EEOC  Commission Postpones Reorganization Vote But COO Anticipates No Changes to Proposal

No. 94
Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission May 16 abruptly postponed a much-anticipated vote on a national reorganization plan that would, among other things, reduce the number of district offices from 23 to 15.

The plan, which was unveiled a week prior to the scheduled vote (90 DLR AA-1, 05/11/05), would downgrade those district offices to field and area offices that would have fewer management staffers, according to an EEOC spokesman.

The plan has met with criticism from the union that represents EEOC employees, members of Congress, and the commission's sole Democrat, Stuart Ishimaru.

Lea Guarraia, the commission's chief operating officer, told reporters at the meeting that Chair Cari M. Dominguez had received several "last-minute" messages from "stakeholders" who wanted to review the proposal. "She decided to accommodate them," Guarraia said.

But Guarraia also characterized the reorganization proposal as "final," saying that it would not change before it receives a vote from the commission.

Guarraia said the commission would save several million dollars from the reorganization plan because it would reduce the number of district directors and regional attorneys, who command high salaries. Through the plan, the EEOC has "flattened the management levels" and "redeployed resources to front-line positions," she said.

Guarraia also said there are no plans to hold a public hearing on the plan, and that a final vote should be expected within a few weeks.

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).

Ishimaru Predicts 'Irrelevancy' for Commission

Ishimaru, who was the sole commissioner to attend the meeting, distributed a lengthy statement arguing that if the reorganization proposal is approved, it would "lead the agency down a path to irrelevancy."

Among other things, Ishimaru said the plan would "hamper our abilities to enforce anti-discrimination laws in the South."

Ishimaru said the commission's work in Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama "needs substantial improvement," noting that race discrimination cases arising from those states "have been close to nonexistent."

The commission's restructuring plan would open a new local office in Mobile, Ala., but Ishimaru said it would be "staffed only with the smallest component of investigators and no attorneys."

At the meeting, Ishimaru said he had been given minimal information about the proposal. "It's hard for me to tell from the limited information I got whether this plan makes sense," he said.

Union Calls for Public Hearing

National Council of EEOC Locals President Gabrielle Martin told reporters outside the meeting room that she hopes the commission will hold a hearing on the reorganization plan.

Martin said she believes congressional letters, including one from Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Ranking Democrat Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) signed by 26 Democratic senators, may have convinced Dominguez to delay a vote on the plan. Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.) also signed onto the letter.

"We find it problematic that EEOC's workforce did not receive information on their agency's restructuring until May 10, 2005," Kennedy's May 13 letter said. "And the public--in particular civil rights groups--have not been briefed."

The letter also noted that EEOC has not set up a Web site to seek comments on the proposal, as directed by NAPA. In a May 16 statement, Kennedy said he is pleased Dominguez "heard our concerns about rushing to a vote on restructuring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission."

In addition to Kennedy's letter, a May 13 letter to Dominguez written by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and signed by 29 other Democrats, most of them women, said, "The cost savings that EEOC claims this plan will bring apparently comes at the expense of starving EEOC's downgraded and smaller offices of much needed staff and resources."

By Fawn H. Johnson