Service Contract Act: Wage Determination Process Could Benefit from Greater Transparency, and Better Use of Violation Data Could Improve Enforcement

GAO-06-27 Published: Dec 07, 2005. Publicly Released: Jan 06, 2006.
Jump To:
Skip to Highlights

Recipients of federal government contracts for services are subject to wage, hour, benefits, and safety and health standards under the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) of 1965, as amended, which specifies wage rates and other labor standards for employees of contractors. SCA requires the Department of Labor (DOL) to set locally prevailing wage rates and other labor standards for employees of contractors furnishing services to the federal government. DOL's Employment Standards Administration's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers the SCA and each year determines prevailing wage and fringe benefit rates for over 300 standard service occupations in 205 metropolitan areas. SCA also authorizes DOL to enforce contractor compliance with SCA provisions. This report describes how DOL (1) establishes locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits and (2) enforces SCA.

Skip to Recommendations


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Labor In an effort to provide stakeholders with a general understanding of how WHD determines wage rates, the Secretary of Labor should direct WHD to make publicly available the basic methodology WHD uses to issue wage determinations.
Closed – Implemented
The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) staff has drafted a revised manual of operations chapter that summarizes the data and analyses that are used for updating standard Service Contract Act (SCA) wage determinations. The initial chapter was revised to reflect the changes in the Fifth Edition of SCA Directory of Occupations and to accommodate changes in underlying survey data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The occupational classification system used for BLS's National Compensation Survey, the primary data source for SCA wage determinations, was completely changed for the survey results published in FY 2007. As of July 2010, WHD completed the draft of SCA methodology and the SCA manual of operations: chapter 6 of the manual is the methodology chapter and all other chapters were updated to reflect current operating procedures. The manual was distributed to WHD personnel for their review. Where appropriate, changes were made to the manual based on their recommendations and comments. A final draft incorporating all changes was re-distributed to WHD personnel for their concurrence. The final draft was subsequently submitted to the Solicitor's office (SOL) for its review. As soon as SOL completes its review, WHD will finalize it and post it on-line.
Department of Labor To better support WHD and federal contracting agencies in their implementation of SCA, the Secretary of Labor should direct WHD to develop a procedure for updating the SCA directory of occupations at regular intervals and include criteria for listing and removing occupations as the need emerges.
Closed – Implemented
The Fifth Edition of the SCA Directory of Occupations was announced and published on the WHD web site in May 2006. All standard SCA wage determination were updated in FY 2006 using the new Fifth Edition occupations.
Department of Labor To further WHD's efforts to obtain better information concerning the presence of and potential for violations involving SCA contracts, the Secretary of Labor should direct WHD to analyze its historical SCA contractor violation data in the Wage and Hour Investigative Support and Reporting Database (WHISARD), as well as debarment information not included in WHISARD, and to the extent appropriate, use this information to help plan its compliance assistance and investigative efforts, and to identify additional industries, if any, that WHD should establish enforcement goals similar to those it currently has for repeat violators and industries with chronic violations.
Closed – Implemented
WHD has developed reports on SCA violations, which are posted with all other performance reports. In the Executive Leadership Team meeting that set the stage for the FY 2007 annual planning process, the GAO recommendations were discussed. As a result, the FY 2007 low-wage outcome in the performance plan includes strategies for maintaining and strengthening SCA and DBA enforcement in the Gulf Coast region, and a new recidivism measure that captures the number of debarments. In addition, several WHD district offices have developed and implemented local initiatives to increase compliance with SCA. This is now incorporated into the annual planning process and new goals and measures will be evaluated each year.
Department of Labor To facilitate the reporting of SCA complaints, the Secretary of Labor should direct WHD to update and revise the 1996 Service Contract Act/Walsh-Healey worksite poster, to include national and regional office telephone numbers and a Web site address that complainants may use to report alleged SCA violations.
Closed – Implemented
WHD has revised the SCA worksite poster and posted it to its web site. WHD added its toll-free number (1-866-4US-WAGE). The toll-free help line provides compliance information to employers and employees. Calls to the number are handled by call center staff who can screen information, provide general guidance to employees, and refer complainants to the appropriate WHD office. WHD also added the agency's Web site address, which has an email notification system that also provides the public with assistance.

Full Report