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Labor Department Seeks Advice on Increasing Equity in Contracting, Other Programs

The effort furthers an early executive order from President Biden. 

The Labor Department is seeking public input on advancing equity through its contracting and other programs.

On Tuesday, the department announced a new online dialogue platform that is part of its efforts to act on President Biden’s executive order, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” that was issued on his first day in office. The focus areas on the platform are: unemployment insurance programs; equitable federal contractor workplaces; federal contracting/procurement; enforcement activities; and outreach and education. 

The Labor Department “is hosting this dialogue to help inform its efforts to foster greater employment and economic opportunities for people from historically underserved communities,” said a press release. “The feedback and ideas gathered will help inform potential policies and programs to advance worker equity, including women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities and other underrepresented communities.” 

Individuals can view and submit ideas on the website as well as give submissions up or down votes. Each of the focus areas has questions and prompts for discussion and suggestions. 

For example, in federal contracting and procurement it asks: “What are the best ways to reach businesses owned by underrepresented individuals, and what information and/or resources can [Labor] provide to support underserved communities? How could existing contracting assistance programs support equity?” 

For equitable contractor workplaces the site asks: “What strategies can [Labor] use to ensure employees from underserved communities can have equal opportunity to jobs, including jobs created as a result of the government's infrastructure investments? How can [the department] better identify potential discrimination at contractor workplaces, including construction sites?” 

Responses are due by October 1. 

A recent report from Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights identified workforce engagement and procurement as two of the “spheres of influence” for the government to achieve equity. 

“Inequities in government services, programs, contracting and the workforce are often rooted in systemic issues—the result of decades of regulations, programs, policies and practices which failed to account for the unique barriers faced by systemically marginalized communities,” said the report. “The truly ambitious goals put forth by the [Biden] administration, if achieved, will have a lasting and permanent impact on the U.S. government and the nation overall.” 

In a related matter, on August 31, the Office of Management and Budget approved an Affirmative Action Program Verification Interface for covered federal contractors to upload their affirmative action plans for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to review. 

“The [interface] has its origins in a 2018 OFCCP directive requiring implementation of a verification process to ensure all federal contractors are meeting basic compliance requirements,” wrote Meredith Shoop, co-chair of the law firm Littler’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program practice group, in a post earlier this month. This was “a response to a study by the Government Accountability Office critical of [the compliance office’s] emphasis on enforcement at the expense of broader compliance efforts.” 

One implemented, “federal contractors will be required to upload copies of affirmative action plans only for establishments identified by [the office] for audit,” Shoop wrote. “On an annual basis, however, contractors will be required to certify that they have developed compliant affirmative action plans, not to upload their entire set of plans.” 

In response to Government Executive’s questions on which contracts would be affected and when this will take effect, the department said “additional information and guidance is forthcoming.” The landing page for the interface on the Labor Department’s website says, “coming soon.” However, there are already user and administrator guides online.