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By Porter Wells
Businesses and civil rights groups this week will get an opportunity to sit face-to-face with the new Trump-appointed director of the Labor Department’s federal contractor watchdog office.
This will be the first chance for contractors and advocacy groups alike to get a sense of Director Ondray Harris‘s priorities and direction for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which audits federal contractors and ensures their compliance with equal employment opportunity laws. Harris took the helm last month, ending the office’s thirteen-month drought without a politically appointed director.
Stakeholders are looking forward to finally speaking with the person vested with power to address their concerns, which has included an industry-wide unease over the OFCCP’s transparency and efficiency, Michael Eastman, vice president of policy and assistant general counsel at the Center for Workplace Compliance in Washington, told Bloomberg Law.
The previous director, Patricia Shiu, stepped down in November 2016 after seven years of service under President Barack Obama. Thomas Dowd, a non-political career official, served as acting director after Shiu’s tenure ended.
Over Jan. 30 and 31, Harris and the OFCCP will host three meetings, several stakeholders in the federal contracting community told Bloomberg Law. Federal contractors will get the first bite at the Harris apple on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Harris will sit down with civil rights groups in the morning, and then with a combined group of contractor representatives and membership organizations in the afternoon. The expectation is that Harris will introduce himself and his vision for the OFCCP before settling in for listening sessions, said David Cohen, co-chair of the Institute for Workplace Equality in Washington.
The Department of Labor didn’t respond to Bloomberg Law’s requests to confirm the dates of the meetings.
On the employer side, Eastman and the CWC hope Harris will move the office into a more transparent era, particularly regarding what the agency expects of the contractors it audits. “Contractors want to comply with the law,” he said, “but it can be frustrating when the agency is not clear about what compliance looks like.”
Civil rights groups, meanwhile, want the office to stay focused on combating systemic discrimination. It may still be too early to tell in what direction Harris may move the OFCCP, Shirley Wilcher, executive director of the American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity in Washington, told Bloomberg Law. But she and the AAAED “appreciates his overture to all of the constituency groups.” Wilcher served as the OFCCP’s director during the Clinton administration.
If nothing else, the meetings will be a prime opportunity for Harris to clarify the status of the OFCCP after a year of rumor and uncertainty that has left stakeholders feeling adrift. President Donald Trump’s FY 2018 budget, published last May, proposed slashing $17.2 million from the OFCCP, which had been funded at $105.2 million for FY 2017. With a budget cut likely looming, the OFCCP has already begun tightening its belt by offering voluntary buyouts to its staff.
The president’s budget also proposed merging the OFCCP with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—an idea that was eventually killed by House and Senate appropriators in September.
The OFCCP annually audits between 1 percent and 2 percent of about 200,000 federal contractor facilities to confirm and enforce compliance with three federal equal employment opportunity laws: Executive Order 11,246, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 4212 of the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act.
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