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DOL to Abolish Employment Standards Administration

Like most federal agencies, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is a large bureaucracy, housing many levels of subagencies and layers of employees with a host of titles that are unintelligible to outsiders. The DOL has recently decided to do a little streamlining by abolishing the umbrella agency that oversees four of its major units.

In a memo dated July 8, the acting assistant secretary for the Employment Standards Administration (ESA) announced to employees that the ESA would be abolished on November 8. The ESA is headed by an assistant secretary, who is nominated by the President and who must receive Senate confirmation. Four component organizations serve under the assistant secretary:

  1. the Wage and Hour Division (WHD), which enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Service Contract Act, and the Davis-Bacon Act, among other laws;
  2. the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), which enforces the nondiscrimination and affirmative action requirements applicable to government contractors under Executive Order 11246, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act;
  3. the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), which enforces the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act; and
  4. the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), which administers the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act, the Black Lung Benefits Act, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, and the Federal Employees Compensation Act.

The ESA was created in 1971 as the successor to another umbrella organization that housed a somewhat different mix of subagencies. The agency was always a bit of an anomaly, particularly since the WHD administrator is also a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate. Thus, the assistant secretary for the ESA supervises an appointee of equal rank and serves as a layer of authority between the WHD administrator and the secretary of labor. The directors of the OFCCP, the OLMS, and the OWCP are appointed by the secretary of labor.

The recently announced reorganization will eliminate the layer of authority between the WHD administrator and the labor secretary as well as between the other three components of the ESA and the secretary. The heads of each division will report directly to the secretary of labor and will therefore enjoy enhanced independence and prestige.

In his memo to ESA employees, the acting assistant secretary stated, “The resulting streamlined organizational structure will significantly improve policy decision-making with respect to the four individual programs, enhancing the Department’s responsiveness in enforcing key worker protection laws. The reorganization will also yield increased efficiency and cost savings over the long term.” In the short term, ESA employees will be absorbed into other DOL components.

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