EEOC chair asks Congress for hiring funds, grilled on contact center

By Drew Long cyberFEDS Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission went before the House Budget Committee seeking money to lift a three-year hiring freeze and make preparations to replace the agency's aging staff. Lawmakers, however, focused on whether the commission exceeded its authority by moving forward on a national contact center plan without congressional approval.

EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez testified before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary and Related Agencies on the agency's FY 2005 budget request. The historically under funded agency requested $350.8 million for FY 2005, a $26 million increase over its FY 2004 budget.

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Also on cyberFEDS:

President recommends substantial budget boost for EEOC (02/03/04) EEOC receives modest budget increase for FY 2004 (02/02/04)

AFGE claims EEOC reform, reorganization aimed to shutter commission (11/18/03) EEOC reorganization to cut expenses, not jobs (09/10/03)

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Dominguez told lawmakers that 80 percent of the EEOC's budget is devoted to relatively fixed expenses, including rent and employee salaries. An additional 10 percent is dedicated to state and local programs. That leaves 10 percent of the annual appropriation to use for new programs -- provided that the commission doesn't need the funds for emergency situations or other unforeseen expenses.

'Head above water'

Most years, Dominguez said, the EEOC has just enough money "to keep its head above water."

Due to the lack of funding, Dominguez instituted a hiring freeze soon after joining the commission in 2001. However, with half of the EEOC's staff currently eligible for retirement, Dominguez said she needs to lift the firing freeze and begin replacing employees lost to attrition. A portion of the EEOC's FY 2005 budget request is dedicated to hiring 100 full-time employees.

"At our current staffing levels we have nonetheless been able to reduce our charge inventory," Dominguez said. "However, while we have succeeded in reducing our inventory of private sector charges and federal sector complaints over the past several years, we foresee a rising inventory of charges in the private sector through FY 2005. Without additional resources, the gains made in reducing the backlog of private sector charges and case processing time cannot be sustained."

Despite the workforce issues, lawmakers grilled Dominguez about the commission's plan to launch a national contact center, a point of first contact call center for private sector employees alleging discrimination against their employer. A private contractor would operate the NCC.

The NCC was one of several proposals developed for the commission by the National Academy of Public Administration as a way to reorganize the agency to be more efficient. While NAPA's proposal was designed, in part, to help the commission cut costs, Dominguez said there were no plans to eliminate EEOC staff.

'Contingency planning'

Subcommittee Chair Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Ranking Member Rep. Jose Serrano, D-NY, questioned whether Dominguez and the commission went too far by issuing a request for proposal on the NCC project without first receiving congressional authority to spend the money.

Dominguez said the EEOC sent the subcommittee a letter informing lawmakers about the commission's plans to begin researching the feasibility of the contact center project.

"This is all contingency planning," she said. "We were just trying to do some data collection, assessing how much would it cost. What it would be."

Dominguez said the commission has spent no additional funds on the project.

Wolf and Serrano warned Dominguez not to spend more money on the NCC project without congressional approval. They asked to be kept informed about the project.

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March 30, 2004