Bloomberg Law
Nov. 21, 2019, 1:02 PM

Civil Rights Commission Critical of Agency Efforts Under Trump

Paige Smith
Paige Smith

Thirteen civil rights agencies across the federal government aren’t consistently performing or effectively executing their missions to the best of their abilities, according to a Nov. 21 report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

A confluence of factors, from insufficient resources to inefficient complaint processes, hold civil rights agencies back from operating at a maximum capacity, the commission said.

“In evaluating data across 13 agencies, the Commission found agencies generally lack adequate resources to investigate and resolve discrimination allegations within their jurisdiction, leaving allegations of civil rights violations unredressed,” the report said.

The USCCR is an independent, bipartisan commission made up of eight members, four of whom are presidentially appointed and four of whom are appointed by Congress. Four of the current members are Democrats, three are independents, and one is a Republican.

President Donald Trump and members of Congress will receive a copy of the report, which looked at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, as well as civil rights agencies within the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services, among others. The USCCR last reviewed the activity of federal civil rights agencies in 2002.

“I view this Commission report as crucially important toward that end: it collects data and evidence about what we are not doing to live up to our national commitments, and about how much hurt follows from that failure,” USCCR Chair Catherine Lhamon (D) said in her statement on the report.

The report wasn’t without conflicting views—one of the commissioners, Republican Peter Kirsanow, disagreed with the critical take on civil rights agencies under the Trump administration.

“Let me save you the trouble of reading this 400+ page report. It can [be] reduced to two words: Trump Bad,” Kirsanow wrote in his dissenting statement.

DOL, EEOC Recommendations

The USCCR recommends a number of steps civil rights agencies can take to improve their ability to combat civil rights violations, including options for the EEOC and the OFCCP.

The report specifically points out OFCCP’s low staff numbers and cautions against prioritizing one civil rights protection over another.

“DOL OFCCP only has staff capacity to audit, per year, one to two percent of contractors over whom the office has jurisdiction,” said the report.

In August, the OFCCP proposed a rule that would solidify exemptions that religious contractors can already use to defend claims of workplace discrimination, if the employment decision was motivated by a religious belief. Worker advocates said this could threaten lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, by using religion as justification to fire employees, while some religious entities welcomed the clarification.

Kirsanow in his dissent particularly defended the OFCCP’s proposed religious exemption rule, pointing out that the proposal is based on legal precedent, and that the business must prove its strongly held religious beliefs.

“In short, my colleagues need not fear that Lockheed or Booz Allen Hamilton are suddenly going to seek and receive religious exemptions,” he wrote.

The civil rights commission also said the EEOC should continue to collect pay data, something the USCCR called an “important and necessary effort to evaluate the possibility of pay discrimination.” Future pay data collections are currently in limbo, though the EEOC continues to collect the information for the first time under a court mandate to do so.

The agency also shouldn’t do away with using disparate impact as an analytical tool, according to the report.

“As the Commission first recommended in the 1960s, disparate impact analysis helps root out discrimination and equalize opportunity for all Americans,” the report said.

The report wasn’t entirely critical. The commission’s research also found that “most of the civil rights office in each of the agencies have sufficient legal authority, fairly clear responsibility, and a range of civil rights enforcement tools.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Paige Smith in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Karl Hardy at; Terence Hyland at