On September 19, 2018, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued a new directive, 2018-09, announcing a plan to implement an Ombud Service in the national office to resolve certain types of concerns contractors face.
The directive marks another move toward increased agency transparency and consistency. It arises from a 2016 Government Accounting Office report, which indicated “[s]takeholders and contractors fear that asking OFCCP for assistance would call attention to them and possibly make them a target for future OFCCP enforcement actions, such as compliance evaluations.” Though OFCCP asserts that it has assured the contractor community that there are no ramifications for contacting OFCCP to ask questions, the need for a neutral ombudsperson was further expressed during compliance assistance town hall meetings conducted in 2017, and in stakeholder meetings in January 2018.
While the specifics of OFCCP’s Ombud Service have not yet been worked out, the directive institutes the Ombud role as a final, independent mechanism for contractors to resolve ongoing concerns about open matters after having exhausted district and regional office channels. The Ombud is also tasked with receiving stakeholders’ general feedback and making recommendations to improve the agency's administration.
The Ombud will report directly to the national office’s deputy director, and will create the Ombud Service to listen to stakeholders’ concerns and suggestions and to promote and facilitate resolution of OFCCP matters at the district and regional levels. Routine compliance and technical assistance issues will not be handled by the Ombud but, instead, referred to the OFCCP Help Desk. The Ombud will not advocate for either side of an issue or give legal advice. Instead, the Ombud Service will act as a liaison to district and regional offices to resolve issues.
Although the Ombud Service appears to be unable to resolve issues directly, contractors should find it helpful to have a neutral party at OFCCP to handle disputes that escalate beyond the regional level. Until the Ombud Service is established, we recommend that contractors continue to address compliance evaluation issues through district and regional channels, and to involve the national office when necessary and appropriate.