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Meeting of July 18, 2012 – Public Input into the Development of EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan

Written Testimony of Gabrielle Martin, National Council of EEOC Locals

Chair Berrien, Vice-Chair Feldblum, Commissioners Lipnic and Barker, and General Counsel Lopez -my name is Gabrielle Martin and I am the President of the National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216, AFGE/AFL-CIO. The Council is the exclusive representative of the bargaining unit employees at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), including investigators, attorneys, administrative judges, mediators, paralegals, and support staff located in EEOC’s offices around the country. I want to thank you for the opportunity to share our views today on the Commission’s priorities under the 2012 Strategic Plan.

Created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC’s mission is to enforce this nation’s laws which protect against discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic discrimination, and equal pay. Each year, applicants and workers come to the EEOC for help getting a fair shot in the workplace. As an enforcement agency, EEOC must focus on creating efficiencies so that it can effectively engage in activities to conduct and enhance the mission related work. EEOC’s focus must be more than closing cases and splashy headlines.

EEOC has many programs – private sector, federal sector, mediation, litigation, and outreach among them. Each program faces unique challenges based on the type of work and the limitations of the agency budget. Each program must be able to reduce backlogs, improve processing times and maintain high quality work that the public deserves. EEOC must streamline and improve its processes to provide better service to its public and improve the morale of the employees whose job it is to conduct the mission related work.

In response to the question of priorities under the strategic plan, the priority should be to improve customer service. Customer service ultimately impacts the EEOC’s ability to reach any of its goals. EEOC can improve customer service by focusing on three key areas – Improve Employee Morale, Improve Technology, and Revamp Key System.

1. Improve Employee Morale

EEOC’s Strategic Plan outlines a number of strategic goals. Employee morale plays a large role in the extent to which the goals are met. Employee morale is currently at an all time low. As a result, employees continue to leave for jobs with higher pay, better work conditions and processes that make sense for the work being done.

EEOC must address the long-standing practice of informing employees of goals late in the fiscal year or increasing the goals late in the fiscal year. Further, when relaying goals, the correct information should be provided. Often, employees are told that the “outstanding” goal level is the “ proficient” goal level. When employees work hard but merely receive “proficient” ratings after the office met its outstanding goals, morale suffers.

EEOC must address long-standing classification issues in order to improve morale. EEOC requires a cadre of talented employees in the correct classifications. EEOC can help ensure that employees remain by addressing classification issues.

As part of an overall plan to improve morale, EEOC should reduce the supervisor to employee ratio to 1:10 and adopt staffing patterns which include dedicated support and paraprofessional staff for core numbers of employees. Adopting these staffing efficiencies will help improve morale, maintain the high quality of work. The Union has suggested a support person for every one to five professional employees. This ratio helps ensure that high graded professional employees are spending their time on the work for which they are paid, rather than on lower graded clerical and administrative functions.

EEOC uses various processes to address the workloads. While case management systems are not necessarily a bad thing, their use at EEOC has left a bad taste in the mouths of many. Used primarily to gig employees, rather than as a way for employees to plan and manage work, there is great dislike for such systems. Further, too often, these systems are used to ensure the agency meets numerical goals. Reducing the focus on case management systems to count widgets will improve morale. Rather than on numbers, the focus should shift instead to how these systems help address critical aspects of our work such as how to reduce processing times, reduce the age of the agency’s inventory, and how to obtain various types of relief. A strategic use of such systems should yield better results. Moreover, the use of these systems should be consistent, rather that sporadic. Too often the systems seem to be employed to hurry up and reach some numerical goal.

Intake needs to be revamped. Doing so will improve morale tremendously. EEOC should adopt the Union’s one stop intake plan so that enforcement resources are used more efficiently and strategically. The Union’s plan creates intake teams comprised of support and paraprofessional staff to handle the mail, the phones and walk-in customers – the incoming workload. The plan incorporates the Intake Information Representative (IIR) position into each office as part of these teams. The plan also frees up investigator time so that the backlogs and lengthy processing times can be reduced. Using appropriate grade levels and staff to address intake, the agency will save money, improve the customer experience and provide high quality service to the public in a more timely manner. In fact, many law enforcement agencies. The Union’s intake plan provides such a framework intends that a pointed investigation be conducted at the intake stage. Management will play a key role in managing this work to ensure that charges that should be dismissed at intake -where we do not have jurisdiction, where the charge is untimely, or otherwise do not belong in our workload are not assigned to investigative units, but closed out of the intake units.

Morale for attorneys and investigators can be improved and efficiencies can be created by changing the timing of case classifications. Cases currently are categorized when they land on EEOC’s doorstep at intake. The categorizations should occur when the position statement arrives. While an initial designation is required under PCHP, the problem is that this sets in motion a number of priority activities. When cases do not pan out the classifications do not change. To avoid this result, EEOC should err on the side of getting some balance to the information available at intake, such as a position statement, before a categorization is confirmed and the flurry of work is required. This may mean changes to policies for granting extensions for obtaining position statements, but should result in better work relations, improved morale and overall better work product.

Another place where morale can be improved is by changing the nature of the interaction between legal and enforcement. There must be less focus on numbers of litigation cases or cases closed and more focus on quality work. Under the current scheme, some feel that the only job of investigators is to come to work and find every case that legal wants for litigation and perform every action on a case that legal wants. This dynamic has a negative impact on morale. Since litigation is supposed to be a measure of last resort, rather than the reason we take charges, a change in this dynamic will not only improve morale for our largest work groups, but likely will improve case processing.

For example, there are mandatory meetings, between the investigator and the attorney, the investigator and the supervisor and then a meeting with the Director, Deputy and/or Enforcement Manager, Regional Attorney and/or Supervisory Trial Attorney, Supervisory Investigator, Trial Attorney, Systemic Coordinator, and the Investigator. These meetings occur once a month. The meetings should occur once a quarter on an as needed basis. If managers want to meet more often, they certainly can. Requiring the investigators and attorneys to attend these meetings when they already have met with one another and reported to their supervisors results in wasted time. All too often the cases are micromanaged with lots of finger pointing and blame spreading. The actual work is assigned between the Investigator and his/her supervisor or the attorney and his/her supervisor. The enforcement supervisors can report to legal on the progress of the case. This should increase the amount of time available to get the work done and reduce the tension between legal and enforcement, while continuing to move the cases forward.

EEOC can improve morale by revamping the litigation program. While it is helpful to target strategic areas, it is not helpful to target massive quantities of litigation in the name of a program, be it cause cases or systemic cases. EEOC has limited financial resources which should be used more wisely than filing great numbers of cases that we cannot finance through the end of litigation. EEOC must strive to balance litigation loads not only within a district, but throughout the EEOC.

Morale in the mediation units also continues to suffer. Mediation units are at the mercy of the competition for cases. The success or failure of mediation units depends not on the skill of our mediators, but on the number of cases left over after the competition. The competition for cases includes outside mediators, the litigation program, Priority Charge Handling Procedures or PCHP and aged case goals. Until this is addressed, mediation units will attempt to mediate “C” cases so that there will be enough cases to mediate, employers will continue to be wary of the program and Mediator morale cannot improve.

Morale for the Administrative Judges (AJs) is low as well. AJs who are hearing cases cannot simultaneously write decisions, issue scheduling orders, hear motions and decide them. Efficiencies must include dedicated hearing rooms for AJ use. These rooms should be equipped with conference technology and capabilities, and the agency should improve band width for video conference capabilities so that claimants who volunteer to have hearings conducted via video conference or judges conducting the numerous pre-hearings motions and meetings with counsel will be able to conduct the work. Hearing rooms dedicated to hearings units should remain so dedicated. The situation where AJs have to beg other units for conference space need to end.

2. Improve Technology

Technology should be embraced and used to help EEOC become more efficient. There are numerous systems available and EEOC must choose wisely so that it does not have a repeat of its EAS experience which left offices overwhelmed by the number of internet inquiries which it did not have sufficient staff to address. Today, EEOC receives even more charges that it did at that time, so it is important the technology be the correct technology.

EEOC should begin using “smart forms” for intake. As the EEOC struggles to meet electronic accessibility mandates, it must do more than allow the public to access the intake process by filing out internet forms. EEOC has limited staff who must review those forms, in addition to conducting walk-in intake, responding to postal service mail and conducting investigations on caseloads that typically hover at or near the 100 case mark. “Smart forms”, are forms that will not allow the public to continue adding information when critical fields cannot be completed. The “smart forms” forms should also contain links to explanations of the type of information required in the particular field as well as links to Q&A sheets. Providing this information when the form is being filled out should improve the internet experience for internal and external users of the system.

In addition to improving the forms, EEOC must develop a system that provides both an identification number to an individual submitting an internet form and an acknowledgement that the submission was received. Providing these types of controls should reduce the number of duplicate inquiries and allow EEOC to better track actual numbers of incoming inquiries. In addition, the identification number could be used by charging parties to track the progress of their inquiries or cases, help reduce the number of status calls and improve service to the public.

Improving EEOC’s technology can also help improve processing of the work, but only if sufficient bandwidth is available. As we see each day, heavy use of the EEOC’s systems slows things down. If the public is to be able to have a positive experience when contacting the agency and if the work is to be manageable, adequate equipment and bandwidth are imperative. EEOC’s finances are strained and travel money is even more limited. As employees strive to use more technology, that technology must be up to the task.

The benefits and efficiencies of scanning technologies must be made available to all employees. While the agency has begun using scanning technologies to manage paper in some of its programs, it needs to ensure that it uses those same technologies for all of its programs. While legal units and to some degree the federal sector and headquarters offices scan documents and use document management systems, investigators continue to wade through the paper. Time is lost when documents cannot be located. Mail logs with manual entries are inefficient. Tracking down paper consumes valuable time. EEOC must develop more efficient ways to manage and scan the massive amounts of paper handles to improve responsiveness and streamline the work. This should help provide a better experience for both the EEOC customer and the employees.

3. Revamp Key Systems

Key systems are in need of revamping. Technology and processes in use were designed when staffing and work patters were different. Continuous efforts to improve must be the business norm, rather than the crisis response.

The Education and Outreach program needs revamping. Currently, the buzz words are underserved populations. That term needs to be redefined. EEOC must do more than count groups that have not been addressed lately or those clamoring to hear from EEOC. EEOC must also do more than say we will provide training to those who can pay for it. The nature of the training program should be reviewed and improved.

The notion of a workforce is multifaceted. There are current employees, those who have been out of the workforce and who are returning, those who have worked retail and fast food while in school and those who have never before held a job. EEOC must shift its focus from just educating current employees and employers about their rights, and the laws. The focus should shift to educating future workers, those changing jobs and/or being retrained for new jobs, as well as those in the education system or any number of training or retraining programs. EEOC must proactively target facilities preparing future workers -technical institutes, colleges, universities and high schools. These future employees will heavily impact the types of policies and practices being implemented in workforces tomorrow.

EEOC should partner with state work force agencies and unemployment offices to help educate existing employees as employees returning to work after lay-offs or retraining. EEOC should continue to honor requests for training and improve its partnerships with existing constituent groups.

EEOC must re-examine its employee classification process. Not only do classifications have an impact on morale, but the classification system should help ensure that EEOC attracts and retains talented employees. For example, EEOC claims that it wants to focus on systemic charges, but refuses to upgrade investigators who perform this more complicated and time consuming work. It is common knowledge in the federal sector that EEOC’s investigators are workhorses. Too many times, employees have come from other investigative agencies, only to retreat or leave for other jobs.

Another example is the AJ’s. EEOC must study the need for Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and determine appropriate staffing patterns for these federal sector employees. Given the nature of the work required, making this assessment and a fair decision will not only improve morale, but ensure that EEOC attracts and retains talented employees. Providing dedicated support and paraprofessional staff also will help this workgroup tackle backlog and case processing time issues.

Progression of the work classifications also must be addressed. There are classifications where gaps mean lower graded employees can never reach the highest graded position in the classification. Yet, when the higher graded employees leave, the lower graded employees are expected to do the work. Currently FOIA employees live with this system.

Case management systems, while necessary, must be flexible. PCHP was developed to help offices manage their workloads. Systemic cases were rare when PCHP was developed. PCHP is not etched in stone, but is a guide for offices to use. Yet now, PCHP is being used to ensure that EEOC shows certain results in certain categories. That never was the intent. PCHP should be tweaked or revised so it is consistent with any new plan.

While case management is an important part of accomplishing the work, EEOC should study PCHP, Social Security, MSPB and models used by various court systems before deciding on what to implement in the federal sector. The goal should be to manage the work, rather than to create labels into which the work is forced. Moreover, the case management system should ensure improvement for case processing, rather than erode the authority and autonomy needed by this group of employees to get their work done.

CONCLUSION

EEOC faces a number of challenges as its workload increases. There are many factors beyond EEOC’s control which impact the amount of work EEOC employees must handle. In order to not only handle the work, but improve the processes and efficiencies, EEOC should strive to improve employee morale and technology, as well as to revamp systems at EEOC. It is through these types of improvements and efficiencies that EEOC will attract and retain high caliber employees while improving its service to the public.

Thank you for the opportunity to present these views.