Meeting of September 17, 2004 to Vote on Authorization of Funds for Pilot National Contact Center
We have before us today a proposal that represents the culmination of many months of hard work, thoughtful study, and critical evaluation by many EEOC staff members, both in headquarters and the field, and I am glad that many of the Work Group members and others involved in the proposal before us are present. On behalf of the Commission, let me extend our thanks for your excellent work. I want to give special recognition and thanks to Cynthia Pierre for her fine leadership and tireless, professional dedication to this endeavor.
The proposal we consider today gives EEOC the opportunity to make a quantum leap forward in the level of our service to the public. Now, why have we undertaken this project? Why should customer service and communication with members of the public be such a high priority for a law enforcement agency?
The answer is very simple. Public access is essential to our mission. We need the public to get to us in real time. The public’s information about "real world" workplace concerns, issues, and problems is crucial to our enforcement of the nation’s laws against discrimination.
In our vision statement, we say that the EEOC seeks to build "a strong and prosperous nation secured through a fair and inclusive workplace." To achieve these goals, to protect the American workplace, the Commission must have in place the best system possible for gathering and securing meaningful intelligence – national EEO intelligence – about equal employment opportunity issues and trends.
As we strive to safeguard civil rights in a new millennium, our front lines continue to be besieged with challenges. Even as we upgrade the delivery in all other areas, our first lines of communications are rooted in the 1960s. The infrastructure put in place when EEOC was created 40 years ago – in terms of technology, staffing structure, hours of operations, language support, et cetera – simply cannot support and respond to the demands of our changing times. We are stuck in the 60's when it comes to customer service.
For the Commission to successfully monitor and advance the security of every worker’s civil employment rights, we have to break out of that system – a system that is fragmented, bureaucratic, parochial, and unwieldy.
Most of the one million individuals who contact EEOC annually do so for the first time. Those initial contacts are the agency’s face to the public, and it is vital that we live up to the standard of professionalism that our customers expect and deserve. Our President expects and demands us to deliver no less than the best public service that we can provide our citizens. That is why the President’s very first point in his management agenda is to ensure that we put in place programs and efforts that are first and foremost citizen-centric. He has asked us to put the interests of our customers before the interests of any other self-serving component.
However, a lengthy and careful evaluation has shown, without a shadow of a doubt, that our system is worse than inadequate and not meeting the public’s expectations. That is why the study done by the National Academy of Public Administration, a highly respected independent, bipartisan organization and the only Congressionally chartered organization in its field, urged the Commission to establish a national contact center.
When individuals call our field offices, they get voice mail instead of people. Their messages sometimes go hours, days, weeks, and months without a reply, sometimes even unheeded. My personal e-mailbox and phone lines are flooded daily with pleas from members of the public, not to mention Members from the Hill, who are desperate to find someone at this agency who can provide them information. In the end, we still do not know how many people we touch because we have no way of counting them, or tracking their correspondence, or determining if, in fact, we were of any help to them.
A National Contact Center is urgently needed to give the public what we do not and cannot now provide as we labor under inherent limitations of our technology and staffing structure – an open door to the EEOC. With a National Contact Center, the EEOC will be able to offer, for the very first time, a wide, welcoming and well-publicized gateway to our services. You will be able to reach us immediately. Your messages won’t be lost or unheeded. You won’t be put through frustrating delays, busy signals, and endless computer menus.
With a contact center, the public will, for the first time, enjoy multiple choices for communicating with EEOC. These include electronic mail, Internet tools, extended hours of access to speak to a live customer service representative so that people can easily reach us before and after their workday hours, and options to communicate in scores of languages. A centralized contact center gives everyone throughout the country the benefit of these expanded channels of communication, and they will not be hard to find. Communications will be consistent, informed, uniform, and tracked to ensure follow-up.
I think it is high time for the EEOC to join the technology revolution and offer the same 24/7 access to the public that the public enjoys in all kinds of other services, both commercially and in government.
For people who come to EEOC seeking relief from workplace discrimination, a contact center will get those people into our system and in touch with our professional EEOC staff much more quickly than possible now. If you are trying to file a charge, you should not have to wait for days for a return phone call. A contact center will let potential charge filers communicate basic information, and our staff will take over from there with counseling, guidance, and action.
For all of these reasons, the contact center moves us in the right direction.
By streamlining initial customer contacts into a centralized unit, we will allow investigators to investigate, mediators to mediate, litigators to litigate, and so on. A contact center also allows the taxpayers to benefit from economies of scale. Fewer resources will be needed to ensure that all calls are answered promptly and knowledgeably, and tracked for future action.
Let me address for a moment the concerns that have been expressed about staff attrition and job loss. As I have repeatedly stated and testified in Congress, there will be no loss of jobs for EEOC staff as a result of the National Contact Center.
In fact, operational savings from other measures have made it possible, during Fiscal Year 2004, to fill more than 90 investigation, mediation, litigation, and support staff positions, most of which are located in our field offices.
Let me also note, incidentally, that we have worked very, very closely with Congress throughout this process. In addition to my testimony up on the Hill, we have had extensive meetings and we have provided full briefings to the committees and all who have been interested. We have complied with all notification requirements at every step of the way. We have received support and acknowledgment of our efforts from the Hill. And we will, of course, continue to comply with all legislative requirements and to work with them as we move forward.
On the question of other options, I am persuaded by the work group’s careful research and considerations that we would not be able to achieve through an in-house center, for reasons of cost, the high quality of service that would be available through a contractor-operated contact center. Also compelling are numerous examples of similar centers contracted by sister agencies across the federal government.
What makes this option even more ideal is that we will begin with a two-year pilot. Let me repeat: This is a two-year pilot. This trial run allows us to implement quickly a full-service center that can be improved, replaced or discontinued if it fails to deliver what the taxpayers deserve.
But try we must. Our commitment to continuous improvement demands it and our customers deserve no less. A contact center dedicated solely to responding to unsolicited calls will ensure immediate service to customers from all U.S. time zones. We will be able to support a variety of languages. Cutting edge technology will be used to respond to individuals in every city, town and country post through whatever channel they choose to contact us. It is about access.
Most importantly, we will be able, for the first time in the history of the Commission, to gather complete, comprehensive, unadulterated EEO intelligence that will enable us to enhance an inclusive and accessible workplace for all Americans. We will use this intelligence to implement more effective interventionary programs. We will be able to address issues in a much more customized manner. The more information we have, the better we can be in designing good programs and effective law enforcement strategies.
Without a private sector contract, the Commission would be unable to provide for these needs in a cost-effective manner. Trying to patch up an antiquated system that is both faulty and faltering might mask some of these problems – but it is not going to fix them. We have been doing this for the last 40 years. Rather, we must start anew by tapping into an existing infrastructure fully equipped to handle our front lines.
As for the contract before us today, I fully support the proposed obligation of funds because I am confident that the recommended vendor will provide an outstanding level of service to the public in the most cost-effective manner possible.
This page was last modified on September 20, 2004.
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