Banks as Federal Contractors, A Brief History

By: Mike Lehr, HR Consultant

Unless legal counsel says otherwise, if FDIC covers a bank’s deposits, it’s best to assume it’s a federal contractor. That not only means the bank likely needs an affirmative action plan if it issues fifty or more different W2s in a year, but the federal government holds the bank to higher employment standards.

Still, as human resources professionals know, bank CEOs, presidents, and other senior executives often want to know, “What law says so?” After all, when we think of a “federal contractor,” we often think huge employers with thousands of employees.

For banks with only a few hundred (if that) employees, this all seems very unnecessary. Yet, the short answer is that a reinterpretation of existing law after the 2008 financial crisis made most banks federal contractors if they obtained federal deposit insurance.

Reviewing the way our government works and the history of banks as federal contractors can clarify this answer. After all, the law is not clear. It hasn’t changed much in over twenty years.

This review begins by reminding others that federal laws change in three main ways:

    1. Congress passes or revises laws.
    2. Executive branch reinterprets existing laws.
    3. Courts rule on and clarify regulations causing disagreements among parties.

While Congress neither passed nor revised any law specifically stating banks are federal contractors, the Department of Labor (DOL) reinterpreted the law. Until the 2008 financial crisis, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), an agency of the DOL, mainly interpreted the law to say FDIC made banks contractors. The DOL, its boss so to speak, never accepted this however.

So, until 2008, unless a bank clearly acted as “an issuing and paying agent for U.S. savings bonds and notes” or “a federal fund depository,” in a substantial manner, the DOL likely didn’t consider it a federal contractor.

Until 2008, FDIC payouts to banks were rare, almost non-existent. This crisis though saw many sizeable payouts. As a result, the DOL accepted OFCCP’s interpretation of the law. The crisis forced the DOL to see FDIC coverage as doing business with the federal government. So now, by its “boss” agreeing, the OFCCP has more authority to enforce its regulations such as affirmative action plans on banks.

Again, a reinterpretation of existing law after the 2008 financial crisis increased dramatically the likelihood that a bank is a federal contractor. This brief history has helped human resources professionals answer questions related to “what law says so?”

For more guidance and support on complying as a federal contractor, you can reach Mike Lehr at mlehr@younginc.com. Mike Lehr is not an attorney. As such, the content in this article should not be construed as providing legal advice. For specific decisions on compliance with OFCCP regulations, readers should consult with their legal counsel.