EEOC Commission Approves Repositioning Plan To Cut Management, Increase Front-Line Jobs
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission July 8 approved a field office reorganization plan designed to cut the level of management employees, increase the number of "front-line jobs," and improve the enforcement efforts and efficiency of the agency.
Implementation of the plan--the first reorganization of EEOC's field office structure since 1979--is expected to start Oct. 1, at the beginning of the federal government's fiscal year, according to commission officials.
"Repositioning will enable EEOC to build up its front-line staff so that charging parties and the public will get better, faster service," said Chair Cari Dominguez. "We can no longer afford a house built in the 1970s for 3,800 employees on a budget that, over time, has come to support an occupancy rate of 2,400 employees. . .The commission's structure is an outdated liability."
The plan, which incorporates minor changes from an earlier proposal, was approved on a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru, the only Democrat on the panel, dissenting. Characterizing the plan as "seriously flawed," he contended that in downgrading offices and eliminating some regional attorney positions it would lead to weakening the agency's enforcement efforts and have a particular impact on Southern states.
Two New Offices Added
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, a reorganization of headquarters, provision for electronic filing of complaints, and the establishment of a national call center.
While EEOC officials have stressed that no current employees would lose their jobs 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 union that represents EEOC employees, as well as Ishimaru.
EEOC Commissioners were on the verge of approving the plan in mid-May, when a scheduled vote was abruptly canceled. The agency subsequently announced it would be accepting public comments on the proposal and held a public hearing last month, where a dozen witnesses, the majority of whom were members of the American Federation of Government Employees, questioned the potential negative impact of a proposed plan (121 DLR A-1, 6/24/05).
Minor Changes in Final Plan
Following a three-hour discussion during the July 8 meeting, the commissioners approved a final plan that incorporates minor changes from the May proposal, changing several jurisdictional lines, clarifying that any program functions may be performed at any field, area, or local office depending on workload needs, and specifying that state and local fair employment practice agencies will have a relationship with only one EEOC district office. The final plan will be posted on the agency's Web site (http://www.eeoc.gov).
The language in the revised plan "makes clear that lawyers may be stationed at any office," said Leonora Guarraia, chief operating officer of the commission. It will "right-size" the commission, "increase our presence and still reduce costs," she added.
The reorganization plan "looks to EEOC's workload as the major criterion in deciding where offices should be located and what size they should be," said Nick Inzeo, director of the office of field programs. "Our largest offices should be where our largest workloads are."
The next step in the reorganization will be streamlining of the commission's Washington, D.C. headquarters, Inzeo said. Dominguez expressed a goal of reducing staff by 20 percent and "redeploying those resources to front-line positions," he explained.
Concern About South
During lengthy questioning about the specifics of the plan, Ishimaru continued to express skepticism about its potential impact on enforcement efforts and litigation activity, particularly in some of the Southern states where the commission's work in the area of race discrimination "desperately needs help."
"In the last few years, race discrimination cases from Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama have been close to non-existent or have been cases with minimal impact beyond the individual victim and employer," he said, noting that there was only one race discrimination case out of Birmingham, Ala., and none out of Atlanta. The restructuring plan "provided an excellent opportunity to address the problem," he said, but it failed to do so.
Inzeo responded that both the Atlanta and Birmingham offices have done "a great amount of work in the area of race" and cited significant monetary relief--more than $24 million in Atlanta and $13 million in Birmingham--obtained from successful conciliation efforts at the two offices.
"I think the plan will help us improve the quality of our enforcement efforts," Inzeo said, in response to a question from Dominguez. "We'll get more people in front line jobs where they're needed and managers will still be able to do their jobs effectively.
Prior to the meeting, Gabrielle Martin, president of AFGE's National Council of EEOC Locals and an attorney in the commission's Denver office, reiterated the union's concern over the plan. She vowed that the union will continue to lobby legislators to incorporate language addressing the issue in appropriations legislation, already approved by the House but still pending in the Senate. In a July 6 letter to Dominguez, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and 29 other Democrats also expressed opposition to the reorganization.
By Nancy Montwieler