EEOC to Vote on Nationwide Call Center for Bias Claims
By Amy Joyce
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is scheduled to vote today to
approve funds for a private contractor to run a nationwide call center as part
of a $5 million restructuring plan opposed by union members and some Democrats
Under the two-year pilot program, callers to the federal anti-discrimination
enforcement agency would be routed to operators instead of directly phoning one
of 51 EEOC field offices.
Commission officials said the call center would replace outdated phone systems
and be a faster way to respond to callers with bias claims, who often receive
busy signals or have to wait for a return call.
The new National Contact Center would "basically be replacing poor service with
a much more professional level of service and immediate access," said Cynthia G.
Pierre, the agency's director of field management programs. "The option when
people call into call centers, they'll get a live body."
The proposed vendor for the call center has not been disclosed, nor has its
The idea drew opposition when it was approved in principle in November as part
of a restructuring plan, which also includes consolidating the field offices
into 10 or 11 mega-offices, a move pushed by commission Chairwoman Cari M.
Dominguez. Opponents expressed concern that untrained contract operators would
replace some of the agency's nearly 2,500 employees, but Dominguez said not one
job will be lost.
Led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), 29 senators signed a letter in July
asking the Senate appropriations subcommittee that approves the EEOC budget not
to provide $5 million in 2005 to fund the restructuring, including a call
When he learned Wednesday of the scheduled vote, Kennedy asked the EEOC "to
abandon this proposal."
"An EEOC National Contact Center would poorly serve the taxpayers, EEOC
employees, and most important, individuals calling the Center with sensitive
claims of workplace discrimination and harassment," Kennedy wrote.
The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended this week a $327.5 million
budget for the EEOC for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. That's $2.6 million
more than 2004, but $23.2 million less than the Bush administration requested.
The bill didn't explicitly include funds for the call center.
When the House passed the EEOC budget in June, the bill required the agency to
notify lawmakers before it opens the center or transforms the nation's 51 field
offices into 10 or 11 mega-offices.
The commission "did do required notification to Congress regarding spending for
a contact center and we did receive approval," Pierre said.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee
overseeing the agency, questioned the restructuring plan at first, but said he
now favors the call center as a way to "get better service."
Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), ranking minority member on the subcommittee, said
he had "serious reservations" about the call center, but would work with Wolf
"to ensure that jobs are protected and that services to the public are not
jeopardized as this trial period proceeds."
The union that covers EEOC workers fears the center is a step toward closing
offices and cutting jobs.
"I think there are major problems with it that stem from the amount of training
they want to do, a tendency for call centers with a high turnover rate, the fact
we're dealing with people's legal rights," said Gabrielle Martin, president of
the National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216. "There's a concern that the
information given . . . will be incorrect or inadequate at best, that people
trying to read scripts and give answers makes it seem like the commission
The call center idea was one of several proposed last year by the National
Academy of Public Administration, an independent nonprofit chartered by
Congress, as a way to cut costs for the historically under funded agency.