01 September 2009

The Trouble With Agency Action

One way to deal with a problem is to give a government agency the power to enforce a law. Another is to create a private right of action for an aggrieved party. Agency action often is half-hearted, however. For example, the track record for agency action isn't very impressive at the United States Labor Department's Wage and Hour division:

In a report scheduled to be released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office found that the agency, the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, had mishandled 9 of the 10 cases brought by a team of undercover agents posing as aggrieved workers.

In one case, the division failed to investigate a complaint that under-age children in Modesto, Calif., were working during school hours at a meatpacking plant with dangerous machinery. . . .

[T]he Wage and Hour Division had mishandled more serious cases 19 percent of the time. In such cases, the accountability office said, the division did not begin an investigation for six months, did not complete an investigation for a year, did not assess back wages when violations were clearly identified and did not refer cases to litigation when warranted. . . .

The report said undercover agents recorded Wage and Hour Division officials urging workers who complained to file lawsuits.

The agency also accepted very flimsy and incomplete settlements, for inexplicable reasons. A recent examination of the work of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department under the Bush Administation shows that it was also run dismally and corruptly.

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