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The White House proposal to merge the EEOC and a Labor Department subagency that monitors federal contractors’ affirmative action and nondiscrimination compliance is getting mixed reviews in Congress.
Lawmakers are expected to look closer at the proposal in the coming days. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is scheduled to discuss a budget request that includes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission-Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs merger plan during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing this week.
Republicans have said they’re open to efforts to improve agency efficiency and slim the federal budget. Democrats, however, say the merger would lessen federal enforcement of workplace discrimination laws.
Federal contractor stakeholders and civil rights groups oppose a merger of the two agencies, which they say have different policy goals and legal authority.
The House hearing, scheduled for June 7, could be the first time Acosta fields questions about the merger proposal. A Senate hearing with Acosta previously set for this week was removed from the Appropriations Committee calendar.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), ranking member of the House labor appropriations subcommittee, said the merger would be “a terrible mistake.”
The administration’s budget proposal would phase out the OFCCP by the end of fiscal year 2018, cut its budget, and move it to the EEOC without providing more funds for the commission.
That would mean adding the OFCCP’s broad responsibilities to an “already under-resourced” EEOC with no additional funding, DeLauro told Bloomberg BNA June 5.
Subcommittee member Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said she will “do everything in my power” to thwart the merger.
“The OFCCP exists to protect workers’ fundamental rights by holding contractors accountable for following anti-discrimination laws already on the books,” Lee told Bloomberg BNA June 2.
The Trump administration is seeking belt-tightening measures in nearly every agency for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The effort, which would need congressional approval, aims to reach the administration’s goal of cutting $3.6 trillion from federal government spending.
The proposed EEOC-OFCCP merger is in line with President Donald Trump’s “direction to agencies to develop comprehensive plans to reform and reorganize to promote greater efficiency and effectiveness,” an Office of Management and Budget official told Bloomberg BNA June 5.
“The proposed merger would benefit employers, workers, and the public by consolidating the oversight of federal equal employment opportunity under one roof,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research think tank in Washington, recommended the merger as a way to promote government efficiency.
Congress likely would have to act to make such a merger a reality, former government officials previously told Bloomberg BNA.
This means not only approving the president’s budget proposal, but potentially enacting a statute to allow for the reorganization as well as amending existing laws to transfer functions between the agencies.
Some Republicans interviewed by Bloomberg BNA expressed willingness to discuss the idea but stopped short of saying whether the merger could be included in the final budget. That included Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi (Wyo.), who said he’s offering an ear for the conversation.
“I look forward to hearing more about how the president’s budget will help improve the accountability of the federal government and will strongly support efforts to improve and eliminate government programs not delivering results,” Enzi said.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, echoed that view.
“I agree with President Trump’s goal to reduce the debt and deficit, but Congress will draft its own budget,” he said.
Some Democrats on the Senate HELP Committee, including Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Tim Kaine (Va.), have opposed the merger proposal outright
“There is broad consensus between employers and civil rights groups that this proposal is flawed,” said Kaine, also a member of the Senate Budget Committee. “Congress should completely reject any proposal of this sort.”
House and Senate appropriators were urged in a letter from Reps. Bobby Scott (Va.) and Rep. Mark Takano (Calif.), Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, not to approve any measures merging the OFCCP and the EEOC. Scott is ranking member of the panel.
“Although both agencies enforce employment discrimination laws, the two agencies differ in their authorities, scope and responsibilities,” the representatives wrote. “Further, the combination of responsibilities would require the EEOC to do considerably more without the expertise, personnel and funding, and require a substantial modification to the legislation authorizing the EEOC.”
The merger proposal is part of “a huge attack” on worker protections and the very workers who Trump said he wants to help, Takano told Bloomberg BNA June 5.
“I don’t see how you will be in a better position to enforce employment discrimination,” Scott told Bloomberg BNA June 5. “Obviously, they are trying to save money by having fewer people tasked for it, but neither agency would be able to do the job better.”
“We are always open to discussing opportunities to streamline the federal government to ensure it spends hardworking taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively,” workforce committee spokeswoman Bethany Aronhalt said in a statement. “At the same time, protecting workers and ensuring our nation’s non-discrimination laws are properly enforced are leading priorities for the committee. We look forward to learning more about this proposal.”
Aides for Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the HELP committee and member of the Senate appropriations committee, didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment. A spokesman for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) chairman of the HELP committee and a member of the Senate appropriations committee, didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.
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