EEOC Faced With Union Questions at Public Forum, Officials Defend Field Office Realignment Plan

A dozen witnesses, the majority of whom represented the American Federation of Government Employees, questioned the potential negative impact of a proposed plan to reorganize the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's field office structure during a June 23 forum at EEOC headquarters.

The plan "guts offices and centralizes them into mega regional offices," charged Gabrielle Martin, president of AFGE's National Council of EEOC Locals, and an attorney in the commission's Denver office. She and others expressed concerns that the plan would have a negative impact on the agency's enforcement efforts in the field.

A panel of EEOC officials disagreed and argued that much of the criticism toward the restructuring plan was fueled by "misconceptions" and inaccurate information.

"We will not reduce the level of services," asserted James Lee, deputy general counsel of the agency and a former regional attorney in New York. "This plan allows for more employees on the front line--where they should be."

The reorganization plan, which was unveiled in May, would downsize eight district offices--Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans, San Antonio, and Detroit--into "field" and "area" offices with fewer management staffers, and would add two new offices in Mobile, Ala., and Las Vegas.

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.

While EEOC officials have stressed that no jobs would be lost in the reorganization and that the plan is aimed at responding to its current needs and the needs of its constituents, the reorganization plan also has drawn criticism from members of Congress and the commission's sole Democrat, Stuart Ishimaru, as well as the union that represents EEOC employees.

EEOC Commissioners were on the verge of approving the plan in mid-May, when a scheduled vote was abruptly canceled. Earlier this month, the agency announced it would be accepting public comments on the proposal (104 DLR A-2, 6/1/05) . A second commission vote on the measure has been scheduled for July 8.

More Balanced Workloads

During the June 23 forum, agency officials reiterated their position that the number of employees would not be reduced and that services would not be downgraded. The realignment of offices is designed to decrease the number of the highest paid managers--the district directors and regional attorneys--and to increase services on the front line, they said.

"We can go from 23 to 15 district directors," Lee said. "We've asked for sacrifice at the highest level, rather than the lowest."

The reorganization will not decrease the number of trial attorneys, he added, but will increase the number of employees working in "front-line" positions, including intake, mediation, investigations, and litigation.

"We don't intend to diminish the staff in any office," said Nick Inzeo of the Office of Field Operations, who added that agency officials "looked at workload and geographical proximity" in determining what changes to make in the field office structure. Observing that there was a significant disparity between the workload of various field offices, he added that one of the goals of the plan is to balance that workload.

Lee acknowledged that the general counsel's office expects "some localized increases" in terms of litigation, but added that the increase would be manageable. "The plan provides for more parity," he said. "Fifteen regional attorneys are quite adequate and we've had too many with small workloads."

Objections to Downgrading Offices

Martin and other witnesses continued to express skepticism with the plan and disputed some of the data that was presented regarding charge statistics. "We have not received complete information," Martin said. Downgrading the offices, the witnesses contended, would be a disservice to constituents and to EEOC employees.

EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez said that the agency has received 85 written comments on the proposed plan, and "will make changes where appropriate" prior to the July vote.

Inzeo said that "refinements" were expected to be incorporated in the final plan before it is presented to commissioners for a vote. "I would expect the discussion to continue within five minutes after this meeting ends," he said as the two hour question-and-answer forum wound down late June 23.

By Nancy Montwieler