Funding Federal Civil Rights Enforcement: 2000 and Beyond


In 1995, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in a report on funding levels for federal civil rights enforcement, concluded that “reductions in funding and staff continue to undermine our national enforcement of civil rights.”[1] In an earlier report, the Commission warned that reductions in funding for civil rights enforcement would “limit actual enforcement, undercut the deterrent effect of such enforcement by diminishing the credibility of potential federal action, reduce the motivation and assistance for those who would voluntarily comply with civil rights obligations and weaken state and local efforts to ensure equal opportunities.”[2]

This study begins where the Commission’s 1995 report ended, assessing the federal civil rights enforcement budget since fiscal year (FY) 1994.[3] The data presented here demonstrate that since the Commission’s 1995 report, the nation’s enforcement of civil rights laws continues to be threatened by unequal and uneven funding and staffing for federal civil rights agencies.


The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has major responsibility for civil rights enforcement. However, other agencies within the federal government are on the front lines in the effort to eradicate discrimination and to ensure equal opportunity for all. The study first outlines the jurisdiction and enforcement authority of six principal agencies of the federal government charged with civil rights enforcement: 

In order to assess the enforcement responsibilities of the six civil rights agencies, this report analyzes the effect of recent civil rights legislation and executive orders on workload levels and staff demands. It then describes and analyzes the budget requests of the Clinton administration, from FY 1994 to FY 2001, and the funding levels appropriated by Congress in response to the President’s requests. 

This study does not evaluate the effectiveness of civil rights enforcement, nor does it evaluate qualitative measures such as the efficiency of the work force or the nature of discrimination. It does include an examination of results that helps to demonstrate the actual impact of funding levels. The information in this report, unless otherwise indicated, was drawn from documents provided by the agencies and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The funding levels presented are referred to throughout the report as “actual” dollars. In addition, funding levels have been adjusted to account for inflation. These numbers are referred to as either “real” dollars or “real spending power.”[4] Following the 1995 report, the deflator used in this report is the composite deflator used by OMB in the historical tables accompanying the annual budget of the U.S. government.[5] Because FY 1994 is used as the date of comparison throughout this report, real funding is expressed in constant 1994 dollars.


Before the Civil Rights Act of 1957,[6] the federal civil rights effort was limited to the enforcement of a few post‑Civil War criminal statutes by the Civil Rights Section of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Department of Justice. Since 1957, Congress and the President have greatly expanded the federal civil rights effort through the creation of additional substantive rights and other enforcement agencies. Today, the major statutes and executive orders affecting civil rights enforcement are:

Over the years, these laws, which were designed to promote equal opportunity, have significantly affected the workloads of all the agencies studied. In 1978, Reorganization Plan No. 1 restructured the federal equal employment opportunity enforcement program. The plan transferred to EEOC enforcement authority under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and responsibility for duties regarding equal employment enforcement in the federal government. The Reorganization Plan also consolidated federal contract compliance enforcement in the U.S. Department of Labor, transferring the contract compliance activities of 11 agencies to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 also significantly increased the workloads of agencies that enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975. These statutes prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, gender, disability, and age by any “program or activity” that receives federal financial assistance. In response to a Supreme Court decision that narrowly construed the definition of “program or activity,”[8] Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, which restored the definition to include all the operations of a recipient, as long as any part of the recipient’s operations receives federal funds. This restoration had a major impact on the number of complaints received and processed by civil rights enforcement agencies.

Most recently, civil rights enforcement responsibilities were significantly expanded with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities and provides coverage to some 43 million Americans. Its passage increased the duties of all six agencies studied, but had the most impact on the operations of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice. The workloads of these two agencies were also increased by passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which expanded the coverage of, and remedies available under, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


This study illustrates that funding and staffing for civil rights enforcement have continued to decrease since the Commission’s 1995 report. The reductions in these civil rights agencies’ budgets occurred at a time when the enforcement responsibilities of these agencies have grown substantially. Inadequate funding and staff levels in the face of increasing workloads continue to threaten the national enforcement of civil rights.

[1] U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), Funding Federal Civil Rights Enforcement, June 1995, p. 4 (hereafter cited as USCCR, 1995 Budget Report).

[2] USCCR, Civil Rights: A National, Not a Special Interest, June 1981, p. 122.

[3] The 1995 report was the first comprehensive assessment of federal civil rights enforcement budgets since 1983. See USCCR, Federal Civil Rights Commitments: An Assessment of Enforcement Resources and Performance, November 1983.

[4] Expression in real dollars accounts for inflation and more accurately reflects the actual purchasing power of the funds received. These adjusted values are referred to throughout the report as real funding or real spending power.

[5] See USCCR, 1995 Budget Report, p. 2. The deflator used appears in OMB’s historical tables and is based on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) deflator. Deflators for FY 2000 and FY 2001 are estimates. Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2001, historical tables, table 1.3, data on CD-ROM.

[6] Pub. L. No. 85-315, 71 Stat. 634 (1957).

[7] See chap. 1–6 for citations to the civil rights laws discussed in this report.

[8] See Grove City College v. Bell, 465 U.S. 555 (1984) (holding that “program or activity” applies only to the particular program or activity to which federal funds are directed).