Wednesday, May 11, 2005
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission May 10 unveiled its long-awaited national reorganization plan with a pledge that no employees would lose their jobs, but the report was greeted with skepticism from the union that represents EEOC employees and from the commission's sole Democrat.
The proposal, announced in a statement by Chair Cari M. Dominguez and scheduled for a vote at a May 16 commission meeting, would keep all of EEOC's current 51 offices open and would add two new offices in Las Vegas and Mobile, Ala. The plan also calls for expanding the jurisdictional responsibilities of some district directors and regional attorneys while reducing the number of field office directors and units within EEOC's general counsel's office.
"Given the shifting demographics, changing business environment, explosive technological advancements, and budgetary consideration of our times, this plan will recast the Commission in a stronger and more viable position to carry out its mission," Dominguez said in a statement. "The proposal continues to advance the President's expectations--of every executive-branch agency--to run a well managed, highly efficient, customer-centered, and results-driven organization," Dominguez said.
Nick Inzeo, director of EEOC's office of field programs, told BNA that this proposal has been in the works for three years and that Dominguez "took into account all of the comments and concerns of the various groups she met with" in formulating the plan.
Under the plan, Inzeo said managers and administrators of some current offices would be redeployed either to lead other field offices or assigned to provide investigations, enforcement, or mediation. This redeployment of personnel would allow EEOC to provide more service and continue to respond to the needs of attorneys and the public, he said.
Despite concerns that employees could lose jobs as a result of the changes, Inzeo emphasized that no EEOC field offices would be closed and instead the commission would open new offices in Mobile and Las Vegas, which are each expected to be staffed by at least five employees.
The streamlining of district offices will be accomplished by reclassifying some existing district offices to field offices and eliminating the Senior Executive Service positions slotted to head those offices. Inzeo said there are currently eight vacant district offices, so no one would be losing their job. Under the plan, Inzeo said it is expected that "a couple" of regional attorney positions would be upgraded to SES levels.
Outgrowth of NAPA Study
The proposal is an outgrowth of a February 2003 report by the National Academy of Public Administration, an independent research organization, which called for major restructuring of the commission. Among the report's recommendations were a reduction in the number of field offices, reorganized headquarters, provision for electronic filing of complaints, and the establishment of a national call center (38 DLR A-1, E-1, 2/26/03) .
The report received an all-day hearing in September 2003 where EEOC was told by NAPA researchers that "the fundamental conclusion" of the report was that EEOC's current structure "does not permit it to meet all aspects of its current mission--which now emphasizes prevention and mediation in addition to enforcement--or to take maximum advantage of technology advances." (174 DLR A-9, 9/9/03 ).
The report said a field office structure that "worked reasonably well in the past" was better suited to an era when most business was done face-to-face and paper-based methods were the only way to process complaints, interact with charging parties, or communicate with federal agencies, he said.
NAPA instead called for "realigning" of the current, 52 field office structure into a structure of 10 lead offices in areas with high workload levels. That position was supported by Ed Elkins, an adviser to Dominguez, who said that shifts in the workload and an inability to fill vacancies or to move employees to other offices has resulted in "an uneven distribution of resources between field offices and widely varying workload and productivity per investigator and attorney."
Inzeo said the proposal was based on the reality that EEOC has 2,500 employees, but that its current organizational structure was created for 3,500 employees. By streamlining the offices and redeploying some administrators, Inzeo said EEOC could better respond to needs and more effectively administer its enforcement efforts.
Ishimaru: Process 'Very Troubling.'
The proposal, which has been expected for weeks, received a skeptical reception from the union representing EEOC employees and the commission's sole Democrat, Stuart Ishimaru.
Ishimaru, who has questioned the need for a reorganization since he joined the commission in November 2003, told BNA May 10 that he has seen few details of the proposal and was concerned about the process for coming up with the recommendations.
"I would have hoped that a proposal of this magnitude would not have been considered with less than a weeks' notice and instead fully presented to commissioners, the public and employees," Ishimaru said, calling the process "very troubling."
Ishimaru said he has never been asked by Dominguez or her staff about the proposal or about his views on the restructuring, characterizing the process as "outside the public view."
While questioning the proposal and the lack of transparency, Ishimaru emphasized that he was not against restructuring and proposals for change, but instead believed they needed to take place "carefully and openly, not in the back room with a week to consider many unanswered details."
Union: Cost-Savings Already Realized
Gabrielle Martin, president of the National Council of EEOC Locals--which represents EEOC employees--echoed Ishimaru's concerns about the lack of communication.
While Martin was invited to participate in the September 2003 hearing on the NAPA proposal on behalf of the union, she said she was reacting to the NAPA findings, but that NAPA had made no specific suggestions for change.
"If we'd known the specifics of the proposal, we would have had a different conversation," Martin said, adding that employees will have no opportunity to comment on Dominguez's particular position before the four-member commission votes on its adoption May 16.
Martin, an attorney in EEOC's Denver district office, also questioned whether the proposal could create a cost-savings since the streamlining of the district offices would be accomplished by eliminating positions that are already outside the budget since the positions have been sitting empty, thus the commission was already realizing the savings.
Emphasizing the proposal suggests that high-ranking employees would be redeployed to line positions but without a pay cut, Martin said it is unclear how the proposal would save money, especially when it adds two additional offices, which will have overhead costs beyond personnel.
"This is doing the public a great disservice," Martin said, calling it "part of the Chair's overall plan to make us as ineffective as possible."
By Michael R. Triplett