These Three Federal Civil Rights Offices Are in Trouble

By Kenrya Rankin May 30, 2017

In the first few months of Donald Trump’s presidency, his administration promised to reduce federal prosecution and monitoring of law enforcement officers who violate the civil rights of the people in their communities and cut funding to programs that specifically benefit people of color living in America. The Trump Administration continues that trend with its proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, which cuts personnel and budget for three offices that enforce federal civil rights statues.

“They can call it a course correction, but there’s little question that it’s a rollback of civil rights across the board,” Vanita Gupta, who ran the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division under former president Barack Obama, told The Washington Post.

When asked for comment, White House spokesperson Kelly Love told The Washington Post that, “the Trump Administration has an unwavering commitment to the civil rights of all Americans.”

Here’s how three civil-rights focused offices will fare if Congress passes the budget as proposed.

Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
Budget Decrease (2017 to 2018): From $105 million to $88 million
Full-Time Staff Decrease (2017 to 2018): From 571 to 440

Per the budget, “the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) enforces, for the benefit of job seekers and wage earners, the contractual promise of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity required of those who do business with the federal government.”

The proposed 2018 budget wants to fold OFCCP into the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to “reduce operational redundancies, promote efficiencies, improve services to citizens and strengthen civil rights enforcement.”

But, as The Washington Post notes, OFCCP and EEOC actually perform very different roles, with EEOC investigating complaints and OFCCP auditing contractors to be sure they are in compliance with equality guidelines. The disparate nature of the work—combined with a drop in personnel to complete it—could lead to a dramatic decrease in audits.

Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights
Budget Decrease (2017 to 2018): From $53 million to $44 million
Full-Time Staff Decrease (2017 to 2018): From 178 to 162

The Office for Civil Rights “funds activities that carry out the department’s civil rights nondiscrimination, health information privacy and security compliance programs,” per the budget. This nearly 17 percent drop in funding would hamper the office’s ability to investigate civil rights breaches by health programs that are administered by the department as well as those that receive federal funding.

Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights
Budget Decrease (2017 to 2018): From $108.5 million to $106.8 million
Full-Time Staff Decrease (2017 to 2018): From 569 to 523

This office is responsible for “ensuring that no person is unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age in the delivery of services or the provision of benefits in programs or activities of schools and institutions receiving financial assistance from the Department of Education.”

The department’s proposed budget cuts staff by 46, a change significant enough to prompt the administration itself to acknowledge what it will mean for the efficacy of an office that has already seen a steady decrease in the percentage of resolved complaint cases since 2013:

“To address steady increases in the number of complaints received and decreased staffing levels, OCR must make difficult choices, including cutting back on initiating proactive investigations. … OCR will have to limit travel for conducting proactive investigations, providing technical assistance, monitoring corrective action plans and training. … OCR’s enforcement staff will be limited in conducting onsite investigations and monitoring, and OCR’s ability to achieve greater coordination and communication regarding core activities will be greatly diminished.”