Contractors are aware they are required to create Affirmative Action Plans under Executive Order 11246, but why? Where did this order come from? 56 years after it was issued on September 24, 1965, let’s take a look at what led to this step towards equal employment opportunity and what has happened since then.
June 25, 1941: Executive Order 8802 was signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in response to leaders who protested that African-American workers were blocked from taking jobs in segregated war production factories. This order outlawed discrimination based on race, color, creed, and national origin in the federal government and defense industries as America geared up to enter World War II. It created the Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC) within the Office of Production Management.
May 1943: Executive Order 9346, also signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, applied Executive Order 8802 to all government contractors and established 16 regional offices of the FEPC, giving it independent status within the President’s Office of Emergency Management.
December 3, 1951: The Committee on Government Contract Compliance was created from Executive Order 10308, which was signed by President Harry S. Truman. The committee was tasked with overseeing compliance by federal contracts, not just those within the defense industry like the prior committees, with the non-discrimination provisions of Executive Order 8802.
August 13, 1953: President Dwight D Eisenhower extended EO 10308 by creating the President’s Committee on Government Contracts in Executive Order 10479. This committee comprised of representatives of major contracting agencies, the Labor and Justice Departments, the General Services Administration, and eight Presidential appointees. The committee was charged with coordinating the compliance required by the head of each contracting agency to ensure their contractors and subcontractors followed the nondiscrimination provisions of the contracts into which they entered.
March 6, 1961: Signed shortly after President John F Kennedy took office, Executive Order 10925 created the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity (which later became the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee). The order also required government contractors to take affirmative action, opposed to merely refraining from discrimination, and gave each federal contracting agency the enforcement authority against federal contractors who violated their EEO obligations.
June 10, 1963: Amending the Fair Labor Standards Act, President John F Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which aimed at abolishing wage disparity based on sex.
July 2, 1964: Under President Lyndon Johnson, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, making it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, creed, color, or national origin by employers with 25 or more employees in the private sector, regardless of government contracts under Title VII.
Executive Order 11246:
September 24, 1965: After a comprehensive review “of the activities of the various federal agencies involved in the field of civil rights” led by Vice President Hubert H Humphrey and a recommendation that the responsibility of insuring compliance by government contractors with nondiscrimination requirements should be directly in the Department of Labor, President Lyndon Johnson created Executive Order 11246. Rather than various Presidential committees and the heads of the federal agencies administering and ensuring compliance, it charged the Secretary of Labor with the responsibility of ensuring equal opportunity based on race, color, religion, and national origin in federal contractors’ recruitment, hiring, training and other employment practices. The order required an analysis of the current workforce, identification of problem areas, the establishment of goals and timelines to increase employment opportunities for underutilized groups, specific action-oriented programs to address problem areas, and the establishment of an internal audit and reporting system. Soon after, Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz established the Office of Federal Contract Compliance.
October 13, 1967: You may have noticed that all of the prior orders only referred to nondiscrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin. President Lyndon Johnson amended his prior order with Executive Order 11375 which included sex as a prohibited basis of discrimination and required affirmative action for women as well.
December 12, 2002: Amending Executive Order 11246, President Bush issued Executive Order 13279 allowing religiously affiliated contractors to prefer individuals of a particular religion, if the employment decision is relevant to the work connected with its activities.
April 8, 2014: A further amendment to Executive Order 11246, Executive Order 13665, signed by President Obama, promoted equal pay for women, improved pay transparency of wages, and prohibited retaliation against employees who inquire about, discuss, or disclose details of their own or other employee’s compensation.
July 21, 2014: Also signed by President Obama, Executive Order 13672 expanded Executive Order 11246 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This was the first such amendment since the addition of women in 1967.
Over 80 years since the stepping stones were laid, nondiscrimination and affirmative action in employment continue to be an important issue throughout America’s federal workforce. As the nation’s demographics change and evolve, administrations look to adapt and ensure equal opportunities for all.