Career Lawyers at Dept. of Labor Should Drop Anti-Discrimination Lawfare and Focus on Getting Americans Back to Work

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The Department of Labor undoubtedly has a tough job. With unemployment numbers fluctuating from extremely low in January to record-setting highs in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it needs to focus all its resources on getting Americans back to work. Distractions from this important goal should be minimized or eliminated.

Unemployment numbers have oscillated wildly. In February of this year, the Department of Labor (DOL) reported 3.5% unemployment. During his 2020 State of the Union – delivered on February 4 – President Trump made the case that his administration has “created 5.3 million new jobs and, importantly, added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs,” including an unemployment rate that reached “the lowest rate in over half a century.”

He also happily noted, “African-American, Hispanic-American, and Asian-American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded.” The numbers have shot up from February and the DOL reported the unemployment rate hitting 14.7% two months later in April. These numbers have gone down a bit, but are still over 10% according to the DOL, and some theorize the real unemployment rate may actually be higher.

Right now, the DOL is focused on implementing the president’s new executive order to provide a $300 federal boost to state-provided unemployment benefits. CNN reports, “with negotiations on a new deal stalled, Trump unveiled an executive action that would provide the unemployed $300 a week under a new ‘lost wages assistance’ program, but only if states first agree to put up an additional $100 a week — which the president cited as a total benefit of $400 a week.” The DOL is encouraging states to use the already appropriated $150 billion in relief funds to help unemployed workers. This will be a tough program for the DOL to administer as it is a new way for workers out of a job to receive unemployment benefits.

Liberal lawyers are causing a major distraction within Trump’s Department of Labor. They seem fixated on lawsuits implementing Obama-Biden administration policies that are not even supported by law. The DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) promotes affirmative action, a very important goal, with federal contractors. The problem lies in the Obama administration; they went too far by taking actions not supported by the law. This agency set up an unlawful scheme to find discrimination where it does not exist. “Holdover” liberal lawyers have obstructed the Trump administration from getting back to its original mission.

The OFCCP sued Google and Oracle in a way not allowed under existing law. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce put out a report which found the “OFCCP’s power to debar or disqualify contractors from future federal contract opportunities dramatically underscores the relationship the Agency has with the regulated community.” They also pointed out that companies facing the threat of not getting any more government contracts hesitate before challenging the frequently unreasonable requests coming from the OFCCP. Companies have been the subject of overreaching investigations and allegations of discrimination, according to the Chamber. Such investigations are not authorized under federal law. Any litigation they want to pursue should be under the domain of the Department of Justice and not liberal career lawyers at the Department of Labor.

The Chamber recommended for the Trump administration to get the OFCCP back to its core mission of “fostering true affirmative action by federal contractors and subcontractors” and “abandon its transformation to an opaque, plaintiff-style enforcement agency, purposefully hostile to the contracting community and singularly focused on issuing findings of discrimination, often where none exist.” This is becoming a serious distraction for the Department, which needs to have an “all hands on deck” approach to getting Americans back to work.

Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia has the opportunity to right the ship at the Department of Labor in these tough times. Unemployment numbers are coming down, yet still remain at unacceptably high levels. All distractions, including these OFCCP lawsuits, should be eliminated so the United States can get back to the booming economy we enjoyed as recently as this past February. 

Mary Catherine McElhone is a political consultant, former campaign manager, and chair of the Missouri Federation of Young Republicans.

More Than 18% of American Workers Have Now Filed for Unemployment