On Monday (Labor Day), President Obama ordered that federal contractors provide mandatory paid sick leave to workers. This joins a growing list of federal mandates.

Over his past nearly two terms, the President has ordered sweeping changes in the workforce by circumventing Congress. Using the power of his pen (a.k.a. executive order), he instituted more than a dozen orders that range from higher minimum wages to new reporting requirements on labor violations. However, the policies have largely only affected government contractors, because those are the only workers he has direct power over.  

The President is doing it for a reason: to make Congress and governors and state legislatures nationwide follow suit. They are the ones who truly hold the cards to mandated workplace reform. As we’ve seen with the wave of mandatory minimum hikes that have swept across the country – particularly in and around large cities, his rhetoric resonated.

However, federal contractors aren’t sold. They see the continuous onslaught of new regulations and requirements from Obama as unfair targeting that raises costs directly, slows efficiency, and buries them under bureaucratic red tape. In some cases, they aren’t even necessary as contractors negotiate with their workers and don’t need the President telling them how to do it. Furthermore, some call the reporting rules “throwbacks” to the industrial age” rather than forward-looking in this 21st-century economy.

Trade groups representing contractors from different industries refuse to hold their tongues any longer. The Hill reports:

“He’s using the federal contracting community as a messaging board because those are the types of policies he’d like Congress and State and local legislators to adopt,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council (PSC), a trade group that represents the government technology and professional service industries.

“It’s very much a throwback to the industrial age of the ’60s than the progressive human resources environment of the 21st century,” he said, explaining that the majority of employers now allow their workers to take time as they see fit.

In August, the PSC joined the National Defense Industrial Association, Aerospace Industries Association and the Information Technology Industry Council in writing a letter to White House officials asking the administration to back off.

“At a time when government budgets are under siege, cost efficiency is essential, and there is a broad agreement about the need for the government to open its aperture to enable access to the full marketplace of capabilities, this rapid growth in compliance requirements is becoming untenable,” their letter said.


Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) said the President has long treated the federal contracting marketplace as a testing ground to implement sweeping changes he can’t get through Congress.

“By circumventing congressional authority, the Obama administration has increased regulatory burdens that drive up costs on taxpayer-funded projects and discourage small businesses from pursuing federal contracts,” Geoff Burr, ABC’s vice president of government affairs, said in a statement to The Hill.

These associations pinpoint an important argument. Increasing regulatory burdens on federal contractors means raising the costs of taxpayer-funded projects. Why should taxpayers be on the hook for the costs associated with the President’s workplace engineering policies?

The phenomenon we’re seeing is not new to this administration and those affected by the president’s progressive agenda. The unions were ardent supporters of Obamacare until the chickens came home to roost and they realized what it would mean for their generous healthcare plans. Then they too were looking for carve outs and spoke out.

President Obama is not the first President to experiment with workforce policy using federal contractors, but it seems he’s used them most. With about 15 months left in office and no care about the next election, we can expect more to come down the pike.