As taxpayers across the country scramble this week to complete their taxes, many will ask themselves, "Is the government spending this money wisely?" A new policy brief released ahead of Tax Day raises the same question, and calculates that the federal government spends nearly $300 billion per year in federal contract dollars on projects performed in states that have not yet passed laws to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans from workplace discrimination.
According to the new report, 25 states each received $5 billion or more in federal contracts last year. However, a substantial majority (60 percent) of these states have no employment protections based on sexual orientation. More than two-thirds of these states (68 percent) have no employment nondiscrimination laws explicitly covering gender identity. Subsidizing discrimination with taxpayer money is a lose/lose proposition for taxpayers and LGBT employees, according to the report's authors: the Movement Advancement Project, Center for American Progress, Freedom to Work, Human Rights Campaign, and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.
These staggering sums demonstrate the need for Congress to finally pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect nearly all workers from discrimination regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. After 17 years of delay since the Senate last voted on ENDA, it's time for Democratic leaders to bring this bill to the floor for a vote this year. Republican leaders in the House, however, won't give the bill a vote despite the fact that ENDA enjoys widespread public support, even from a majority of Republicans themselves.
Given these political realities, President Barack Obama should take action now to protect taxpayer money and hardworking employees by issuing an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating at all levels of employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. More than 175,000 Americans have signed Freedom to Work's online petition in support of this executive order.
Executive action to prevent workplace discrimination is not unprecedented. For more than 70 years, presidents from both political parties have used their executive authority to prohibit companies doing business with the federal government from discriminating against employees based on a range of nonwork-related characteristics. In its most current form, Executive Order 11246 prohibits most federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. It's high time that President Obama issue an executive order that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to that list.
A new executive order would be politically popular. According to a Center for American Progress poll, 73 percent of likely voters support an executive order that would require all companies doing business with the federal government to adopt policies that protect LGBT workers from discrimination. That includes 86 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of Independents, and even 61 percent of Republicans. Only 9 percent of voters opposed this policy. For their part, 56 percent of small businesses owners also agree that the president should take action to protect LGBT workers.
As the CEO of the nation's largest employer -- the federal government -- President Obama should make it known that discrimination has no place in the workplace. And in doing so, he would be following the lead of many other CEOs leading our nation's most successful businesses. Research from the Williams Institute and the Center for American Progress finds that among federal contractors, at least 61 percent of their employees are already covered by laws or private policies protecting against sexual-orientation discrimination. America's top contractors have adopted LGBT non-discrimination policies because they realize workplace fairness is good for the bottom line. Employers that do not discriminate are better equipped to recruit the best and the brightest, encourage productivity and job performance, and appeal to a broader range of consumer markets.
With the stroke of a pen, President Obama can issue an executive order that covers approximately one out of every four civilian jobs in the United States and gives millions more LGBT Americans the freedom to go to work without fear of being fired for who they are or who they love. With this week's tax-time report that nearly $300 billion per year in federal dollars goes to contract projects in states without basic LGBT workplace protections, we think the time for the president to act is now.