NATIONAL COUNCIL OF EEOC LOCALS No. 216
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES
Gabrielle Martin, President
303 E 17th Ave., Suite 510
Denver, CO 80203
September 15, 2004
Chair Cari Dominguez
Vice Chair Naomi Churchill Earp
Commissioner Leslie E. Silverman
Commissioner Stuart J. Ishimaru
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
1801 L Street, N.W., 10th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20507
Re: Submitted by National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216, AFGE/ AFL-CIO, for the September 17, 2004 Commission Meeting Record:
Statement and Brief Opposing Establishment of a Privatized National Call Center
Dear Chair Dominguez, Vice Chair Earp, Commissioners Silverman and Ishimaru:
In as much as I have been advised that the Commission is not accepting testimony at the September 17, 2004 Commission Meeting, the National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216, AFGE/AFL-CIO requests that the contents of this correspondence and attached brief be included in the record.
The National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216, AFGE/AFL-CIO proudly represents the EEOC’s bargaining unit employees. These employees serve on the front-lines protecting American citizens against discrimination in the workplace. Our career employees stay focused on the Commission’s work as each new administration comes in and tries to leave its fingerprints on the agency. In the past, some administrations have committed themselves to gaining increased Agency funds, adding staff, training employees, and expanding the Commission’s physical presence by opening new offices. Ironically, as the EEOC celebrates its 40th anniversary enforcing this nation’s civil rights laws, this administration is taking a different tact and is intent on diminishing the agency’s law enforcement role. Friday’s vote on the establishment of a privatized national call center is the lynch pin in a plan to reduce staff, offices, and meaningful contact with the agency by the public. In other words, we are embarking on a program of disservice to the public.
The ramifications of creating a nationwide privatized call center will be felt at the Commission both immediately, and for years to come. When Congress established the EEOC through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it contemplated that Commission employees, not telemarketers, would enforce the law and provide advice and guidance to the public. All of us have suffered the frustration of calling a customer service line, punching buttons for an automated menu, trying to talk to someone who cannot provide an answer, being transferred around, waiting on hold, sometimes being disconnected, and in the end, too often not getting an answer to our question. The Commission should ensure that civil rights should not be treated the same as making an airline reservation.
In response to a call to the Commission, the public should feel comfortable that they are speaking with a knowledgeable staff person who can provide service and help them. The public will experience three major differences in services when the nationwide privatized call center responds: 1) Calls no longer will be confidential, but instead there will be a recording that calls are being monitored or recorded for quality assurance purposes; 2) callers will quickly discern that the “EEOC” person on the other end of the line is reading a script: 3) callers will have to make an additional call to get help and service. These differences will deter the public from asserting their concerns. Those who choose to pursue their claims will risk receiving misinformation; such has been the case at the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services and Medicare call centers. This misinformation will lead to individuals losing their Federally protected right to file a charge of discrimination.
Imagine needing urgent medical care. Care that in many cases may be life saving. Imagine too, that instead of a skilled and experienced surgeon, as the patient you must go to a clinic in another facility, away from the hospital with all of its supporting staff, knowledge and equipment. Once at the clinic, you will find that the clinic is staffed by day laborers, rather than doctors, doctor’s assistants or other skilled and trained paraprofessional staff. Training for the day laborers consists of cursory training on complex procedures and a how-to manual. The day laborers are told not to worry, that if there is a technical question that cannot be handled, the patient can be referred to the hospital. As the patient, you are terrified. So too, should the Commission and the public be terrified hat the Commission seeks to award a contract for a nationwide privatized center. The civil rights landscape will change - forever scarred and disfigured by misinformation and incorrect information given to the public. The Commission will have created a new sense of hopelessness for those in search of hope and help. When these members of the public call the Commission directly, there still will not be enough Investigators, Investigative Support Assistants and Office Automation Assistants to assist them, but there will be experience and support so that the information given is correct.
The National Council calls on the Commission to invest its resources in its own employees, rather than pursing this costly and risky nationwide privatized call center venture. Rather than hiring and investing in its staff, the Commission is diverting desperately needed funds to pay for the call center and its hidden costs such as additional funds dedicated to a third party contract employed to evaluate the work of the privatized call center contractor. Our employees are making do with less staff, outdated technology, and no training funds. The Commission’s willingness to shortchange its resources has been showing for some time. The Commission has become a decimated battlefield, without adequate staff. Its leadership is scattered and overtaxed in an effort to cover the battles. Often, employees are expected to work illegal overtime to compensate for the three hundred employees who have left and not been replaced during a three year hiring freeze, which continues with little exception through the present. EEOC case files are transferred out of their jurisdictions in a haphazard attempt to cover the staffing crisis. Promotions are delayed due to an alleged lack of funds. And while the Commission is out selling training to others and making thousands of dollars in the process, the Commission’s employees are left wondering if they ever will get any training. Technology exists, always as an afterthought. Our purchases occur, if at all, when we can afford inexpensive equipment and programs at the greatest volume discounts. Needless to say, morale is at an all time low.
The Agency has failed to get employees to buy-in to restructuring proposals, such as the nationwide privatized call center. In this case, the end plan appears preordained and ignores the needs of the existing staff. There is no evidence that the Agency gave consideration to staffing a centralized call center with EEOC employees. The Commission’s claims that an in-house operation would be cost-prohibitive are unsubstantiated. The claims also beg the question: who is answering the telephones today? In fact, EEOC employees answer the public’s calls, without added expense to the budget.
The National Council urges the Commission to vote against a privatized national call center and not to award a contract. In the alternative, the National Council believes that Commission should explore a true pilot, as suggested by the Regional Attorneys, wherein a call center operates out of two or three EEOC offices, with EEOC staff mirroring their activities in other offices. This approach would be less costly and allow for a true basis of comparison.
The attached brief outlines the Union’s arguments in greater detail, with cited authorities.
National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216, AFGE/AFL-CIO
THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF EEOC LOCALS, NO. 216, AFGE/AFL-CIO
BRIEF OPPOSING THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PRIVATIZED NATIONAL ENTER
A. EEOC management has not established a case for a call center, privatized or otherwise.
Profound concerns about the call center have been raised by career EEOC management, the labor union that represents EEOC’s employees, the senior Democratic EEOC Commissioner, and legal and civil rights organizations.
Former EEOC Commission Paul Miller, before his ten year tenure at the Commission ended, stated: “I remain unconvinced that redirecting an enormously large amount of EEOC’s scarce resources into a centralized call center makes us more efficient or effective. Such a program will not save money, is expensive, and certainly will divert our already overstretched resources away from enforcement.”
EEOC’s Regional Attorneys, considered Senior Management: “We feel that we have been placed in a ‘catch 22’: as justification for a National Contact Center, we are told we are failing to meet the needs of the public because we have limited staff and an inadequate phone system; yet for years nothing has been done to alleviate the drainage of personnel to enhance technology. (We urge that) before investing millions on an untested, unproven, or uncertain program, certain aspects of our law enforcement delivery system must be guaranteed. In addition, more effort should be made to put resources into the system that we know works, like fully staffed offices, rather than investing millions into unproven schemes.”
EEOC’s District Directors: “(T)hree-fourths of the District Directors believe—continue to believe that calls from the public are being quite adequately handled with current staff.”
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has raised “concerns about replacing highly qualified personnel with a call center staffed by private contractors with limited expertise in complex employment discrimination issues.
National Employment Lawyers Association: “NELA believes that a National Call Center (when combined with other recommendations by the National Academy of Public Administration, NAPA, to reduce staff and offices) will have a severe, negative impact on the EEOC’s law enforcement program. There are also many who fear that if the Commission adopts some of the suggestions of the NAPA Report that the progress made over the last eight or so years could be lost. NAPA’s proposed changes to the law enforcement program need to be given thorough and deliberate consideration and all stakeholders need to be consulted, not just the external stakeholders. The EEOC’s staff is probably in the best position to know from experience which changes are likely to be successful and they need to be fully consulted as well.”
Currently, calls from the public are handled by EEOC staff: attorneys, mediators, and investigators. Because of their experience, a majority of the inquiries can be settled in a single telephone call. It is estimated that it takes as long as a year for people to be knowledgeable enough to undertake initial processing of complaints of discrimination.
Even if calls of a general nature could be segregated from more complex concerns, the creation of a costly call center for this purpose diverts valuable resources that are sorely needed in-house. Over the last four years, EEOC’s workforce has lost 300 employees, many of them because of the Chair’s hiring freeze, which was imposed on her first day in office. Staffing holes caused by attrition affects every area of the agency. As occurs with some regularity, EEOC transfers cases from the local offices where they should be investigated to other outside offices with no geographic connection to the claims. This compromises the effectiveness of investigations because outside staff knows less about the employers involved. In addition, staff in the outside offices is less likely to be able to conduct on-site investigations because of the increased time and cost. EEOC employees have successfully litigated overtime violations, due to the longer hours needed to perform the work of missing staff. Due to the continued staffing shortages, employees routinely work outside of their job descriptions. When professional employees should be helping the public, they are forced to spend many hours performing data entry, reception, clerical, paraprofessional and secretarial work. EEOC delays recommended promotions to employees who are actually performing higher-graded duties, due to budget constraints. A call center will not solve these problems, but directing funds in-house to replenish and support existing staff will improve this situation.
Finally, on August 2, 2004, during a visit to the Denver District Office to introduce employees to another manager assigned to cover this office, Nicholas Inzeo, the Director of the Office of Field Programs, advised that his office had examined the critical staffing situation and determined that in the field offices, only one – Memphis- has a sufficient number of Investigators and support staff to handle the office’s workload. Yet, the Commission insists on investing in telemarketers.
B. Any call center established should be staffed with federal employees.
If the case for the establishment of a call center can be made, then the call center should be staffed with federal employees. Federal employees already handle inquiries from the public, despite significantly reduced resources. Providing guidance to the public regarding federal statutes barring discrimination in employment is an inherently governmental function. Indeed, the Investigators, Attorneys, and Mediators who interface with the public are all classified on EEOC’s Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act inventory as inherently governmental, i.e., the agency has determined that all of the work they perform, including responding to telephonic inquiries from the public, is too important to contract out. The solicitation for EEOC’s call center states that the contractor telemarketers reading from canned scripts will receive just 6 to 7 days of training. There are about five hundred pages of information and script that must be learned in a vacuum, without the benefit of the experienced Investigators, Mediators and Attorneys
NELA shares the National Council’s position: “If the EEOC decides that a central calling function is a good thing, then we suggest that it not be outsourced, but instead staffed with EEOC personnel.
EEOC’s Regional Attorneys also share the National Council’s concerns: “Grave doubts exist regarding whether the proposed ‘scripts’ and minimal training will be an adequate substitution for the knowledge, experience, support, and training of seasoned EEOC personnel…Potentially meritorious charges would be screened out due to the inexperience of contact center staff.”
Not only should federal employees be answering these calls, but also historically they have done a better job than their private sector counterparts have. Federal employee call centers have consistently performed at a high level for a variety of agencies, including the Social Security Administration. With 50% of its workforce eligible for retirement, the EEOC must replenish its ranks with career employees who will provide the necessary institutional commitment and knowledge. Staffing a call center with federal employees would enhance the agency’s career ladder, allowing EEOC to recruit and train its employees who could become the investigators, mediators, and attorneys of tomorrow.
EEOC’s political management has been elusive on the costs of a privatized call center, ignoring such hidden costs as an expected 30% staff turnover, training expenses, and additional funding for a second contractor, which will attempt to ensure the compliance of the call center contractor.
The Commissioners should learn from the experience of the privatized call center established by DHS to handle inquiries from the public about securing immigration rights and benefits. The DHS privatized call center was supposed to handle basic inquiries from the public. According to civil rights, religious, and immigration groups who signed on to a 2003 letter put together by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the DHS call center has been a disaster.
“Recent experience with the BCIS’ National Customer Service Center (NCSC) offers another example of the negative impacts of contracting out immigration functions, and the differences that result from using an outside contractor rather than a trained BCIS employee. Until just a few months ago, BCIS-employed IIOs at the service centers handled inquiries about problems encountered with individual cases. In June, all such telephone access was cut off, with all inquirers instructed to call the NCSC’s 800 number. The contrast has been profound, with resulting problems ranging from the frustrating and time-wasting to truly damaging errors. Before the June changeover, IIOs readily solved the majority of these problems. Operators who now answer the calls know nothing about the subject of the call and rarely provide assistance. These operators work from scripts, frequently cannot even identify which script they should be using, and are rarely able to provide meaningful assistance. In fact, they often provide answers that convey a clear misunderstanding of the subject matter with which they are dealing.”
The fact that the Commission’s call center would not prevent callers from contacting EEOC offices, does little to address the fact that all too often, wrong information is given to the public by telemarketers at the call centers. Wrong information compounded by the costs of duplicating the effort to answer phone calls, surely makes the case for funding a call center that much more unfounded. Moreover, recent contact with the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Union indicate that service at the call center continues to be bad and may have gotten worse.
Even more recently, the Government Accountability Office reported to Congress only 4 percent of the responses GAO received in 300 test calls to 34 call Medicare centers were correct and complete. Although arguably these calls are more complex in nature than those handled by the DHS call center are, they merely highlight the problem with telemarketer staffed call centers attempting to handle complex rights and benefits matters. Sadly, this was the second such poor report card for the Medicare center; time did not improve the service in this call center 
C. If a call center is considered for outsourcing, the work should be subjected to public-private competition.
The attempt by EEOC’s political management to contract out the call center work without public-private competition is in flagrant defiance of the privatization process, which is known as OMB Circular A-76.
EEOC’s political management insists that the establishment of a privatized call center is “new work,” so there is no requirement for a public-private competition. Wrong! Since the establishment of the agency by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC has received calls from the public and those calls have been answered by the agency’s own employees. This is not “new work.” Even EEOC’s political management concedes that the agency’s employees are currently responding to telephone inquiries.
Here is the definition of “new work” in OMB Circular A-76: “An activity that is performed by the agency and is reengineered, reorganized, modernized, upgraded, expanded, or changed to become more efficient, but still essentially provides the same service is not considered a new requirement. New ways of performing existing work are not new requirements.”
Nor would the establishment of a privatized call center constitute a “segregable expansion,” which is defined in the circular as “(a)n increase to an existing commercial activity that can be separately competed.” The establishment of a privatized call center would not be “an increase” to the existing activity. Calls are being answered right now by federal employees. In a privatized call center, calls would be answered by contractors. A privatized call center would be nothing more than doing the same thing work differently.
Under OMB Circular A-76, work performed by federal employees may not be converted to contractor performance without public-private competition, absent permission from Office of Management and Budget, regardless of whether an agency’s political management insists that the impact on the affected workforce would be benign. EEOC has never sought such a waiver.
Even if a waiver were granted, it is clearly contrary to the interests of taxpayers to give work satisfactorily performed by federal employees to a contractor without the benefit of a public-private competition. It would also be a profound disservice to the federal employees currently performing this work.
D. EEOC’s position is misleading on the issue of job losses.
EEOC’s political management contends that the establishment of a privatized call center would not result in the loss of any federal jobs. That is misleading in the short-term and the long-term. As discussed earlier, the establishment of a privatized call center is part of an ongoing effort by EEOC’s political management to deny work to its in-house staff. The imposition of personnel ceilings by EEOC’s political management have contributed significantly to the loss of 300 jobs in the agency’s workforce through attrition over the last four years.
In the long-term the situation is even more ominous. The establishment of DHS’ disastrous privatized call center was portrayed in much the same way that EEOC’s political management presents its privatized call center proposal: basic inquiries from the public would be handled by a privatized call center so that the remaining DHS staff who dealt with the public could concentrate on more important work.
After establishing that call center, however, DHS announced its decision to review for privatization the jobs of the 1,400 remaining employees who supposedly had been freed up to work on more important matters. Indeed, DHS’ political management used the establishment of a privatized call center to justify targeting for privatization the remaining employees who interfaced with the public. DHS Under Secretary Janet Hale wrote, “For example, a wide range of actions that were once performed by (federal employees) in what are now BCIS Call Centers are now successfully performed by contract. This demonstrates that many typical functions (associated with functions that had not previously been contracted out) are commercial in nature.” Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard offered an amendment on the floor to the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill on June 18 to prevent this massive DHS privatization review from being undertaken, which passed with strong bipartisan support, 242-163. On September 8, 2004, by a vote of 49-47, the amendment was also included in the Senate version of the funding measure, through an amendment offered by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE).
Given the Administration’s approach towards privatization and the agency’s policy to shrink unnecessarily, the in-house workforce in favor of contractors and term workers, the effort by EEOC’s political management to privatize the call center workload is surely only the beginning.
The National Council recommends that the Commission delay any vote on awarding or obligating funds to establish a privatized call center, or to make preparations for its establishment. Instead, EEOC should lift its self-imposed personnel ceilings that have contributed significantly to cuts in its workforce of over 300 employees since 2000. The agency can then replenish the ranks of investigators, mediators, administrative judges and attorneys and hire the clerical staff necessary to free them up to spend more time helping the public fight discrimination in the workplace, including responding to telephone inquiries from the public.
1. Daily Labor Report, “EEOC Miller Expresses Qualms on Reorganization,” 3/26/04.
2. EEOC Public Commission Meeting, 9/8/04, “Repositioning for New Realities;” Follow up Remarks Submitted by Regional Attorneys concerning implementing a national call center, 10/1/03.
3. EEOC Public Commission Meeting, 9/8/04, “Repositioning for New Realities.”
5. 3/25/04 letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Young from Frederick M. Gittes, President, National Employment Lawyers Association.
6. According to “Analysis of Telephone Calls from the Public,” dated June 4, 2003, p. 1., the majority of EEOC calls are handled by GS-12’s”, i.e., senior federal investigators. “The higher the grade level of the employee, the more likely the issue would be resolved, rather than transferred.” GS-11’s and above generally resolved at least 80% of their calls. Ibid. at 1-2.
7. EEOC Public Commission Meeting, 9/8/04, “Repositioning for New Realities,” NELA testimony.
8. EEOC’s Combined Annual Reports Fiscal Years 1999- 2001 and EEOC’s FY 2005 Budget Request.
9. United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Baltimore Field Office, Baltimore, MD, and American Federation of Government Employees, Local No. 216, 59 FLRA No. 124, 2/25/04.
10. www.Fedbizopps.gov, Solicitation Number RFP0410.
11. EEOC Public Commission Meeting, 9/8/04, “Repositioning for New Realities,” NELA testimony.
12. EEOC Public Commission Meeting, 9/8/04, “Repositioning for New Realities;” Follow up Remarks Submitted by Regional Attorneys concerning implementing a national call center, 10/1/03.
13. www.govexec.com, “Federal call centers offer best customer service, study finds,” 3/24/02.
14. EEOC’s FY 2005 Budget Request.
15. EEOC Public Commission Meeting, 9/8/04, “Repositioning for New Realities;” testimony of Cynthia Pierre, Chair of Call Center Working Group; www.Fedbizopps.gov, Solicitation Number RFP0410.
16. American Immigration Lawyers Association’s September 4, 2003, “Sign-On Letter Urges BCIS Not to Contract Out the Immigration Officer Function.”
17. GAO Report to Ranking Minority Member, Ways and Means Subcommittee, Medicare Care Centers Need to Improve Responses to Policy-Oriented Questioners from Providers.”GAO-04-669, July 2004.
19. For example, it is more cost effective to hire in-house mediators than to contract out for mediation services. EEOC mediators have a better resolution rate than contract mediators. Nevertheless, last year the agency allowed 1,562 contract mediations to occur within 100 miles of an EEOC field office. Regardless of the length of a contract mediation, even if it’s an hour, there is an $800 flat fee. That means $1,249,600 was expended by the EEOC on contract mediations that were close enough for an EEOC mediator to cover with little or no additional expense. In fiscal year 2005 the agency is asking for an additional $820,000 for contract mediations. EEOC’s scheme to hire term employees is another example. This scheme will adversely impact customer service and will drive up training and recruitment costs. With fifty percent of its workforce eligible for retirement, the EEOC needs to replenish its ranks with career employees who will provide a stable knowledge base for the future. Instead, EEOC intends to hire "not to exceed" two-year term employees, renewable to four years. The caliber of applicant will suffer when veterans, transfers from other agencies, outstanding scholars, and attorneys decline to pursue "temp" work. New hires, particular lesser-qualified candidates, will not be as productive for some time. Revolving door employees will increase the costs to the agency for recruitment and training. According to the report “EEOC Office of Inspector General: Reducing Infrastructure Costs Through Increased Use of Telework,” 9/30/02, p. 24, "it costs about $7,000 to recruit an employee." Finally, morale will suffer when some employees working side by side have career stability and some do not
21. .. July 22, 2003, Letter from DHS Under Secretary Janet Hale.