12,574 people, demonstrate the agency's commitment to enforce equal employment opportunity laws aggressively, fairly, and responsibly, and this momentum will continue for an even more productive year in 1995," Wilcher said.

A notable accomplishment in fiscal year 1994 was five debarment orders - more than the total in the last five years combined. Debarment makes contractors ineligible to bid on future federal or federally assisted contracts or subcontracts until OFCCP determines that the contractor complies fully with federal equal employment opportunity laws and affirmative action requirements. Debarment orders are often accompanied by cancellation of the contractor's existing federal or federally assisted contracts and subcontracts.

OFCCP's vision for the future includes continuing its aggressive four-pronged enforcement strategy, namely, targeting industries with a history of violations, protecting vulnerable workers; deterring violations with significant monetary penalties, getting results as quickly and efficiently as the law permits, and providing technical assistance.

Additionally, OFCCP has established a targeted enforcement strategy focusing on growth industries, smaller contractors, companies that have never been reviewed, and construction contractors with projects of $100 million or more. OFCCP will also continue to focus on the "glass ceiling" as it affects both minorities and women in senior management positions. The agency's 10 regional offices have also begun to develop their own local enforcement initiatives.

OFCCP has been developing partnerships with other federal agencies to provide added strength. These partnerships thus far include, among others: the General Services Administration, Glass Ceiling Commission, Equal Employment, Opportunity Commission, the Departments of Education, Transportation, and Justice, as well as representatives from business and civil rights organizations.

Wilcher acknowledges that some corporations have taken steps to provide minorities and women full access to employment opportunities and to fully diversify their work force in a way that benefits workers and employers. These employers have been recognized in a public recognition program coordinated by OFCCP. The program includes presentation of the Secretary of Labor's Opportunity 2000 Award and the Exemplary Voluntary Efforts (EVE) Award.

A highlight of the 1994 recognition program was the addition of another award - the Exemplary Public Interest Contribution (EPIC) Award. This award recognizes community organizations that provide outreach and other employment related services to help minorities and women enter the work force. "It was time to publicly embrace these organizations that have been invaluable, but silent, partners in our journey to equality in the workplace," Wilcher said.

"Today, much has changed compared to the job market of 30 years ago, but we are far from an equal employment opportunity country, and the road to opportunity is still more rocky for some." For example, 30 years ago, newspapers carried race and gender segregated job announcements. Women and men were excluded from certain job classifications, workers were expected to retire at age 65, and it was assumed that pregnant women would leave their job, generally after the fourth month of pregnancy.

"While the past three decades have witnessed examples of some progress, we are far from being a truly equal employment opportunity nation," Wilcher said.

"Today is a new day and the fact remains that affirmative action is still necessary. More importantly, affirmative action is the law. We are breathing new life into the regulations and laws enforced by OFCCP," said Wilcher, who pledged that OFCCP faces the challenges with renewed confidence and commitment to stay the course.

Shirley J. Wilcher is Deputy Assistant for Federal Contract Compliance Programs, U.S. Department of Labor

Bernard E. Anderson is Assistant Secretary, Employment Standards Administration U.S. Department of Labor
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Title Annotation:Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Feb 1, 1995
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