OFCCP, we're looking at you.
I've been around, you know?
That quote was delivered by Al Pacino in the 1992 film, “Scent of a Woman” as he addresses the administration of a powerful school that had failed his impressionable, young friend. I thought it fitting as Mr. Pacino's name headlined a marquee adjacent to the ILG National Conference in New York City this past week. It got me thinking...
Before I continue on what will no doubt be a rant, I direct none of this to the hard-working, well-intentioned, and in-a-no-win-situation conference planning committee or contractor community. You do more with less and battle tirelessly to fight for opportunity and change. This particular rant is directed squarely at OFCCP.
I have spent my entire adult life as a consultant to federal contractors working with affirmative action planning and compliance. I have been part of the ILG community for just as long having attended my very first national conference in 1993. I have spoken at a ridiculous number of local, regional and national meetings and conferences. I have served as program chair for the national conference and also organized and volunteered locally and regionally. I have been a vice president and president of my local ILG and remain a board member. My affirmative action consulting company, OutSolve, has sponsored, participated, and sent numerous attendees to all manner of ILG events.
I have indeed been around...and the evolution I have seen makes me ask some real questions. I hope these questions provoke discussion and movement. Here we go...
Where is the "liaison" in the Industry Liaison Group?
The ILGs were created to allow a conduit between the contractor community and OFCCP. The group was a liaison between contractors and OFCCP. There was a time not many years ago where OFCCP staff at all levels attended the conference. That's right - not only did the higher-ups from DC attend, their regional and even district staff were in attendance. You could sit in a session right next to a compliance officer who was doing his/her best to learn and listen just like you!
Times changed and undoubtedly due to budgetary constraints, fewer rank and file compliance officers attended; but the district directors wandered the more intimate crowds. You could always count on a spirited regional directors' panel. Contractors would spar with the RDs on various issues, and the tone of the comments usually gave reasonable insight into the direction of the agency. We put faces with names, we had drinks in the evenings, and there was a more human side to the agency. Agency staff benefited by getting to know their constituency and understand their struggles.
After all, aren't we trying to achieve the same goals?
Theoretically, yes. We are all invested in finding and retaining diverse talent and ensuring equal opportunity. The contractors that spend large sums to sponsor and attend ILG conferences are committed by their very attendance and contribution. If you walked the halls in New York you saw these same contractors crying out for information and disappointed that they didn't get more. OFCCP, for its part, chose an exceptionally small role in the conference effectively limited to pre-scripted presentations that focused on the past; and, more importantly and subversively, as censor to the other speakers.
When I served as program chair in 2011, it was abundantly clear - don't allow anyone to say anything negative about OFCCP. All presentations were reviewed and all speakers warned. The logic was that OFCCP was a critical partner in the conference, and their participation and message should not be disparaged. The conference was a platform for comment on the regulatory agenda, and contractors would hear this first-hand and be able to ask questions, give feedback, and ultimately be better compliance professionals.
In an odd story at this 2011 conference, the RD question and answer panel was abruptly canceled last minute and replaced with the same RDs speaking generically and vaguely about their regions - no questions could be asked and no explanation was given. I actually heard boos from the crowd and post-conference surveys confirmed the sentiment in that session. Contractors sensed this shift.
Now fast forward to New York – at the final Friday presentation a comment was made about OFCCP staff not addressing concerns related to compliance evaluation follow up directly at the conference. A cheer rang loudly and clearly from the crowd. Contractors are now reacting to this shift.
If you attended this year, did you get insight from OFCCP?
OFCCP offered nothing except the continued oversight on the agenda to ensure no one could say what was looming on the minds of many. Yes, it was largely the same attorney and consultant speakers saying the same things. It's not their fault!
Having spoken many times, I know that there is no way I can deliver the whole message. No matter how much "inside" information or insight we may have, contractors need to hear it straight and reasonably unfiltered from the agency. We are playing a game where the rules change frequently and are interpreted differently depending on where the game is played. The players (contractors) aren't allowed to have a complete rule book and the referees (OFCCP) are happy to penalize whenever and wherever possible. Take questions - give direct answers - offer a counterpoint - let us hear your challenges and you hear ours!
Why does the contractor community allow this to continue?
As the agency has clearly morphed from monitoring compliance to enforcing regulations, so must the ILG. Contractors deserve better. Contractors unite - it is time for a change!
OFCCP has clearly and deliberately thumbed its nose at the ILG. It's time for the ILG to reorganize and focus on allowing real discussion regardless of the agency's censorship. The agency should always be allowed a seat at the table and an open invitation - their perspective and input is valuable and wanted, but it is not more valuable and wanted more than real information delivered without the derisive eye of Big Brother. They need to be part of the solution and help contractors manage their requirements.
OFCCP - we want you, we need you - can you help?