Daily Labor Report

No. 58 Friday, March 26, 2004

Page A-8

ISSN 1522-5968

Appropriations Committee Scolds EEOC For Soliciting Private Call Center Bids

The chairman and ranking member of the committee charged with drafting annual spending bills for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission scolded Chair Cari Dominguez at a March 25 hearing for soliciting contract bids for a national call center without first notifying them. "You probably should have come up to the committee" before proceeding, said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who chairs the House Appropriations committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary. "You probably should have had a hearing first," he said, adding with a smile, "I know this Constitution is a pain." Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) called attention to a March 9 "pre-solicitation notice" from EEOC calling for contract bidders on the call center. "Let's be careful," he said. "Solicitation of contractors means major change."


Notice of Major Changes RequiredSerrano noted that the fiscal year 2004 appropriations bill that funded the commission included instructions that EEOC should keep the committee informed of major changes in its organizational structure. "I'm not fully aware of what the call center is and does," he said. "You're moving ahead without letting the committee know." Dominguez said the commission had informed the committee of its activities in November after EEOC agreed on a unanimous vote to solicit bids for a two-year pilot of the call center (216 DLR A-2, 11/7/03). Dominguez also said EEOC to date has not used any funding earmarked for other activities to investigate the possibilities of a call center. She described EEOC's current activities as "fact gathering" and "research." When the commission has collected all the information it needs to actually sign a contract, "we'll meet with you," she said. Wolf reminded Dominguez that she should wait for the money to be appropriated to the commission before signing a contract to create the call center. Dominguez responded that all the potential contractors for the call center have been informed that the bidding process is contingent on final approval by the commission and the receipt of funding from Congress. The Bush administration is seeking an 8 percent increase in EEOC's funding for FY 2005, an increase of $26 million in discretionary funding. According to an EEOC spokeswoman, $1.5 million of that funding would be directed at establishing the call center. The EEOC spokeswoman also said it is necessary for the commission to seek tentative bids from contractors in order to bring to the appropriations committee an accurate assessment of how much the call center would cost.


Call Center Would Not Handle Charging PartiesThe call center envisioned by EEOC would outsource to a private contractor routine telephone inquiries that currently are directed at field offices, according to Cynthia Pierre, EEOC director of management programs, who spoke with reporters after the hearing. Pierre also directed EEOC's internal task force that examined how the call center would work. Pierre said EEOC receives more than 1 million calls each year, but the internal task force found that just 39 percent of those calls actually were from charging parties. Other callers are seeking "general information" that could be given through an automated message machine, or they are requesting technical assistance or other information that could be accessed through a computer database. EEOC has set up a "screening instrument" to determine whether a caller is a potential filer of a discrimination complaint, Pierre said. If the call center determines that a caller could become a charging party in a discrimination case, she said, that person would be referred to an EEOC field office. During the hearing, Dominguez said not one EEOC staff position would be eliminated as a result of the call center. "I'm on the record for that," she said. Dominguez also said EEOC's internal task force investigated in-house creation of the call center. The in-house estimate, not including staffing or rental space for the center, was $12 million, she said. By contrast, the commission estimates that it could run a call center using a private contractor for as little as $2 million per year.