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DOL Prevailing Wage Conference Summary

October 1, 2009 Written by: Jeff Harnett, Director of Sales, SCA Markets

I recently attended the 3-day DOL Prevailing Wage conference in Orlando and thought I would share my observations from that experience. The hotel accommodations at the famous Peabody Hotel provided a great setting with steak restaurants, a diner and strong martinis. The famous mallards marched on red carpets twice a day to much fanfare although when a fire alarm went off the third day, I noticed no one offered to escort the ducks off the premises. What the duck!

The conference was well attended but you couldn’t help but notice that a lot of people from “weatherization” were eager to learn the Davis-Bacon Act rules. The Department of Energy’s successful Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has spawned many new companies who help lower income families decrease their home’s energy bills through energy audit and appliance replacement discounts. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is providing more than $5 billion to expand the WAP program which is great, however, it also requires these companies to comply with the Davis-Bacon Act which their industry hasn’t had to deal with before. Wage surveys were rushed out, Wage determinations continue being issued and many companies are wracking their brains to understand certified payrolls, conformance and fringe benefit compliance. I thought the DOL did a good job of addressing their concerns.

My only complaint about these conferences is that the DOL is required to speak only to the regulations and not to the business concerns of contractors. I know that there are many COs who would welcome questions from contractors they have hired to perform a contract but many others would prefer not being presented with complicated problems for them to resolve. This is especially true if the contractor is questioning the duties of the CO. It is not realistic to think that contractors should question their clients. Contractors are looking for ways to gain a competitive advantage in a very competitive market and responses like “just pay them the higher wage” when in doubt doesn’t provide the business solutions they need in these tough economic times.

The DOL is sponsoring training sessions across the country throughout this year in an effort to thwart the tired response they receive from contractors during an audit of “ we didn’t know we had to…” The conference is very educational to new contractors and offers something to learn for everyone, but the goal here seems to be that the DOL has provided every contractor with every opportunity to learn the rules of government contracting and the old excuse will not fly in the coming audit years. The DOL is ramping up their staff to perform more audits and the marching orders seem to be a quicker move to debarment than it has been in the past.

While there is still very little recourse for contractors to ask questions, or rather get answers from government officials, the DOL conference offers invaluable information on the regulations that come into play. The best solution for contractors, however, is to partner with compliance experts who have experience with the auditing process and can assist them in “righting the ship” before an audit finds the problem first.