EEOC Awards Contract for Complaint Center
(Washington Post 9/22/04)
By Amy Joyce
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday awarded a $4.9 million,
two-year contract to Pearson Government Solutions Inc. of Arlington to field
discrimination complaints from workers across the nation.
The plan calls for operators, based in Lawrence, Kan., to field calls from the
public, answer their questions, or refer them to EEOC employees in field
offices. The center, to begin taking calls in the spring, is part of a
restructuring plan and is intended to ease the number of calls that go
unanswered or are not answered for days, EEOC officials said. Some Democrats in
Congress and the agency's union opposed the plan and said they thought private
workers would lack the expertise to handle complaints. Union officials also
expressed fear that jobs would be lost in the 51 agency field offices, which
agency officials deny.
Pearson's proposal to run the call center was picked from 25 applications, the
agency said. The company already runs five government call centers, according to
its Web site, including ones for education, Medicare and immigration.
The pilot project will be run for Pearson by Elizabeth Thornton, who worked at
the EEOC for 30 years before retiring in mid-2002. Thornton left the agency
before the call center idea was initiated, Jennifer Kaplan, an EEOC spokeswoman,
A Pearson contract with the Transportation Security Administration program to
recruit new security personnel after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks met
with controversy: Some members of Congress accused the company of greed as the
bill for the TSA program shot up to $740 million, seven times the original
Pearson spokesman David Hakensen said the increased cost was because TSA asked
that more people be hired in a shorter amount of time.
The Department of Homeland Security concluded in February that TSA should have
been more responsible for monitoring the contractor's work. The department's
inspector general is still working on an audit of the contract.
In addition, the company still faces lawsuits from individuals accusing it of
unfair hiring practices in the TSA program. "We believe they are unfounded,"
EEOC spokeswoman Kaplan said the TSA program had nothing to do with the new work
the agency has hired Pearson to do. She said the agency "conducted a thorough
level of review of all [applicants]. Pearson's record found no disqualifying
factors. We were impressed by Pearson's emphasis on a diverse workforce."
The call center Pearson operates for the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration
Services has been criticized by immigration lawyers who said some of their
clients nearly lost their immigration status because of bad information provided
by unqualified workers.
Hakensen said the company took over the call center in 2002 after a survey said
callers were unhappy with wait times and other problems. Since then, Pearson has
been "ramping up on a certain amount of information our operators didn't have
Crystal Williams, senior director of liaison and information at the American
Immigration Lawyers Association, said the problems still haven't been fixed but
blamed it more on the system than on Pearson.
Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.