Ten-Year Check-Up: Have Federal Agencies Responded to Civil Rights Recommendations?

Volume II: An Evaluation of the Departments of Justice, Labor, and Transportation

Chapter 1


ďA weakening economy and compelling national security interests should not provide an excuse to fail to support either the congressional appropriations or the high-quality executive branch leadership needed to carry out the various federal agenciesí civil rights enforcement obligations.Ē[1]

                                                               óThe Citizensí Commission on Civil Rights

During the 1990s, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued numerous civil rights enforcement reports evaluating the operations of many federal agencies. These reports contain recommendations to improve federal civil rights enforcement. This report, volume II in a series, discusses the Commissionís recommendations directed to the Departments of Justice, Labor, and Transportation between 1992 and 2000. This report sets out to discover answers to important questions: Have the departments implemented recommendations directed to them by the Commission? If not, why not? If so, have their civil rights programs improved?

The Department of Justice is the largest and, considered by some, the major federal civil rights enforcement agency. It is responsible for enforcing every major civil rights statute, covering such areas as the administration of justice, education, employment, housing, disability, and voting. In addition to its enforcement role, the Department is also responsible for the coordination and oversight of other federal agenciesí civil rights enforcement activities. By examining the Department of Justice, the study sets the stage for evaluating the civil rights efforts of the other agencies. Many of the other agencies seek guidance and assistance in their civil rights program from the Department.

In past Commission reports, the Departments of Labor and Transportation emerged as having exemplary elements of civil rights enforcement in segments of the agency but not widespread across the Departmentsí programs. The Department of Labor, for example, had superior Title VI guidelines, policies, and procedures and a solid Title VI enforcement program that was narrowly applied to only its main job-training program, the Job Training Partnership Act, which has since been replaced. The Department of Transportation and its operating administrations had good enforcement elementsóstaff training, a state monitoring program, a technical assistance program, and a data collection and analysis programóin isolated operating administrations or in the Office of the Secretary. This review examines whether these agencies could build upon these efforts to implement more comprehensive enforcement programs.


The review covers the Department of Justice, including the Civil Rights Division and two of its sections, the Coordination and Review Section and the Disability Rights Section, the Office of Justice Programs, and the Federal Bureau of Investigationís enforcement of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act; the Department of Laborís Civil Rights Center and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs; and the Department of Transportation and its Office of Civil Rights and seven operating administrations.

The study assesses the extent to which the departments implemented the Commissionís recommendations contained in four earlier reports:

The Commissionís previous reports and analyses support that there are essential elements for effective civil rights enforcement. They include:

All the programs evaluated in this report are done so in the context of the foregoing elements.


In assessing whether the three departments or their components under review have responded to the Commissionís recommendations, and whether enforcement has improved, the Commission reviewed relevant policy, planning and budget documents, annual reports, and civil rights implementation plans; prepared interrogatories that solicited the most current information on civil rights initiatives and directions within the three departments and reviewed responses; interviewed civil rights staff; and reviewed other relevant reports and sources.


Department of Justice

During the past decade, the Commission directed more than 100 recommendations to the Department of Justice and five of its components. Overall, the Commissionís studies found the Department weak in the following elements: coordination, guidance, and technical assistance and outreach to its stakeholders; planning and evaluation of civil rights activities; and adequate funding and resources for its civil rights components. The weaknesses found within the Department were mirrored in the Commissionís review of the Civil Rights Division, particularly the Coordination and Review Section, as well as in the Office of Justice Programsí Office for Civil Rights. Two of the components, the Disability Rights Section and the Federal Bureau of Investigationís specific authority over the data collection and reporting of hate crimes, were just beginning to undertake their responsibilities at the time of the Commissionís review in the 1990s. Both showed strength in some areas. For example, the Disability Rights Section already had a strong technical assistance program and had incorporated mediation successfully in its enforcement program. In its fulfillment of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the FBI prepared and issued guidelines and a training manual for law enforcement agencies, and offered technical assistance to police departments almost immediately.

In this report, the Commission finds that the Department, the Civil Rights Division, and the two sections reviewed have shown improvement in the elements where they were weak. In particular, the Commission finds a significant improvement in the Title VI work performed by the Divisionís Coordination and Review Section. The Section attributes its guidance and technical assistance initiatives to the recommendations made in the Commissionís 1996 report. The Office of Justice Programsí Office for Civil Rights (OCR) shows improvement in planning and technical assistance initiatives, which it attributes to the 1996 recommendations made by the Commission. However, OCR still shows serious deficiencies in civil rights enforcement, particularly in its compliance activities. With respect to the FBIís enforcement of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the Commissionís 2002 review finds serious underreporting of such crimes. While several factors contribute to the problem, generally, there has been little change in the implementation of the law since 1992. The FBI acknowledges flaws in the program and indicates that there will be new initiatives to maximize the effectiveness of reporting hate crime data in the future. These future initiatives warrant attention from the Commission through monitoring.

Department of Labor

In 1996, the Commission found that the Department of Laborís Civil Rights Center was not effectively fulfilling its civil rights responsibilities. For example, its civil rights implementation plans, which are a required civil rights planning and reporting document, did not meet the Department of Justiceís requirements. In addition, the Center was not effectively addressing the other key elements in civil rights enforcement effectively. For example, it was performing very few pre- and post-award compliance reviews.

In this review, the Commission finds that although the Civil Rights Center has not implemented many of the Commissionís 1996 recommendations, the Center did attempt to improve its civil rights enforcement by reorganizing into three new offices; placing high priority on technical assistance and training to DOL funding recipients; establishing a reminder system to follow-up on corrective action plans or conciliation agreements; and collaborating with the Department of Justice in revising its Title VI regulations to reflect the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987.[2]

In its 1993 study, the Commission found that overlapping jurisdiction caused inconsistency and duplication of efforts between the Department of Labor and the Department of Transportation; that the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programís (OFCCPís) contacts with community groups during compliance reviews were inadequate; and that OFCCP needed to reassess its approach to determine compliance under localized affirmative action agreements.

In its 2002 review, the Commission finds that DOLís December 1979 memorandum of understanding with the Department of Transportation has not been updated to reflect the interim agreement to exchange information. In addition, OFCCP still does not solicit involvement from the community in selecting companies for compliance reviews. However, after reassessing its approach to determine compliance, OFCCP no longer uses localized affirmative action agreements.

Department of Transportation

Within the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Office of the Secretary (OST) has delegated the responsibility for enforcement of external civil rights to the operating administrations. The Commissionís 1993 and 1996 studies examined several factors affecting the enforcement of civil rights in DOTís federally assisted programs. Among the most important are OST/Office of Civil Rightsí (DOCRís) effectiveness in its oversight of the operating administrations (OA), adequacy of staffing and funding, location of the OAsí offices of civil rights in the organizational hierarchy, a comprehensive Title VI program, and detailed civil rights implementation plans. The Commissionís 2002 study finds that DOTís progress is uneven. In 1993 and 1996 the Commission found that DOCRís oversight process was inadequate, but that by 2002 it had improved. Inadequate staffing and funding for civil rights enforcement, on the other hand, remains a major problem for several OAs. At the same time, directors of the offices of civil rights of two OAs now report to their respective administrators, a recommendation the Commission made in 1996. Even so, three of the OAs still do not have civil rights implementation plans.


Overall, this report concludes that most Commission recommendations were implemented by federal agencies, either fully or in part. The report shows that despite shortages in funding and other resources, all three agencies have implemented civil rights enforcement effectively at least in certain programs but not comprehensively. Where recommendations were not implemented, agencies cited:

The Departments of Justice, Labor, and Transportation must expand civil rights efforts to involve all agency programs and to include all the necessary elements of an enforcement program. New findings and recommendations in this report offer guidance as to how these agencies can accomplish this expansion.

This study was necessitated by the fact that resource reductions over a period beginning in the 1980s forced the Commission to reduce its monitoring program. The monitoring program was then supported by a $1 million budget, with a staff dedicated solely to that function. In fiscal year 1984, the monitoring office had 13 employees, and a separate research and report-writing office had 26 employees. Today, both functions are carried out by one office, which has only 11 employees (see table 1).

TABLE 1óU.S. Commission on Civil Rights Monitoring and Research Employees, 1984 and 2002


 Fiscal Year

Office of Research

Office of Federal Civil Rights Evaluation*






 *The Office of Federal Civil Rights Evaluation, now the Office of Civil Rights Evaluation, is the former monitoring office.
Source: Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 1984, p. 109.

The Commissionís monitoring activities previously consisted of constant follow-up on recommendations, frequent meetings with agency staffs to anticipate problems and assess progress, and the issuance of regular evaluations. Monitoring activities have been cut back and now consist of reviews of material disseminated by and about federal agencies, augmented by occasional first-person contact with agency staffs. Thus, in this study the Commission thoroughly evaluates agenciesí responsiveness to recommendations of the past decade since it has not been able to do so on an ongoing basis.

Monitoring federal agencies is one of the Commissionís most important responsibilities and makes possible for all Americans an external review of civil rights offices. Since civil rights enforcement is a multimillion dollar public investment, the government, as steward of that investment, must devote resources sufficient to support the original intent of Congress that the Commission ensure the public is receiving protections promised by civil rights laws.

[1] Citizensí Commission on Civil Rights, Rights at Risk: Equality in an Age of Terrorism, 2002, p. 8.

[2] Pub. L. No. 100-259, 102 Stat. 28 (1988).