Fair Labor Standards Act: Tracking Additional Complaint Data Could Improve DOL’s Enforcement

What GAO Found

Over the past 10 years, the number of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime cases has generally ranged between 23,000 and 30,000 each year. The compliance actions the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) used to address these cases primarily involved either on-site investigations or conciliations that seek a resolution between the employer and the worker by phone. Back wages due to workers for FLSA minimum wage and overtime violations increased from $129 million in fiscal year 2010 to $226 million in fiscal year 2019. Although the number of WHD investigators decreased by 25 percent from 2010 to 2019, WHD maintained its casework by using procedural flexibilities, such as not investigating low-priority complaints and by distributing work across offices to balance workloads.

From fiscal years 2014 through 2019, most of WHD’s FLSA compliance actions were targeted at priority industries—those WHD identified as low-wage, high violation industries that employ workers who are unlikely to file wage or overtime complaints, such as food services. In 2011, WHD developed a list of 20 priority industries, and encouraged its regional and district offices to focus on these industries by setting and monitoring performance goals as part of its annual enforcement planning process. The percentage of FLSA compliance actions involving the priority industries increased from 75 to 80 percent from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, according to DOL data.

WHD uses several strategies, including supervisory reviews, to address FLSA complaints consistently, but does not track uniform data needed to ensure that the reasons complaints are filed with no WHD compliance action are applied consistently. WHD may file complaints without completing a compliance action because they are not within WHD’s jurisdiction or for other reasons, such as that they are determined to be low-priority. GAO found that WHD filed about 20 percent of FLSA complaints with no compliance action from fiscal years 2014-2019 and the percent varied considerably (from 4 to 46 percent) among district offices (see figure). WHD lacks uniform data on the reasons complaints are filed with no compliance action at intake or the reasons cases are dropped after initial acceptance because there is no data field in WHD’s enforcement database that can be used to systematically aggregate that information. Absent this data, WHD is less able to ensure that a consistent process is applied to complaints.

Percentage of Fair Labor Standards Act Complaints Filed with No Compliance Action by WHD District Offices, Fiscal Years 2014-2019

Note: WHD filed about 20 percent of FLSA complaints with no compliance action from fiscal years 2014-2019, and the percent varied considerably among its district offices.

Why GAO Did This Study

The FLSA sets federal minimum wage and overtime pay requirements for millions of U.S. workers. WHD may investigate worker complaints of FLSA violations or initiate investigations in industries it prioritizes for enforcement. GAO was asked to review WHD compliance actions.

This report examines (1) trends in WHD’s FLSA minimum wage and overtime cases, (2) the extent to which WHD’s FLSA compliance actions targeted priority industries, and (3) the extent to which WHD’s reported efforts and data indicate that WHD applied a consistent process to FLSA complaints.

GAO analyzed WHD data on FLSA cases for fiscal years 2010 through 2019, the last full fiscal year of data available when GAO conducted its analysis. GAO also conducted more in-depth reviews of recent efforts (fiscal years 2014-2019). GAO interviewed officials from WHD’s national office, five regional offices, and five of WHD’s 54 district offices with the largest share of FLSA cases in their regions. GAO also interviewed external stakeholders, including state agencies and organizations that represent workers and employers.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends DOL’s WHD develop a method for systematically aggregating and reviewing data on the reasons complaints are filed with no compliance action or cases are dropped. DOL agreed with GAO’s recommendation and stated it would take action to address it.

For more information, contact Cindy Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.

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  • Surface Transportation Security: TSA Has Taken Steps to Improve its Surface Inspector Program, but Lacks Performance Targets
    In U.S GAO News
    According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Surface Transportation Security Inspector Operations Plan (TSA's plan), surface transportation security inspectors—known as surface inspectors—are to enter key details for program activities in the Performance and Results Information System (PARIS)—TSA's system of record for all surface inspector activities. In December 2017, GAO reported that TSA was unable to fully account for surface inspector time spent assisting with non-surface transportation modes, including aviation, due to data limitations in PARIS, and recommended TSA address these limitations. Since GAO's report, TSA updated PARIS to better track surface inspector activities in non-surface transportation modes. Transportation Security Administration Surface Inspectors Assess Security of a Bus System TSA's plan outlines steps to align work plan activities with risk assessment findings. However, TSA cannot comprehensively ensure surface inspectors are targeting program resources to high-risk modes and locations because it does not consistently collect information on entity mode or location in PARIS. According to officials, TSA plans to update PARIS and program guidance to require inspectors to include this information in the system by the end of fiscal year 2020. TSA's plan outlines performance measures for the surface inspector program, but does not establish quantifiable performance targets for all activities. Targets indicate how well an agency aspires to perform and could include, for example, entity scores on TSA security assessments, among others. By developing targets, TSA would be better positioned to assess the surface inspector program's progress in achieving its objective of increasing security among surface transportation entities. Surface transportation—freight and passenger rail, mass transit, highway, maritime and pipeline systems—is vulnerable to global terrorism and other threats. TSA is the federal agency primarily responsible for securing surface transportation systems. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires TSA to submit a plan to guide its Surface Transportation Security Inspectors Program. The Act includes a provision for GAO to review TSA's plan. This report examines the extent to which TSA's plan and its implementation: (1) address known data limitations related to tracking surface inspector activities among non-surface modes, (2) align surface operations with risk assessments, and how, if at all, TSA ensures inspectors prioritize activities in high-risk modes and locations, and (3) establish performance targets for the surface inspector program. GAO reviewed TSA's June 2019 plan and analyzed data on inspector activities for fiscal years 2017 through 2019. GAO interviewed officials in headquarters and a non-generalizable sample of 7 field offices selected based on geographical location and the presence of high-risk urban areas. GAO recommends that TSA establish quantifiable performance targets for the surface inspector program's activity-level performance measures. DHS concurred with our recommendation. For more information, contact Triana McNeil at (202) 512-8777 or McNeilT@gao.gov.
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