Congress

Workforce antidiscrimination bill sails through House

Shutterstock image. Copyright Mikhail Kolesnikov.   \

The House of Representatives passed by voice vote a bill that would codify stronger antidiscrimination protections for federal employees.

The Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination Act, introduced in January by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, seeks to bolster anti-discrimination laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and to expand agency accountability in disclosing and enforcing requirements in instances where discrimination and retaliation have occurred.

The bill is cosponsored by Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), James F. Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas). Former House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was also a cosponsor before resigning from Congress.

Specifically, the bill directs the head of an agency's Equal Employment Opportunity program to report directly to the agency head, and directs agencies to publish all findings involving instances of discrimination, harassment or retaliation on their website for a year "in a clear and prominent location."

The bill also prohibits agencies from imposing nondisclosure agreements on federal employees that may prevent them from reporting any illegalities or rules violations to oversight entities.

According to the 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, 62 percent of respondents reported feeling they could "disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal."

To accomplish these measures, the bill would set up a tracking system to monitor and report the status of complaints, and to note any punishment rendered in the offending employee’s personnel file.

The bill would "make long-overdue reforms of federal EEO programs," and "would require that EEO programs operate independently of an agency’s human resources or general counsel office," said Cummings. "While the vast majority of federal workplaces comply with current EEO requirements, some federal agencies still have not met the standards of a model EEO program."

Cummings specifically pointed to recent investigations that revealed EEO program deficiencies at the Social Security Administration, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.

He also said that supervisers can be held accountable, "without curtailing any existing due process rights for federal employees."

Cummings also introduced the bill last Congress, where it unanimously passed the House by a 403-0 roll call vote in July 2015 before stalling in the Senate.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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