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Letter to The Honorable David Walker, Comptroller General, U.S. Government Accountability Offic

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Letter to The Honorable David Walker, Comptroller General, U.S. Government Accountability Office

April 24, 2007

The Honorable David Walker, Comptroller General
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20548

Dear Mr. Walker,

In the four decades since passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the pay gap between men and women has narrowed considerably for numerous reasons, including the law itself, various judicial precedents such as Shultz v. Wheaton Glass and Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, and an evolving consciousness that women make valuable contributions to the workplace. But despite the progress that has been made, women are still making only 77% of the salaries enjoyed by their male counterparts; women of color fare far worse. There is still a great deal to be done.

As you pointed out in an October, 2003 report, even when accounting for all of the other variables that are often used to justify the pay gap, such as time out of the workforce to care for children or part-time work, women still earn significantly less than men. That report concluded that 20% of the wage gap could not be explained by factors other than discrimination. In addition, the impact of these wage disparities is compounded over time, since women receive significantly less than men in pension income.

We would like to take a closer look at pay disparity issues and, in particular, at the roles that the federal government has played and can play to remedy the wage gap. While many in Congress recognize that true equity will demand equalizing the wages paid in traditionally male-dominated and traditionally female-dominated jobs that require similar qualifications, it is critical that the laws already on the books be fully and proactively enforced to remedy the wage gaps that persist for men and women performing the same jobs.

To that end, it would be helpful to Congress to have a better understanding of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) and the Department of Labor's enforcement of current anti-discrimination law with regard to gender-based differentials in pay. We would also appreciate a review, similar to the one you recently conducted into pay discrepancies at the Department of Energy, of compensation patterns of at other federal agencies.

It would be helpful if the GAO review could include the following:

• Enforcement activities by the EEOC and the DOL with regard to cases of potential wage discrimination: We would like to learn more about the number of complaints the EEOC and DOL receive, the time it takes to process them, and the action taken to resolve such complaints. We are also interested in compliance reviews initiated by the DOL and commissioner's charges filed by the EEOC to investigate pay disparities. What proactive enforcement steps have been recently initiated by these agencies?

• Outreach and technical assistance activities by the EEOC and the DOL: In 2000, the previous administration established the Equal Pay Matters Initiative to fund coordination and outreach efforts at DOL and EEOC. The Administration eliminated this program in 2002. Since then, what kinds of efforts have been put forth toward this effort?

• Treatment of the Equal Opportunity Survey: In 2000, DOL adopted a regulation to require the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) to distribute an Equal Opportunity Survey to all Federal contractors to obtain compliance data divided by gender on employment and compensation practices. The regulation specified that the data should be used, in part, to inform OFCCP's selection of contractors for compliance reviews. In the 6 years since the regulation's adoption, OFCCP has only distributed the survey one time and to a small percentage of contractors. In addition, the collected data was not analyzed nor was it used for compliance reviews, as required by the regulations of 2000. This survey has now been eliminated. It would be helpful for the GAO to examine the data that was collected to determine if any discrimination occurred.

• Federal pay disparities: Recently, the GAO found pay disparities between women and men of two to four percent at several Department of Energy laboratories. In addition, the GAO examined employee complaints and discovered a pattern of complaints about under-representation of women and minorities in higher level positions. It would be helpful for the GAO to perform similar reviews at other federal agencies.

• Disparities between job categories: It is often reported that employers who understand they are not allowed to discriminate within the same job category will still discriminate between job categories within their firms. If it is possible, it would be helpful to obtain better data from some large employers about how job categories that are highly correlated to specific genders compare to one another in-house.

Sincerely,

Tom Harkin
Edward M. Kennedy
Hillary Rodham Clinton


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