Op-Ed: Trump’s budget could shrink government and civil rights

State Senator James Sanders, Jr.


Thomas Paine, the philosopher of the American Revolution, once said, “Government, at its best, is but a necessary evil.” I take that to mean, if people just kept from hurting each other, we could do without police and the military. We could stop paying taxes and pulling over when we saw sirens. However, we live in a world with many malevolent people, so we do need protection from the bad amongst us. We need help when we become sick, and to educate our children. Therefore, we put up with government, and we try to make it work for us.

Though most of the time we wish that government could just butt out, we need the government to protect people of color from aggression. Since states have often preyed on minority groups in the past, we look to the federal government to furnish those protections. That is why it is so hard to trust those who talk about “shrinking government” and “states’ rights.” Too often, those terms mean removing protections for people of color

Likewise, we know there is something more than a budgetary concern behind Trump’s plan to do away with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and its 600 employees. It’s not about “shrinking government,” as you will hear, it’s about removing protections from minority groups.

This program audits contractors that receive federal dollars to ensure they take steps to offer equal employment opportunity to all. During the Obama administration, the OFCCP scored a major settlement with Palantir Technologies, a data mining company that discriminated against Asians. They also settled with Gordon Foods, a food services provider that refused to hire women. But much of the impact of an agency like this comes not from lawsuits but from the fact that employers know it is watching them.

Trump’s plan is to fold the OFCCP into the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This organization has the entirely different mission of responding to employment opportunity complaints. Folding the two together, of course, will hamper the EEOC’s pursuit of its own mission.

These are not remote concerns. Most major companies receive federal dollars at some point. That is especially the case when it comes to capital construction. If Governor Cuomo moves ahead in the coming years with his plans to rebuild JFK Airport, the federal government’s ability to monitor employers on that project for discrimination may be severely limited by Trump’s proposed budget. For this reason and so many others, we need to stand firmly against the administration’s plans to minimize civil rights efforts in government agencies.