September 17, 2004
The September 17 Commission Meeting - Bureaucracy Gone Bad
Today's Commission meeting whether to obligate funds for a call center exemplified everything wrong with bureaucracy.† Although there was a thank you to Commissioner Ishimaru from the Chair for calling for the public discussion, the polite thing to do in front of company, it quickly became clear that having this public meeting was a nuisance and exposed the weaknesses of the decision to go forward.† It was a chore for the Chair to defend this bureaucratic decision.† There was no intent to use this as an opportunity to examine the decision.
The meeting started with a message from the Chair that there would be a call center, no matter what.† Not exactly in those words, but by the statement that since a unanimous decision had been made a year ago by the sitting commissioners at the time, the call center pilot was going to go forward.† The other manner in which it was made clear that the call center was going forward was the overdone notification that the public was not allowed to speak at the meeting, and that if the whispering got noisy, people could be asked to leave.† While announcing the rules is not a bad thing, repeating these rules made quite clear that the Chair was defensive about this project right off the bat.
In the Chairís opening remarks, she indicated that the need for customer service was driving her decision.† As the morning wore on however, it was clearer that this was about having her way.† As for those who might be observing Rosh Hashanah, they could just view the tape and read the transcripts, once they are made available.† Never mind that those opposing the decision might have appeared at the meeting and that in the field, we have to be sensitive, make adjustments and plan around such observances when scheduling meetings.
After a report from the call center task force, the members of which were present in full at the commissionís expense, reiterating what was said over one year ago, there was an attempt to address some of the concerns raised by the Council.† Once again, we heard a different figure from Cynthia Pierre for how much it would cost to do the call center in-house, again without any supporting figures, no recognition of the hiring freeze and jobs that have been lost since the Chair arrived at EEOC, no recognition that without adequate staff and support staff in the district offices the job is not made any easier and canít be done more effectively. Even more importantly, there was a refusal to recognize and address the published problems faced by many other call centers in areas such as providing service that the public feels is adequate and information that is accurate and complete.†
Commissioner Ishimaru, the only Commissioner interested in exploring these issues and having something other than the Call Center Report and the prior vote, was attacked for asking questions.† Answers to his questions were strained, terse and anything other than comradely.† Definitely, it was them against him, breaking down on sex and political party lines.
For example, Commissioner Ishimaru made a series of motions made to include comments received from the Council and other civil rights groups, as well as his own written statement be made a part of the record and to keep the record open† for ten days to receive comments; none of Commissioner Ishimaruís motions received a second.† There was a query from the Vice-Chair as to the effect of a second to the motion.† When she learned that it meant the matter would be discussed, there was no second.† The Chair, in her zealousness to advise the audience that she was not appreciative of the efforts to publicize the information, had to be told that since there was no second to any of the motions, she was not allowed to comment on the motions.† Having been scolded, she sat red-faced through much of the rest of the meeting.
When questions were answered, mostly by Cynthia Pierre, the answers did not support going forward.† Examples include the fact that to date, we do not know the costs of putting together the workgroup and producing the report.† No information on the salaries, the travel costs, etc.† Information on any alternatives explored was sketchy, at best, warranting only the comment that other options were considered and included in the report.† The basis of the cost figures used to justify a privatized call center rather than an in-house call center never was explained.† It was clear from Ishimaruís comments that when he sought information about this call center, that information was not forthcoming.† At one point he said that the analysis and cost data he was provided was laughable and not enough to fit on a napkin.† Most damning was the response to the query of who wants and supports a call center other than the Society for Human Resource Professionals, a management group with an in-house call center?† The Chair could only say the public will surely appreciate it.
In response to the question about the identity of the trainers and monitors, the response was unknown, including the issue of hidden costs - government employees being paid to do Commission work. When questioned about software available for these purposes on the internet, software that could be customized, the feeble response was that it was insufficient for our needs.
Probably most telling about the bureaucratic train rolling forward at any cost is the answer to these two questions.† How much we save with the call center and what are the economies of scale in funding a call center?† The money man, Jeff Smith, could not answer those questions.† No one could even answer the question of how the calls get transferred to the offices.† Maybe it is because we do not know what to do with the calls once they get there.† After all, without additional staff and phone technologies at the office, who and how will we answer the calls that get transferred to the offices?† Since the Union continues to argue we will pay to duplicate work, in the absence of real answers to the cost questions and how to resolve the problems faced by other call centers that have only gotten worse, the longer the call center existed, why have a call center at all?† Why not invest in staff and training for them?† Why not invest in telephone technology for offices?† Remember that on August 2, 2004, Nicholas Inzeo, Director of Field Programs, advised the staff in the Denver District Office, that with the exception of Memphis, field offices do not have a sufficient number of Investigators or support staff to handle the office workloads.
A final note about costs, there finally was an admission that the call center will operate on a volume basis.† As the Council has said all along, bad advice and incomplete information will leave those in need, out on the street.† So what do we really get for the $3M per year?† For the first six months, we pay for the center to be set up and associated expenses.† After that, we pay for volume.
That is right, last year some Commissioners voted to test a call center.† With all of the problems highlighted during a three hour meeting, if they knew less about its workings a year ago than was shared at the meeting, what reason, other than bureaucracy at work, did the Commissioners vote continue† to forge blindly ahead.?† Oh by the way, the lone dissenting vote was that of Commissioner Ishimaru.
Articles appearing on Friday include one in the Washington Post at www.washingtonpost.com, by Amy Joyce that appeared in the morning edition before the meeting and in www.GovExec.com by Amelia Gruber after the meeting.
The Council thanks everyone who has submitted comments.† We will be sharing those with management during the next week.† The workgroup will not meet again until sometime after October 1.
The Leave order remains in OHR.† The Office of Legal Counsel had a number of questions and comments that are not completely resolved; it will be at least October 1, before we get the order.
COST ACCOUNTING SURVEYS
Thanks to those who were able to respond in the short time frame. With the input received, in particular from Local President Joseph Wilson, the Chief Negotiator will be meeting next week with management to address this issue and reach agreement on an MOU.