The Price of a Federal Contract
Secretary Hilda Solis on November 22, 2011
“Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.”
Those are President Obama’s words, but they could easily have been said by me – or anybody who recognizes the importance of transparency to good government.
Transparency means clarity, accountability and open communication, and it is an essential piece of democratic governance, which is why I’m so pleased by a Nov. 14 court ruling ordering a federal contractor to make its compensation data available to the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.
As part of a regular compliance review, OFCCP requested basic pay data from United Space Alliance, a spaceflight operations company with $8 billion in NASA contracts. While the company provided some information at the beginning of the investigation, it refused to provide additional records OFCCP needed to complete the review.
When businesses sign contracts with the federal government, they agree to follow certain rules. For example, they agree to pay their employees equally, regardless of their sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran.
Taxpayers should have confidence that their dollars are never being used to discriminate. That may sound obvious, but discrimination happens, and when it does, OFCCP uses every tool it has to correct the problem and ensure that victims are compensated. As OFCCP Director Pat Shiu has said, “Workplace discrimination is not universal, but it is far too common – and we can’t close the pay gap unless we get access to the information we need to conduct full and fair investigations.”
So how do we know which companies are playing by the rules and which are not? We conduct reviews of company records – records employers agree to keep and share with us when they sign their contracts. Instead of supplying this information, United Space contested OFCCP’s request for its pay data. And when the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges told them to turn over the information or risk losing their contracts altogether, United Space appealed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
In his decision, Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled in favor of OFCCP on all issues, rejected all of United Space’s major arguments, and ordered the contractor to provide the requested information by Nov. 28. Lamberth’s ruling explains the decision clearly: “Submission to such lawful investigations is the price of working as a federal contractor.”
In other words, the price of a federal contract is transparency.