Acosta Says EEOC, Contractor Watchdog Merger Won’t Reduce Enforcement

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By Jay-Anne B. Casuga

The Trump administration’s proposal to merge the EEOC and the Labor Department’s contractor compliance office wouldn’t reduce enforcement, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta told House appropriators June 7.

“Overall, there will be cost-savings by the merger,” Acosta said during a hearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee. “The budget shows that it actually doesn’t reduce enforcement.”

Federal contractor stakeholders and civil rights groups have already voiced their opposition to the president’s proposal to reduce funding for the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and merge it with a flat-funded and already overburdened Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), one of several Democrats who recently told Bloomberg BNA that they disagree with the proposal, said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “usually don’t agree with each other,” and yet both entities oppose a merger.

“So why would you merge these important agencies given what we know about discrimination in America?” Lee asked.

Acosta said the budget proposal makes “hard decisions” to streamline the government and achieve cost savings.

A merger would allow “discrimination to run rampant in the workplace,” Lee said. Acosta responded that he doesn’t think that would be the case.

Republican House appropriators didn’t really wade into the merger debate during the hearing, though Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) expressed support for an attempt to consolidate the two agencies to “save money because we do operate under a finite resource environment.”

Some Republican senators recently told Bloomberg BNA that they were willing to discuss the idea but stopped short of saying whether the merger could be included in the final budget.

Separate Legislation Needed, Acosta Says

Acosta acknowledged during the hearing that the OFCCP and the EEOC are agencies with different functions.

“They overlap in many ways, but they also have separate authorities,” he said. “There are different mechanisms for enforcement and in investigation.”

The OFCCP proceeds through the federal government’s contracting authority and “is in essence an auditing agency,” he said. Meanwhile, the EEOC is charged with anti-discrimination law enforcement and proceeds based on complaints received from workers, he said.

“That is a distinction that is important,” Acosta said. He added that if the merger proceeds, it will require separate legislation to facilitate it.

Bloomberg BNA previously reported that Congress would likely have to enact a statute to allow for reorganization of the executive branch, as well as amend existing laws to transfer functions and authorities between the agencies.

Redrafted Executive Order?

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), ranking member of the House labor appropriations subcommittee, said the president’s budget request would redraft Executive Order 11,246.

That order, which is enforced by the OFCCP, prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, color, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It also prohibits wage disclosure retaliation and requires affirmative action efforts by government contractors.

DeLauro, who opposes the merger proposal, asked Acosta what a redrafted EO 11,246 would include and whether it would remove or revise existing discrimination prohibitions or affirmative action requirements.

“I cannot predict what a redrafted order that I haven’t seen a draft of, if there is in fact a draft, would include,” Acosta said. “But I can tell you, from my knowledge of the policy, the short answer to your question is no.”

Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) asked if the OFCCP’s proactive auditing of contractors would be preserved after a merger. She referenced the office’s recent $1.7-million settlement with Palantir Technologies Inc., which stemmed from an agency audit that found alleged discrimination against a class of more than 1,500 Asian job applicants.

“Yes,” Acosta said. “My understanding of the proposal is that it’s a streamlining proposal and not a change-of-nature proposal. And that is something that will have to be addressed when there is legislation that unifies these.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at jcasuga@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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