Within the US Department
of Labor, Patricia A. Shiu directs the Office of Federal Contract Compliance
Programs (OFCCP). Her team makes sure that contractors who do business
with the federal government adhere to affirmative action and equal employment
opportunities for both job seekers and wage earners.
Recently, OFCCP proposed new rules that will compel contractors and
subcontractors to set a hiring goal of 7 percent for workers with disabilities.
Shiu discussed the changes on the horizon with ABILITYs Pamela
K. Johnson and Stan Hoskins.
Pamela K. Johnson: I see that you worked as an attorney and a litigator.
How would you sum up your background before you joined the OFCCP?
Patricia A. Shiu: My first law job was working as a law clerk for Arlene
Mayerson, who as you know is one of the leading advocates for the disability
community. As a civil-rights litigator advocating for the working poor
and their families, I worked on disability discrimination cases, and
class action casessome against the San Francisco Unified School
At one point there was not even one totally accessible school in all
of San Francisco. I also worked on class-action lawsuits against UC
Davis and UC Berkeley on behalf of hearing impaired and visually impaired
students. I have a commitment to this area of civil rights.
Stan Hoskins: How do you manage a staff of 800?
Shiu: I have an excellent team in the national office, and extremely
talented regional directors and deputy directors throughout the country,
including our compliance officers who are the heart and soul, I think,
of the OFCCP in terms of their commitment to Labor Secretary Hilda Soliss
vision of good jobs for everyone.
Johnson: What direction do you give them regarding protection of workers,
diversity and enforcing the law?
Shiu: Weve hired and trained 200 new compliance officers, and
were engaged in further training both at the intermediate and
advanced stages. There are also interim trainings that we provide people
on regulations and new development.
With respect to disability issues, I dont know if you know this,
but prior to this administration, there had really not been much attention
paid to enforcing section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is one
of the laws that we enforce, because 25 percent of the American workforce
works for federal contractors.
When you think federal contractors, you think big companies. Its
really important that we ensure that we are opening doors for everybody,
including people with disabilities. And of course that means that places
have to be accessible. So were working a lot to try and provide
what I call the three-dimensional equal employment opportunity philosophy
and affirmative action.
I find that every workplace tells a story. It may not be a story of
discrimination, but it may be a story where theres some mismanagement
going on. I want to make sure that my compliance officers are steeped
in the law, and understand how to investigate cases with a real eye
towards accuracy, thoroughness and completeness, so they can serve the
American people and ensure that theres no discrimination going
Johnson: When and why did you hire the 200 compliance workers, and does
that mean that your staff is actually closer to 1,000 now?
Shiu: Its actually around 750. The 200 compliance workers were
hired when President Obama was elected, because of his commitment to
civil rights. Those 200 employees had been essentially laid off over
a number of years, and they were backfilled.
Between the OFCCP, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the
Department of Justice, we are working together as one federal civil
rights government on one civil rights agenda, which hasnt been
done for almost 50 years. We share resources; we cross train; we talk
to each otherand I dont mean at just the top levels; it
goes on at our compliance officer level and investigator levels, as
Hoskins: Why is it necessary to update the federal contractor rules
dealing with recruitment and hiring of people with disabilities?
Shiu: They are sorely out of date, and to be quite honest with you,
they have focused on good-faith efforts for affirmative action and process-oriented
steps that federal contractors could take to increase the number of
people with disabilities. But I think the numbers show that over the
past 40 years, people with disabilities have among the highest of unemployment
rates, and its time for us to get serious about this.
Good-faith efforts havent worked. What gets measured gets done.
This is not something new in terms of the goals that were setting,
which of course are aspirational but enforceableenforceable because
we can enforce the actions that are taken or not taken with respect
to getting to the goal. These are the sort of things that weve
done to measure progress with regards to race and gender for many, many
Were opening the doors for federal contractors who, up to this
point, have really not taken advantage of all of the skills and experience
and expertise that people with disabilities can bring to the workforce.
Hoskins: Are there any indications that some contractors are skirting
the existing rules?
Shiu: Yes. There is some evidence of that. When there is fear, when
there is ignorance, it makes it very difficult. Ive represented
a lot of people with disabilities, and quite frankly, there are some
jobs that not all of us can do, but for the most part, people with disabilities
can do the bulk of the jobs that are available, usually with some reasonable
accommodation, or even without reasonable accommodation. So the days
where people assume that somebody cant climb a pole because they
dont have a limb, well thats the Dark Ages.
There are contractors who are committed to doing this, including the
Organization on Disability, which is a consortium of very big federal
contractors, including Sams Club and others. When the regs came
out, they actually wrote a press release talking about how supportive
they were of the goal. So I think when you have contractors who understand
the objectives, and who have a commitment to changing the culture, then
things can happen.
Hoskins: What type of penalties are in store for contractors who dont
adhere to the rule?
Shiu: There are a number of specific steps that were requiring
of contractors, including data collection, and recruitment efforts,
as well as measuring those efforts, along with retention. And its
all of those tasks, including the measurements, that are going to be
subject to investigations and audits. So if contractors dont undertake
any of these specific, mandatory steps, they can be subject to violations.
Its important to look at the goal as something that you want to
reach. But even if youve reached the goal, that doesnt mean
there isnt more that could be done. And it doesnt mean that
people who do everything and who dont reach the goal arent
successful. But you have got to make the effort to do it. Youve
got to be committed to it. Youve got to measure what youre
doing, figure out where youre falling down, and fix it. Our ultimate
sanction is debarment.
But were here to provide technical assistance to contractors.
They dont have to pay an expensive consultant in order to figure
out what they need to do; we have almost 800 employees who are ready
to help them. They can call us. We dont retaliate against people
who call us and ask us for advice. We really are very receptive to people
who need the guidance, particularly small businesses, small contractors
and new businesses. We dont want them to have to try and understand
the regulation by themselves and navigate through it; were here
to help them succeed.
Johnson: What is the process of a proposed rule being adopted?
Shiu: We actually gave advance notice of the proposed rule because the
regulation was so old, and because I didnt feel like OFCCP had
really engaged enough with its stakeholders. We submitted an Advanced
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, asking a number of questions, and then
we went around the country, literally, and spoke with stakeholders about
their thoughts, their ideas about this regulation, including whats
worked in the past, what hasnt worked and best practices.
Based on the feedback, weve come out with a Notice of Proposed
Rule, and then we gave people a comment period, and now were looking
at all of the comments, taking them all into consideration, before we
put out a Final Rule, which then becomes the law.
Hoskins: When the rule is updated, do you expect to see an increase
in the number of people with disabilities finding employment?
Shiu: From your lips to Gods ears. (laughter) Yes, I do. Thats
the whole point of this.
Johnson: And how will you verify that companies are complying with the
Shiu: We have a three-part process: We schedule approximately 4,000
audits. Its a neutral selection system. We go in and we tell people
that were going to audit them. They have certain duties as a federal
contractor. When they sign on the dotted line to make that widget or
make that ship or provide pharmaceuticals, they agree to not discriminate
and to engage in affirmative action, which means that they have to have
an affirmative action plan.
Youre supposed to keep data, update it, and actually look at it.
It should affect how people get hired and employed and paid. Very often
the affirmative action plans are not used to the best extent that they
could be. But its that sort of information that we unearth and
analyze. We do onsite audits as well. We talk with witnesses, we talk
with corporate people, workers, management, etc., to really try and
unearth, as I said, the story at that particular workplace.
Johnson: Anecdotally speaking, as you went around the country looking
at these various businesses, what challenges did they face in complying
with the rule?
Shiu: One thing I can say is that there are a number of very large contractors
that stood out in terms of taking this to the next level. Michael Reese
Hospital in Chicago has a lot to be proud of. They had people there
who took the time to share with other federal contractors what they
do in their hospital so that people are included. And they had exuberance,
great ideas, and commitment. They are now in the lead in terms of inculcating
the notion that all people, including people with disabilities, can
be productive workers in that particular environment.
I also see a whole range of people who have never worked with someone
with a disability, who have no understanding of what that might mean,
and who exhibit a certain amount of fear and ignorance. On one of my
webinars, I got a call from a person who said that she runs a small
construction company, and she asked, How can somebody with a disability
operate heavy machinery? I said, Well, actually, I worked
on a case involving deaf individuals who worked with forklifts in big
So its shattering some of those myths, those stereotypes, I think.
Thats just a matter of education and exposure. If youve
ever known or worked with a person with a disability, you will see that
theyre just like anybody else.
Hoskins: Are you frustrated by the pace of change in regards to inclusion
of people with disabilities?
Shiu: I am hopeful. Its been a real pleasure and a privilege for
me to work for this administration. I come to the office every day knowing
that were going to make good on this. This is a game changer.
Secretary Solis has said that she thinks this is the biggest change
since the enactment of the ADA, and all I know is that I just want to
play a small part in making sure that this becomes a reality.
Johnson: Senator Harkin has a goal to have six million people with disabilities
employed by 2015. Does your office ever work with his office on these
Shiu: We work with Senator Harkins office whenever we can. Hes
a great advocate on all issues for workers, and hes committed
to getting as many people with disabilities as possible into the workforce.
Johnson: How do you broaden out whats happening at the federal
level in terms of contractors and subcontracts to other companies through
Shiu: The history of OFCCP started with President Roosevelt who issued
an order that prohibited discrimination by federal defense contractors
against African-American people. Think about all the various Republican
and Democratic administrations that have built upon that principle.
The federal government is always the model employer,
and it always should be the model employer, which is
why the President has also challenged federal agencies
to hire more people with disabilities.
When you talk about federal contractors, you’re talking
about Boeing, about pharmaceutical companies,
poultry companies, meat companies, meat packers,
furniture companies. It’s
All you have
have is a contract for $50,000 and 50 employees
you’re subject to affirmative
action. If you have a
of $10,000 and 50 employees, then you’re
to the executive order.
So there are some dif-
ferences in terms of some of the other regulatory juris-
dictional limits, but essentially the idea is, if we can do
this for one in four American workers, it’s going to
have a ripple effect.
The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)
recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with more
than 200 beneficiaries, staff members and policy
leaders joining in the events at the department’s Washington,
“The conversation has shifted away from whether people
with disabilities can work, to what tools and supports
are needed to assist them in doing so,” said Secretary
of Labor Hilda Solis, reflecting upon the agency’s
ODEP is under the auspices of the United States Department
of Labor (DOL), run by Solis, and supported by
members Seth Harris, deputy secretary of labor,
Kathleen Martinez, assistant secretary of labor.
Senator Harkin (D-IA), Congressman Steny Hoyer (DMD)
and a number of other prominent disability rights
attended the event. Becky Ogle, the executive
of the former Presidential Task
of Adults with Disabilities was there, as
former U.S. Congressman Tony
Coelho, the primary
sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act;
Dale, the special assistant to the President for
Policy; and former assistant secretaries of
for disability employment policy,
Solis reiterated her goal of “good jobs for everyone,”
including people with disabilities. On the DOL’s official
in Progress, she noted, “In the decade
joining the DOL family,
ODEP has been chal-
lenging outdated stereotypes and attitudes that keep
people with disabilities out of the workplace, while
aligning policy and practice to open the doors to
She cited efforts between the Bureau of Labor Statis-
tics and ODEP to collect statistical data on the employment
of people with disabilities, as well as the creation
the Job Accommodation Network, Workforce
Program, and the “Add Us In” initiatives, as examples
leadership in working to improve job
for individuals with disabilities.
Most recently, Solis announced her hearty support of a
proposal by DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance
Programs that would revise Section 503 of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973, which governs the affirmative
of federal contractors and subcontractors.
Under the revised rules, contractors and subcontractors
with 50 employees and $50,000 or more in government
contracts would obligated to set a hiring goal for workers
with disabilities with a target of 7 percent.
This is a significant, concrete step when federal contractors
and subcontractors account for approximately 25
of the nation’s
workforce. The proposal would
clarify what is expected of businesses in regards to
people with disabilities and encourage
to comply with their legal responsibilities.
Hoyer applauded ODEP’s accomplishments, and said
that its programs help individuals with disabilities find
meaningful work: “Opening up work opportunities,
including internships and training programs to those
with disabilities, will not only serve the interests of
justice and equality, but also enable businesses, nonprofits,
and governments to tap into their talents, skills
by Bogdon Vitas
United States Department of Labor
Office of Disability Employment Policy
from the Hope-Dworaczyk Issue Feb/Mar
The Fifth International Shafallah Forum
Rebuilding After the Quake
Dworacyzk An Eclectic Career
Patricia Shiu Holding Contractors
to a Higher Standard
Traveling the World on Two Wheels
Book Excerpts How Do You Use Your Body?
in the Hope Dworacyzk Issue; Humor The Parent Trap; Ashley Fiolek
Teaching the Next Generation of Riders; Eleonora Rivetti
Italian Motocrosser Makes a Pit Stop; Sen. Tom Harkin Keeping
All Students Safe; Haiti Rebuilding After the Quake; Qatar
The Fifth International Shafallah Forum; Chris Wells Deaf and
Blind Student Earns PhD; Patricia Shiu Holding Contractors to
a Higher Standard; Documentary Traveling the World on Two Wheels;
Recipes Excerpt From the Forks Over Knives Cookbook; Hope Dworacyzk
An Eclectic Career; Smothers Brothers How They Won a Trip
to Washington; Assistive Golf Jack Nicklaus Designs a Course
for Vets; Book Excerpt How Do You Use Your Body? ; ABILITY's
Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...