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

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

Executive Summary

In the 1950s, landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education convinced the nation that the government indeed had a responsibility to ensure that equal protection of the law was afforded to all citizens. The turbulent decade of the 1960s brought the realization that segments of our society needed the support of the federal government in ensuring their civil rights. During this decade, the sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, covering equal opportunity in many areas. Presidential executive orders and congressional actions in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in an array of government programs designed to enforce civil rights laws. For examples, the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1975 and the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 were enacted. In the 1990s, despite calls proclaiming that equality had been achieved on all fronts, the nation continued to struggle to ensure equal participation for all its citizens. However, legislative action was necessary to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. Thus, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was passed into law.

Over the years, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights strived to ensure equal rights by issuing reports examining and suggesting ways to improve the civil rights enforcement efforts of federal agencies. The Commission has seen the civil rights focus shift from passing laws to enforcing them and has documented the development of civil rights enforcement of various departments and agencies. It has identified good practices as well as inadequacies and made recommendations for improvement. Commission reports established where federal agencies succeeded or failed at their civil rights obligations. The Commission found that some improvements have been tenuous and limited in scope. Many federal agencies continue to fail, leaving citizens to seek recourse where none should be needed and, often, where it is difficult to attain.

This report is part of a series that reviews recommendations the Commission made to federal agencies between 1992 and 2000. Volume I of this series of reports establishes elements fundamental to effective civil rights enforcement, without which the federal governmentís duty cannot be fulfilled. This, the second volume, evaluates the Departments of Justice, Labor, and Transportation (DOJ, DOL, and DOT) specifically against those elements to determine how effectively they have implemented the Commissionís recommendations. Major findings of this report include:

Department of Justice

The Department has improved in civil rights enforcement, particularly in coordination, planning, and technical assistance. However, this report concludes that civil rights enforcement at the Office of Justice Programs is inadequate, primarily because of uncertainty about the future role of the office. The Commission was concerned about the lack of civil rights authority and priority at the Office of Justice Programs in 1996, and that concern remains. The Commission is alarmed that the FBIís implementation of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act has not changed since a 1992 review. There is serious underreporting of such crimes due to numerous factors, including that the reporting is voluntary and that FBI guidance to law enforcement officials minimizes the importance of the civil rights function.

Department of Labor

The Commission finds that many of the recommendations it made to the Civil Rights Center in 1996 have not been addressed. For example, the Center has conducted very few pre- or post-award reviews and also lacks an appropriate annual compliance review schedule. The lack of resources is the primary reason the Commissionís recommendations were not implemented. In 1993 OFCCP needed improvements in planning, compliance reviews, and community development. Although the Commission finds that many of its recommendations have not been implemented, OFCCP is now able to enforce civil rights compliance better since it no longer uses localized affirmative action agreements to determine compliance.

Department of Transportation

The Department of Transportationís record of implementing Commission recommendations is mixed. While the Commission is heartened by progress, much work remains to improve civil rights enforcement in some operating administrations. Staff and resource limitations remain a bane for several operating administrations. An example is the Federal Highway Administrationís Office of Civil Rights (FHWA/OCR). Because of inadequate resources, FHWA has not sufficiently increased the number of civil rights staff members. On the other hand, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Office of Civil Rightsí budget increased 52 percent over the previous year.

Model Programs

The Departments of Justice, Labor, and Transportation have made some improvements in response to previous Commission recommendations. In fact, each department has practices worthy of being emulated by other agencies. The exemplary elements include data collection and analysis, policy guidance, complaint processing, technical assistance, education and outreach, coordination, staff civil rights training, and community involvement. For example, the Department of Laborís data collection and analysis system for its job-training program (previously the Job Training Partnership Act, which was replaced with the Workforce Investment Act of 1998) was an excellent model of a recipient compliance evaluation system that facilitated Title VI enforcement. Today, DOLís grant office has management information systems for all of its programs. In 1998, the Department of Justiceís Disability Rights Section (DRS) showed strengths in providing technical assistance to its stakeholders and using mediation (or alternative dispute resolution) in its civil rights enforcement program. Today, DRSí technical assistance program and the use of mediation for the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act serve as models for other components in the Department. Finally, the Department of Transportationís National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a particularly strong education and outreach program. The agencyís commitment to reach persons with limited English proficiency extends to its state recipients. This is an improvement since the Commission previously found that education and outreach were not available.

Overall, recommendations made to the three federal agencies were implemented. Model programs as well as deficiencies are identifiable across the departments. It is not the purpose of this report to measure the vigor with which the departments have advanced civil rights. Other reports of the Commission have done that. Its purpose is to review the effectiveness of the three agencies in implementing recommendations made earlier. It is only through constant review and monitoring by the Commission and careful consideration of the recommendations by the current administration, Congress, and agency staffs that the full promise of the civil rights laws will be realized.


  • Most Commission recommendations were implemented.

  • The Department of Justice has improved in civil rights enforcement; however (1) the Office of Justice Programsí civil rights enforcement continues to be inadequate and (2) the FBIís weak implementation of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, which causes serious underreporting of such crimes, has not changed.

  • The Department of Laborís Civil Rights Center still has not addressed many of the Commissionís 1996 recommendations, primarily because of a lack of resources.

  • The Department of Transportation has a mixed record of implementing Commission recommendations. Much work remains to improve civil rights enforcement in some operating administrations. Staff and resource limitations remain a bane for several operating administrations.