Two Big Challenges in Washington D.C.
This past November, I had the opportunity to attend the ADA National Network’s director’s meeting. The meeting takes place every six months and directors from all 10 of the regional ADA Centers attend. The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) oversees the performance of the ADA Centers and manages the funding they receive.
As you might expect, the director’s meeting consists of updates on current work and brainstorming for future projects. Regions share best practices and talk about the results of the research they’ve done. Lots of collaboration goes on, with people joining planning committees or deciding to combine efforts on things.
From my perspective, the best part of the director’s meeting are the visits from representatives from Federal agencies, such as the U.S Access Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, and others. It’s a great opportunity to get information “straight from the horse’s mouth,” as it were. Not only that, it’s also a chance to get a bit of insider information that you might not otherwise know about or have access to.
The things I learned from being a guest at the director’s meeting may not qualify as insider information, but they’re interesting things I didn’t know before and they’re worth sharing!
1. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is Small
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles enforcing multiple Federal laws which prohibit workplace discrimination. They also conduct investigations, negotiate settlements and file lawsuits when necessary. If that wasn’t enough, the EEOC provides guidance, outreach and technical assistance to help ensure compliance with the law, often using guidance documents, like how-tos and frequently asked questions (FAQs).
With so much work to get done, the Commission must be huge, right? Nope. The EEOC is only made up of five members. Each of the members are appointed by the President and serve in the roles of Chair, Vice Chair and three Commissioners. The EEOC’s website explains further: “The Chair is responsible for the administration and implementation of policy for and the financial management and organizational development of the Commission. The Vice Chair and the Commissioners participate equally in the development and approval of Commission policies, issue charges of discrimination where appropriate, and authorize the filing of suits.” The president also appoints a General Counsel person, who supports and advises the Commission.
So that’s a total of six people (and their staff) who are responsible for making sure everything gets done! Or, I should say, ideally, it’s a total of six people. Currently, there are only three people serving on the Commission. Three is the number of members required to be present at meeting to validate the proceedings of the meeting, also known as the quorum. Here’s the rub, though – in January, one of the Commissioners’ term is ending, which means that there will be two active Commissioners; not enough to get anything done! How can this be? Well, the short answer is that because these positions require a presidential nomination, they also require confirmation in the Senate and the House.
The current president has put forth some nominations, but they have not moved through to the confirmation phase. And, to top it off, presidential nominations expire at the end of the year. So, in January, people will have to be re-nominated and then it will take some time to get them confirmed. This means that there’s likely going to be a pretty significant period before the EEOC can do anything. Yikes!
2. The 2-for-1 Policy is a Pain
The EEOC has challenges specific to its structure, but there’s another roadblock that impacts all federal agencies. Executive Order 13771. Otherwise known as Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs, this order went into effect in January 2017.
To put it plainly, this executive order requires law-making agencies to repeal two existing regulations for every one new regulation they make – hence the nickname 2-for-1 Policy.
The reason behind this boils down to controlling spending. There is a certain cost associated with implementing and enforcing any regulations, so the idea is that if you’re forced to delete old regulations when you develop new ones, you can prevent cost increases.
Interestingly, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia have similar “Pay As You Go” policies. In America, it remains to be seen what the impact of this executive order will be. Some folks believe that the impact will be slight, since historically such endeavors have failed.
When you apply this Executive Order to the management of civil rights laws, it puts law makers in a tough spot. After all, who wants to delete any part of a civil rights law, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, which could feel like walking back in time toward inequality?
On the other hand, consider the Department of Justice and the issue of website accessibility. The DOJ has long held the position that websites must be accessible in compliance with Title III of the ADA. However, because of the 2-for-1 Policy, they can’t easily make new regulations on website accessibility. Because there is no guidance, businesses are like sitting ducks for people who will exploit the fact nobody knows exactly what they’re supposed to do with their website and yet it must comply with the ADA.
Talk about a rock and a hard place.
What I was really struck by when learning about these challenges from Federal employees was the fact that they’re just as frustrated by these policies as everyone else, if not more. They seem to really care about doing things carefully and deliberately (and therefore, yes, slowly). The last thing they want is to see civil rights laws be taken away from or unenforced. So, they’re getting creative! They’re evaluating how they can combine efforts and share their new regulation allowance in a way that doesn’t degrade laws. They talk about the things they can do to serve the American public and help you understand that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Believe it or not, I came away from Washington, D.C. feeling hopeful!