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Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)

Celebrating 45 Years of OFCCP

Forty-five years have passed since President Lyndon Johnson signed Executive Order 11246, directing the U.S. Department of Labor to ensure that federal contractors comply with their equal employment opportunity and affirmative action obligations. This delegation of authority led to the creation of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

With thousands of federal contractors now employing nearly one in four workers in all major industries in the United States, EO 11246 has become a far-reaching measure that advances the interests of American workers and protects them from discrimination.

Today, in addition to EO 11246, OFCCP also enforces Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974. These three laws require federal contractors to adhere to a standard of fairness in their employment practices by prohibiting discrimination and requiring contractors to be proactive in ensuring equal opportunity on the bases of gender, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran.

Over the years, efforts to expand equal employment opportunity in a modern and dynamic federal contracting community have resulted in significant changes in the scope of protections, the organizational structure of the agency, and enforcement practices in order to better achieve the ideals of equality for all.

Expanding the Scope of Protection

On October 13, 1967, within two years of EO 11246, President Johnson issued Executive Order 11375, amending the EO 11246 to include gender, permitting women to enjoy protections from employment discrimination by federal contractors as well as new opportunities resulting from affirmative action efforts. This amendment brought the protections for employees of federal contractors in line with those for workers covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the bases of gender, race, color, religion and national origin.

The next step in the progression of equal rights for workers occurred in 1973 with passage of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action in employment on behalf of individuals with disabilities. Section 503's enactment substantially increased the duties of the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance, as OFCCP was then designated. In signing the Act into law on September 26, 1973, President Richard Nixon noted, "…the executive-legislative partnership, which has placed this legislation on the statute books, makes this a good day for those of our fellow citizens whose courage and spirit in the face of physical adversity provide inspiration for all of us."

The following year, 1974, Congress enacted the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA), which required federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified disabled and Vietnam era veterans.

Organizational Change and Growth

OFCCP played important coordinating and enforcement roles in implementing the protections of EO 11246, Section 503 and VEVRAA. Structurally, however, contracting offices within each Executive Branch Department or independent agency maintained their own staffs devoted to ensuring compliance with non-discrimination and affirmative action measures. An agency's compliance functions often were attached to its procurement or contracting office, creating tension between the agency's equal employment opportunity obligations and its contractual obligations to deliver goods or services on time, within budget and up to standards. In addition, reorganizations within the contracting agencies could slow down the process of completing EEO compliance reviews and responding to complaints.

As early as 1969, the need for bureaucratic reform was recognized in a study conducted for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by the Brookings Institution, Jobs and Civil Rights. The study recommended merging all contract compliance activities within one agency and suggested the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as the best point for this consolidation.

In 1978 President Jimmy Carter ordered such consolidation by issuing Executive Order 12084, amending Executive Order 11246. President Carter, however, designated OFCCP as the centralized authority. The Department of Labor's Employment Standards Administration, under the leadership of Assistant Secretary of Labor Donald Elisburg, accomplished this major reorganization in which hundreds of compliance staff from various agencies throughout the Federal government became members of OFCCP's national and regional offices across the United States.

In the following years, OFCCP undertook initiatives aimed at achieving compliance by federal contractors. Soon after the consolidation, an active outreach program of compliance seminars was initiated to foster better understanding of EEO and affirmative action obligations among federal contractors. In addition, in 1983, OFCCP Director Ellen Shong instituted the EVE (Exemplary Voluntary Efforts) Awards to officially recognize outstanding efforts by federal contractors who went well beyond the letter of the law in their affirmative action efforts. EVE Award presentation ceremonies in the Great Hall of the Labor Department's Washington, D.C. headquarters became an annual event, and were expanded to include the Opportunity Award for superior programs as well as EPIC (Exemplary Public Interest Contributions) awards for nonprofit, community-based organizations for excellence in advancing equal opportunity.

The year 1997 saw another significant milestone, as OFCCP published revised regulations for the first time in 20 years, aiming to improve customer relations and cut red tape. Currently, OFCCP is in the process of updating regulations governing the affirmative action obligations of federal construction contractors, and expanding employment opportunities for protected veterans and people with disabilities.

Major Cases - Sex Discrimination

While it encourages voluntary compliance, OFCCP has not hesitated to use its enforcement authority when necessary to protect workers' rights. Each year, compliance officers conduct thousands of reviews of the employment practices of federal contractors and subcontractors. In addition, workers' complaints are investigated, either by OFCCP or by the EEOC under a Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies. In partnership with the Office of the Solicitor of Labor (SOL), OFCCP brings cases before administrative law judges and federal courts to pursue the resolution of cases that result in formal complaints.

Major enforcement cases have been instrumental in actualizing the message articulated by President Johnson in 1965: "We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result."

The single largest financial recovery under Executive Order 11246 was obtained in 1989 against the Harris Trust and Savings Bank in Chicago, Illinois. This settlement brought to conclusion an 11-year race and sex discrimination case under EO 11246, with the bank agreeing to pay $14 million to women and minority group members who were employed between May 1973 and December 1988. Since that time, the most significant monetary settlement achieved by OFCCP was $6.5 million against Honeywell Inc. to resolve a sex discrimination case under EO 11246.

Pay equity-compensating male and female workers on an equal basis for equal work-is another principle that federal contractors are obliged to put into action. Failure to do so can and does result in enforcement action by OFCCP, in what the news media often characterize as "glass ceiling cases." One such major case involved the Texaco Corporation in 1999, in which OFCCP investigators found that Texaco underpaid 186 female workers. OFCCP recovered a total of $3.1 million in back pay and salary increases on their behalf,. That same year, OFCCP obtained monetary settlements in another significant case: in November, 1999, a settlement for $4.5 million was reached with the Boeing Company in a sex and pay discrimination case. Boeing also agreed to redesign its tracking process for hiring and promotions.

As the new millennium dawned, pay discrimination on the basis of sex and race by Coca Cola was the core issue of another major case concluded by OFCCP in 2000. The $4.1 million settlement benefited over 900 current and former female employees at the company's Atlanta, Georgia, headquarters, many of whom held professional positions. Four years later in 2004, a case combining the issues of pay and sex discrimination led to a $5.5 million settlement with Charlotte, North Carolina-based Wachovia Corporation. In that case, OFCCP alleged that more than 2,000 female workers had been underpaid.

*Other landmark cases addressing discrimination on other bases under EO 11246, VEVRAA and Section 503 will be posted to this webpage soon.

Looking Over the Horizon

While organizational changes and major cases provide important indications of where OFCCP has set its priorities in the past , today's leaders of the Department of Labor and OFCCP have articulated a new agenda that seeks a sharper focus on protecting workers and involving community-based organizations. This shift in emphasis is designed to balance, rather than replace, OFCCP's commitment to achieving voluntary compliance through assistance offered to federal contractors and federally assisted contractors and subcontractors.

"In order to restore our economy, we must create jobs and make sure that workers benefit from the protections to which they are entitled," former Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis told members of the House Committee on Labor and Education earlier this year. "We have made significant progress in restoring worker protection programs to their FY 2001 staffing levels."

"We have seen significant results from our hiring efforts," former Secretary Solis said. "Our work helped return money to workers who rightfully earned it. OFCCP entered into more than 96 Conciliation Agreements on behalf of more than 21,000 affected workers in calendar year 2009. Their work resulted in back pay awards of more than $9 million and more than 2,000 potential job offers to provide relief for affected American workers who were discriminated against under laws enforced by OFCCP."

More recently, OFCCP Director Patricia A. Shiu spoke with leaders of community-based organizations in the Chicago area to enlist their support and involvement in helping the agency fulfill its mission. Director Shiu reminded the community leaders:

"In the four-and-one-half decades since President Lyndon Johnson signed his name to an Executive Order creating our office, we have held those who do business with the federal government-contractors and subcontractors-to the very reasonable standard that they cannot discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran.

"Taxpayer dollars must never be used to discriminate by those who earn lucrative contracts to provide goods and services to our government. Being a Federal contractor isn't a right. It's a privilege. And with that privilege there comes a responsibility to abide by the law and take affirmative action to make equal employment opportunity a reality for everyone."