Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., championed the letter.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., championed the letter. Bill Kostroun/AP

Obama declines to issue executive order on contractor bias

Gay rights groups had hoped for quick action to advance legislation.

The White House has confirmed reports that President Obama does not intend to issue an executive order cracking down on federal contractors that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Some lawmakers and advocates in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have been seeking such an order.

“The president is dedicated to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans and that is why he has long supported an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employers across the country from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye said Wednesday. “The president is committed to lasting and comprehensive change, and therefore our goal is passage of ENDA, which is a legislative solution to LGBT employment discrimination -- just as the president pressed for legislative repeal” of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The White House took the unusual step of addressing a hypothetical executive order after it received a letter signed by 72 Democratic Members of Congress requesting it. The lawmakers argued such an order would boost prospects for the long-pending legislation, which would cover a wider variety of private sector employers.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., who championed the letter, said at a March 29 briefing, “it is unconscionable that in 2012 LGBT workers have to worry about facing discrimination in their workplace and have no legal remedies. No one in this country should be subjected to discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and the time for action is long past due.”

The lawmakers noted that the government’s top five contractors -- Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics -- already have adopted the policy, along with the majority of the top 25 contractors, they said.

The lawmakers said at a worksite of the military contractor DynCorp, “one employee was bullied at work and called hateful and derogatory anti-gay slurs on a daily basis.” After more than 50,000 people signed a petition started by a gay rights group called Freedom to Work, the company “agreed to add LGBT protections to its nondiscrimination policies,” the letter said.

Many gay rights groups expressed disappointment with the White House decision not to act now. The Human Rights Campaign, which had called for such an order right after the 2008 election, issued a statement by its president, Joe Solmonese, after he met with Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

“We are extremely disappointed with this decision and will continue to advocate for an executive order from the president,” Solmonese said. “The unfortunate truth is that hard-working Americans can be fired simply for being gay or transgender. Given the number of employees that would be covered by this executive order, it represents a critical step forward.”

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council, a contractors group, said in an email to Government Executive, “we support public and private sector employers taking action to ensure that all discrimination in the workplace is eliminated. As the congressional members’ acknowledged, many government contractors are already among the leaders in developing anti-discrimination policies and practices. PSC welcomes a discussion with the Hill and the executive branch in advance of any action being taken so that any unintended consequences can be addressed, but we have not been provided that opportunity yet.”

Stephanie Craig, senior vice president for communications for TechAmerica, said, “our members are equal opportunity employers and do not discriminate in their employment practices whether they are in the government or commercial sectors.”

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