Feds revise affirmative action rules for contractors

klunney@govexec.com

The Labor Department is trying to make it easier for federal contractors to comply with affirmative action rules in response to criticism that its regulations are too rigid and bureaucratic.

The proposed revisions primarily seek to reduce paperwork and improve the compliance evaluation process.

Under current regulations, federal contractors with 50 or more employees who get $50,000 or more in federal contracts must use an eight-part analysis to calculate the number of women and minorities available in the labor market for their job openings. If the percentage of women or minorities a company hires is less than the percentage available, then the company must figure out why and try to hire more women and minorities.

Contractors-and even the Labor Department regulators themselves-have criticized the current regulations as costly, time-consuming and confusing.

As part of the Clinton administration's reinventing government initiative, the Labor Department appointed a team in 1994 to revamp the affirmative action program. The team recommended eliminating excessive paperwork, giving contractors more flexibility and making written requirements easier to understand.

Proposed revisions from Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) include:

  • Replacing the eight-element analysis with just two factors: external and internal job availability of women and minorities.
  • Implementing "glass ceiling" or pay discrimination reviews at several of a firm's locations. These reviews are currently conducted only at headquarters.
  • Ensuring confidentiality with respect to wage information.
  • Reaffirming the department's current policy of not requiring hiring quotas.
  • Creating an electronic equal opportunity survey that would help regulators monitor compliance and evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts. Employers would provide information on compensation and tenure of full-time employees and a general outline on the organization's current affirmative action plan. About 53,000 contractors will reportedly be required to submit the survey later this year.

OFCCP hopes the changes will reduce the burden on contractors and provide the office with the accurate information it needs to eliminate pay discrimination.

"The proposed revision emphasizes the philosophy [OFCCP] intends to convey throughout the regulation, that affirmative action is not to be a mere paperwork exercise but rather a dynamic part of the contractor's management approach," the department said in its proposal.

The proposals appeared in the May 4 Federal Register. People can send comments on the proposed rules to the Labor Department until July 3.

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