The White House proposed a fiscal year 2018 budget in May that has some interesting takeaways. One of them being a merger between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). These measures are considered to be cost-cutting actions, reflecting new priorities in the Trump administration.
Both agencies enforce laws on equality among employees in the workplace. The EEOC investigates discrimination complaints against private businesses while the OFCCP investigates discrimination against federal contractors. The idea behind the merger is to reduce the budget for the OFCCP, bringing it down from $105 million to about $88 million, and keeping the budget for the EEOC the same.
The notion of a merger wasn’t all that well received. Camille Olson, testifying on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, stated that the chamber went on record opposing it. Olson said that “[b]oth the EEOC and OFCCP need reforms,” just not a merger. The person asking Olson the question was Mark Takano at a U.S. House of Representatives Education and the Workforce Committee hearing. Tanako also asked the NAACP director of Legal Defense, Todd Cox, who said he was opposing it and was “very concerned that the mission of both agencies would be undermined.” Cox stated that the EEOC responds to charges filed by employees, while the OFCCP conducts audits before there is a claim or allegation of wrongdoing. He said that the merger would hamper the EEOC’s systemic discrimination work and stretch the limited resources of the EEOC.
A major concern is that without an increase in resources, the EEOC absorbing the OFCCP would reduce civil rights enforcement. Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta, tried to quell concerns by saying “[o]verall, there will be cost-savings by the merger. The budget shows that it actually doesn’t reduce enforcement.” The EEOC took on about 97,000 cases last year and has slated to take on 92,000 cases this year, with a backlog of over 70,000 claims.
Another concern that should be addressed is that contractors may be held liable for compensatory and punitive damages, which are usually not sought by under the OFCCP. The OFCCP seeks only contract remedies, of which punitive damages do not exist. If the agencies are merged, the EEOC may be able to make every claim of breach of contract into a Title VII violation.
This issue is complicated to say the least. For instance, the EEOC doesn’t enforce some affirmative action requirements under the OFCCP and congressional approval may be required to transfer authority between the agencies to enforce the other’s laws. We’ll keep you posted on this potentially major change in agency enforcement of employment laws.