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Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)



Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs – U.S. Department Of Labor

Broadcast location: Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort – Waikoloa, Hawaii
Air date: Thursday, August 30, 2012 – 8:00 AM–9:30 AM [PDT]

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Aloha and good morning!

Though I cannot join you in person today, I want to express my sincere appreciation to the leadership of the National Industry Liaison Group – particularly your Chair Valerie Vickers, conference co–chairs Geoff Johnson and Darold Sawyer, and all who helped organize this gathering – for inviting my staff and me to join you virtually at this year’s conference.

Believe me, telling my staff that we weren’t going to Hawaii this year didn’t earn me any “Boss of the Year” awards.

Obviously, we all wanted very much to be with you and have substantive conversations about things like regression analyses, standard deviation thresholds, CSALs, theories of disparate impact, and, of course, our always popular rulemaking process.

Frankly, we figured those conversations with you would go over a lot better in Waikoloa… on the beach… with Mai Tais in all our hands!

But on a serious note, I want you to know that our physical absence at this year’s conference is not an indication of any diminishment in our respect and esteem for all of you.

The relationship between the OFCCP and the ILGs is steeped in a rich history. It’s a relationship I inherited from my predecessors in both Republican and Democratic administrations. And it’s a relationship I value.

This year, we mark our 30th anniversary. And in those 30 years, we have built credibility and trust with one another by speaking honestly and candidly and by showing respect, even when we disagree.

In that spirit, I want to explain that we were not able to join you this year because, at a time when millions of Americans are out of work, when our leaders are making very difficult cuts to important government programs and when public scrutiny is rightfully focused on how taxpayer dollars are being spent, I could not justify sending my entire senior leadership team to this conference as we have done in the past.

It’s not simply a matter of expense or even the public perception of federal employees traveling to a resort in Hawaii.

It’s about priorities.

As I’ve shared with you in previous years, I have made outreach to our stakeholders a key priority of my tenure at OFCCP. We believe that in order to do our jobs effectively, we need to educate workers about their rights, engage community advocates in our programs and assist employers to try and head off potential problems before a compliance review begins or a notice of violation is issued.

Our partnership with the ILGs is a key component of that stakeholder outreach. It has not gone unnoticed that this organization – the leadership and members – have been thoughtful partners in our efforts over the past three years. Even when you’ve taken issue with aspects of our proposed regulations and enforcement protocols, you’ve done so in a manner that was constructive and reflected an appreciation for our shared values of building safe, fair, diverse and discrimination–free workplaces.

That is why we have made engagement with the ILGs a priority – both nationally and at the local and regional levels.

In the past five months alone, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with ILG members in Southeastern Michigan, Washington State, Los Angeles and the Tri–Chapter representing northern California, Sacramento and Silicon Valley.

I was pleased to address the Southwest and Rocky Mountain ILG conference in San Antonio, Texas, and to send two of my national office division directors to participate in the Southeast ILG gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina.

And back in April, the senior leadership teams from OFCCP and the Office of Disability Employment Policy met with your Board of Directors, as has become our annual tradition.

I know that my five Regional Directors and their staff have also prioritized these opportunities for engagement with ILGs across the country.

It’s because we value this relationship. We benefit from it. We don’t just meet for the sake of meeting. You come to the table with substantive ideas and concerns, and we know that we will have a productive dialogue with you.

I’ve found that the conversations I have had with ILG members around the country to be useful in helping me better understand the practical implications of everything we do at OFCCP.

We will continue to prioritize this relationship at every level, including here at the National ILG conference.

I am pleased that 12 of my colleagues from OFCCP and the Office of the Solicitor are participating in five trainings and workshops at this year’s conference. Those sessions have already covered topics such as compliance in the construction industry, the status of our policy–making and progress on our efforts to improve enforcement in cases of pay discrimination. Later this morning, you will have the opportunity to hear about operational and enforcement issues, including updates on scheduling, litigation and testing.

And we are able to do all of this at minimum cost to both the NILG and to the American taxpayers because of the willingness of both our organizations to work together to find mutually agreeable and practical solutions.

That’s what defines our partnership – a partnership that I believe is unique in the annals of the federal government.

For 30 years, the NILG has extended that hand of partnership, and we at OFCCP have been proud to reach right back. And while partners do not always see eye–to–eye, what makes this relationship special is the quality and consistency of our communication.

I believe that the role of the OFCCP is two–fold: to open doors of opportunity for workers and to help businesses comply with the law.

While we are, first and foremost, a worker protection agency, we take great pride in both aspects of our work. After all, the last two letters in OFCCP stand for “Compliance Programs.”

Every year, we spend thousands of hours supporting the efforts of contractors and subcontractors who want to do right by their workers and just need help understanding the rules and regulations they must follow to achieve compliance.

As I hope you know, at OFCCP, voluntary compliance is always our goal. I’m very proud of the fact that, of the approximately 4,000 establishments we audit each year, we manage to achieve voluntary compliance about 99.8% of the time.

I think that’s a pretty good record for both a worker protection agency, like mine, and for the universe of federal contractors we regulate.

But this is about more than statistical bragging rights. You see, we want contractors to succeed because that success is essential to the function of our government.

We estimate that there are nearly 200,000 business establishments that receive federal funds for contracted work. Those businesses build our bridges and manage our IT infrastructure. They create our defense systems and support our research initiatives. They renovate our office spaces, give us expert management advice, supply the food in our cafeterias and refill the toner in our photocopiers.

And while they are providing all these supplies, services and construction to keep our government running efficiently, these businesses – your businesses – are also creating millions of jobs – including many good jobs, jobs that stay here in the United States.

Given this breadth of size and scope, what happens in the contracting workforce has a ripple effect across the entire economy.

So, I want you to know that it matters a great deal to us that you succeed. Your success lifts up our economy by creating opportunities for the many, not just the few.

And our job, at OFCCP, is to see to it that the doors of opportunity are open – and remain open – for all workers, even if we have to pry those doors open from time to time.

And speaking of success, we also know that we are far more effective when we are able to work with you to prevent violations of the law from happening in the first place.

Those violations include both discrimination and the failure to meet affirmative action obligations. In recent years, we have seen a sharp increase in the latter, especially when it comes to employment of qualified workers with disabilities and protected veterans.

For example, last year, we found 645 establishments that failed to meet their affirmative action obligations with respect to the employment of people with disabilities. That was a full 16% of the total reviews we did that year. It was also a significant increase from previous years where such violations accounted for only 4–9% of our total reviews.

Now, it’s not that companies are violating the law more today than they were four years ago. It’s that my compliance officers are doing their jobs and really looking at every aspect of compliance.

We are also continuing to find instances of discrimination, including pay discrimination.

Under the Obama administration, OFCCP compliance officers have reviewed more than 15,000 companies that do business with the U.S. Government. Collectively, they employ almost seven–and–a–half million workers. During that period, we’ve recovered $38 million in back wages and more than 8,000 potential job offers for nearly 80,000 workers who were denied a fair shot to find, compete for, secure and succeed in good jobs.

But I would suggest to you that we focus not only on OFCCP’s enforcement actions and proposed regulatory changes, but also on how we are going to define success.

Like I said, I believe our economic recovery is directly tied to your success as producers, manufacturers, service–providers and job creators.

I hope you will also agree that a true recovery has to benefit all workers.

So, the question I pose to you is the same one I ask of my staff: What does success look like?

What kind of recruitment and outreach will it take for you to get the robust, talented, qualified and diverse applicant pool that will help your business succeed?

What policies and practices will ensure that workers are hired, placed, trained, paid and promoted fairly and in a way that reflects the core values of our country?

And what can we do at OFCCP – and across the Obama administration – to ensure that everyone plays by the same rules, that no one gets an unfair advantage by breaking the law and that we minimize the real burdens on businesses – all the while achieving our shared goal of building a workforce that reflects the diversity of the American people who pay for your federal contracts?

The theme of this week’s conference is Ho’okele.

That means “navigate” in Hawaiian – and it’s an especially apt descriptor for how we move forward together. We have to be way–finders as we navigate new waters in a rapidly changing economic environment.

The workforce is changing. And both our organizations must adjust to new realities.

That’s why we have to update regulations that have sat on the shelf for nearly 40 years and, in some cases, aren’t working as they were intended.

That’s why we have to modernize the way we collect and disseminate data about the workforce and about our enforcement activities.

That’s why we have to change the way we conduct compliance reviews, to enforce the entirety of the law and not just one narrow aspect.

In the past three years, I’ve learned that the overwhelming majority of contractors do want to succeed in building diverse workforces.

I’ve learned that, with the right leadership, resources, training and support, my staff does an excellent job of protecting workers, promoting diversity and enforcing the law.

And, I’ve learned that employment discrimination is still far too common in our country, that we still need affirmative action to make sure that vulnerable workers have the opportunity to find, secure and succeed in meaningful jobs.

We need more than good faith; we need more than best practices; we need to strive for more than just an ‘E’ for effort.

We need to define success.

As I travel the country and meet with employers and workers, I see this happening.

It’s happening at companies like Walgreen’s, which set, and has already exceeded a disability hiring goal of 10% in their workforce.

It’s happening at Lowe’s where I met Mike Kinger, the General Manager of a Lowe’s distribution center in Pittston, Pennsylvania. In 2009, he piloted a disability outreach, training and recruitment program at his facility. It was so successful, that the company expanded it to all 14 of its regional distribution centers. Cumulatively, Lowe’s is now employing over 375 qualified workers with disabilities who came to them via this program.

And in Fort Worth, Texas, I met a group of defense contractors, labor unions, community college officials and local leaders who have been working collaboratively at the Community Learning Center to provide high quality job training and placement programs for women and minorities who want to work in the aerospace industry. And get this: they genuinely like each other! They work well together, and they recognize that they all benefit from this sort of partnership.

These organizations and companies are defining success and setting a standard for all of us to follow. It’s because they know that diversity is good for business. It’s good for the bottom line. It’s good for shareholders, workers and consumers.

It’s also the law.

In closing, I want to thank you again for letting me speak with you this year.

It is fitting that you meet today in Hawaii. Much like my home state of California, Hawaii is a place that reflects the changing demographics of America.

The state motto of Hawaii, when translated, means “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the life of our country, the strength of our economy and the well–being of our people are also perpetuated by upholding the values of justice and righteousness.

That’s why I joined President Obama and Secretary Solis in doing this work. That’s why the partnership between us matters. And that’s why we must succeed.

Failure is not an option.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of the conference!