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The Department of Justice has temporarily relaxed civil rights laws as America deals with the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), which falls under the Justice Department, quietly decided to suspend affirmative action guidelines that have for decades served to protect minorities, women, veterans and the disabled who work on federal, state and local projects.

Craig Leen, director of the OFCCP, sent a memo addressed to all contracting agencies of the federal government with the subject line, “Contracts for Coronavirus Relief Efforts.”

Leen wrote in the March 17 memo, “In view of special national interest presented by the novel coronavirus outbreak, and consistent with agency practice relating to emergency responses, I have decided to grant a limited exemption and waiver from some of the requirements of the laws administered by the OFCCP.”

Leen authorized the waiving the following civil rights stipulations found in the Equal Employment Opportunity Federal Acquisition Regulations:

• Requires affirmative action by the Contractor to employ and advance in employment qualified protected veterans.
• Requires taking affirmative action to employ, advance in employment, and otherwise.
• Requires affirmative action by the Contractor, and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities.

“In short, this exemption waiver extends to all affirmative action obligations of supply and service and construction contracts, and other obligations as specified in the FAR clauses,” Leen said.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), who first noted the change, expressed outrage.

“Today, I learned that the Department of Labor is suspending its affirmative action guidelines,” Coleman said. For decades we have fought to ensure that minority and women-owned businesses were given the opportunity to work on federal, state, and local projects. Now, with the stroke of a pen, [the Justice Department] has decided that one way to overcome this crisis is to suspend fairness rules on these projects. This is a further expression of the racism evidenced by the Trump administration,”

Coleman said she couldn’t help but see the sleight-of-hand tactic in which the change was made.

“On the day the Senate passed the largest economic stimulus package in American history, the administration has decided now is the time to cut out women- and minority-owned businesses,” she said.

Leen did not provide a reason for the changes, but he said the waiver is valid until June 17 but could be extended “should special circumstances in the national interest so require.”

Click here to view Leen’s memo.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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