Equal Employment Opportunity: Better Assistance and Data Use Could Improve Oversight of Veterans' Federal Contractor Employment

GAO-22-104599 Published: May 26, 2022. Publicly Released: May 26, 2022.
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Fast Facts

The Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act requires some federal contractors to take affirmative action to employ and promote certain veterans—such as those with disabilities and those who served in particular wars.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs helps contractors comply with the law. For example, it provides information on veteran recruitment. However, it doesn't include key practices such as how to write veteran-friendly job descriptions. It also requires contractors to set veteran-hiring benchmarks but doesn't clearly specify how they should be used. Our 7 recommendations address these and other issues.

Female veteran in fatigues working on a laptop at a desk while a child plays on a couch.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) helps contractors comply with affirmative action provisions for veterans protected under the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA). OFCCP provides web-based resources and coordinates with contractors and stakeholders, among other activities. For example, OFCCP provides some information on veteran recruitment, but does not include key practices, such as how to write veteran-friendly job descriptions. VEVRAA regulations require contractors to establish an annual veteran hiring benchmark—generally based on the percentage of veterans in the civilian workforce—to help contractors assess the success of their veteran recruitment efforts. However, information OFCCP provides does not clearly specify how contractors should use this benchmark. Among the sample of 46 contractors GAO reviewed, one-half did not compare their benchmark to new hires. Without key information on best recruiting practices and how to use these hiring benchmarks, contractors may be missing opportunities to expand and improve their veteran outreach efforts.

OFCCP lacks data on the protected veteran population, which may limit its ability to protect veterans' rights under VEVRAA. Officials said they cannot approximate the overall size or characteristics of the protected veteran population. However, survey data used to develop the national VEVRAA hiring benchmark provides some information about veterans likely in protected categories (see figure). Without estimating the size of the protected veteran population, OFCCP cannot effectively assess progress because it cannot determine the availability of protected veterans in the labor force. OFCCP enforces VEVRAA regulations, which prohibit discrimination against protected veterans, through compliance evaluations and complaint investigations. While OFCCP can access contractor data on protected veterans by job category, compliance officers are not required to analyze these data during evaluations. If OFCCP analyzed existing data, it may be better able to identify potential discrimination against these veterans.

Estimated Percentage of Working Age Veterans (25-54) Likely in a Protected Category, 2020

Estimated Percentage of Working Age Veterans (25-54) Likely in a Protected Category, 2020

Why GAO Did This Study

To help address challenges veterans may face when seeking employment, VEVRAA requires that certain federal contractors take affirmative action to employ and promote veterans protected under the law. OFCCP is charged with ensuring that the approximately 123,000 federal contractor establishments comply with VEVRAA. GAO was asked to review the implementation and enforcement of VEVRAA. This report examines OFCCP's (1) assistance to help federal contractors comply with VEVRAA requirements, and (2) its enforcement efforts to help ensure federal contractors take steps to recruit and employ protected veterans.

To address these objectives, GAO interviewed agency officials and representatives from 10 stakeholder groups, reviewed guidance documents and enforcement procedures, and analyzed enforcement data and a non-generalizable sample of 46 contractors' affirmative action programs, selected for variation in employer size, industry, and geography.

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Recommendations

GAO is making seven recommendations, including that OFCCP incorporate key practices on employing veterans into its VEVRAA information, clarify hiring benchmarks, and use available data to better approximate the protected veteran population and assess discrimination. The agency had no comments on these recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs The Director of OFCCP should clarify how contractors should use the VEVRAA hiring benchmark, including providing examples of how contractors can use it as a tool to measure progress in hiring protected veterans. (Recommendation 1)
Open – Partially Addressed
As of August 2022, OFCCP updated its VEVRAA benchmark webpage to clarify the information provided on related regulations. OFCCP has plans to engage stakeholders to see what other resources would be informative and useful. These are promising steps to clarify how contractors should use the hiring benchmark. We will close this recommendation once OFCCP has provided contractors with information that includes examples of how contractors can use the VEVRAA hiring benchmark as a tool to measure progress in hiring veterans.
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs The Director of OFCCP should incorporate key practices, such as those identified by other agencies, for employing veterans into its public information on VEVRAA. (Recommendation 2)
Open
As of August 2022, OFCCP has plans to explore how it can provide additional promising practices for employing veterans, including providing access to resources from the Veterans' Employment and Training Service. OFCCP also plants to assess how to effectively update and enhance webpages that provide resources for contractors and workers. We will continue to monitor OFCCP's efforts and will consider closing this recommendation when OFCCP has made progress in updating its information resources to incorporate key practices for employing veterans.
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs The Director of OFCCP should provide information to contractors and workers that encourages self-identification for protected veterans. For example, OFCCP could make a video explaining the benefits of self-identification for protected veterans similar to one it has for individuals with disabilities. (Recommendation 3)
Open
As of August 2022, OFCCP has plans to host listening sessions with stakeholders to better understand barriers to self-identification and obtain input on how to address the issues identified. OFCCP plans to evaluate the feedback and assess whether an informational video on the benefits of self-identification for VEVRAA would be helpful. We will continue to monitor OFCCP's efforts and will consider closing this recommendation once OFCCP has developed and made available information that encourages self-identification for protected veterans.
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Director of OFCCP should use available data to better approximate the size and characteristics of the veteran population protected under VEVRAA. For example, OFCCP could consider how to adjust the data it uses from the CPS Veterans Supplement to approximate the subset of veterans who are protected. (Recommendation 4)
Open
As of August 2022, OFCCP has plans to consult with labor economists and subject matter experts to explore whether it would be possible to adjust the CPS Veterans Supplement data the agency currently uses or use other data sources to obtain a better approximation of the number of protected veterans under VEVRAA. We will continue to monitor OFCCP's efforts and will consider closing this recommendation once OFCCP has implemented changes to adjusting the current data it uses or to use additional data to approximate the size and characteristics of the veteran population protected under VEVRAA.
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs The Director of OFCCP should assess the feasibility of using existing data or collecting new data to incorporate into enforcement procedures that would allow OFCCP to assess systemic discrimination against protected veterans. (Recommendation 5)
Open
In 2020, OFCCP sought to collect data that would have enabled the agency to conduct more in-depth analyses when investigating potential discrimination against protected veterans. OFCCP withdrew this request due to concerns about increased contractor burden. As of August 2022, OFCCP plans to reassess the utility of collecting additional personnel data for protected veterans and whether it would outweigh the burden imposed on contractors. OFCCP also plans to assess whether there are any other methods for using existing data to help assess systemic discrimination against protected veterans. We will continue to monitor OFCCP's efforts and will consider closing this recommendation once OFCCP has made substantial progress in this area.
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs The Director of OFCCP should assess the costs and benefits of adjusting the VEVRAA hiring benchmark to reflect protected veterans who may not be captured in the civilian workforce or who have relatively high unemployment rates, including protected veterans who have significant service-connected disabilities. (Recommendation 6)
Open
As of August 2022, OFCCP has plans to consult with labor economists and subject matter experts to identify different options for improving the VEVRAA hiring benchmark. The agency also plans to conduct listening sessions with key stakeholders to evaluate the costs and benefits of the different options. We will continue to monitor OFCCP's efforts and will consider closing this recommendation once OFCCP has made substantial progress in this area.
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs The Director of OFCCP should ensure the reliability of the VEVRAA hiring benchmark data collected in its case management system and use these data to better monitor contractors' hiring benchmarks and equal employment efforts for protected veterans, as well as assess its own VEVRAA compliance assistance efforts. (Recommendation 7)
Open
During our study, OFCCP was in the process of transitioning to a new compliance management system. As of August 2022, OFCCP has plans to identify ways to ensure the reliability and consistency of data entry in the compliance management system as it completes the development of the system. OFCCP also plans to determine whether and how the agency can utilize these data to better assess whether contractors are fulfilling their equal employment opportunity obligations, and plans to enhance its compliance assistance efforts. We will continue to monitor OFCCP's efforts and will consider closing this recommendation once OFCCP has made substantial progress in this area.

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