Meeting of September 17, 2004 to Vote on Authorization of Funds for Pilot National Contact Center
Good Morning, Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioner Silverman and Commissioner Ishimaru. My name is Cynthia Pierre, Director, Field Management Programs, in the Office of Field Programs at EEOC Headquarters. Beside me is Jeffrey Smith, Chief Financial Officer. Before proceeding, I would like to acknowledge the members of the National Contact Center contract technical evaluation panel who are present in the audience. Just over one year ago, on September 8, 2003, I had the honor of presenting to the Commission the report of the EEOC National Contact Center Work Group which recommended that EEOC go forward with a time-limited pilot program using a private sector vendor to help in establishing a national customer service center. I come before you today to report on the activities since that time connected with the solicitation for a national contact center vendor.
In February 2003, the National Academy of Public Administration Panel made a series of recommendations for improving EEOC's operational efficiencies and program effectiveness. The most urgent of their recommendations involved the establishment of a national contact center as a way to improve the quality, timeliness, accessibility and consistency of services to EEOC's customers. Consistent with that recommendation, the Chair formed an internal work group of field and headquarters staff to explore the feasibility of establishing such a center.
The work group found that the EEOC currently receives an estimated one million or more unsolicited calls annually from the public. It also found that of these calls, approximately 61 percent were general inquiries and were not about filing a charge. Rather, these 61 percent of calls sought general information about EEOC and the laws enforced by the EEOC or other federal agencies. The remaining 39 percent were seeking to file a charge of employment discrimination. Regarding the EEOC's service delivery performance, the workgroup found highly inefficient systems with a wide variety of practices, hampered by inadequate telecommunications infrastructure, and uneven staffing leading to numerous complaints of unanswered calls or long delays in service response. The work group concluded that the volume of calls/inquiries currently received by EEOC cannot be effectively or efficiently handled with the agency's current infrastructure and technology and that the return on investment in a contact center would allow the EEOC to realize tremendous improvement in our service capacity and effectiveness. The work group recommended that the contact center not handle actual charge filing but focus on responding to general and routine inquiries from the public and gathering information to improve our service delivery. The primary benefit of the contact center would free up EEOC staff to focus on mission-critical activities such as charge intake and investigation, counseling of potential charging parties, and outreach to employers and employees.
On September 5, 2003, we provided the Commission a copy of the work group's full report on contact center feasibility. As mentioned earlier, the key recommendation of the work group was to initiate a solicitation for a contractor to conduct a two-year pilot of a national contact center, in order to achieve significant improvements in the agency's ability to respond to public inquiries. The Commission subsequently discussed the work group's report and recommendations at a public meeting on September 8, 2003. Stakeholder groups, the national union, and employees also commented on recommendation for a national contact center at this meeting. The meeting record and the Executive Summary of the Work Group report remain available on the Commission's web site.
In November 2003, the four sitting EEOC Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the report and recommendations of the work group.
On December 5, 2003, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a pre-solicitation notice for a National Contact Center requesting comments on the sufficiency of the proposed statement of objectives from interested vendors. The Contracting Officer received approximately two hundred responses with suggestions which were used to improve the quality of the solicitation package. After incorporating changes to the solicitation based on the industry response, the Contracting Officer, issued RFP-0410 (the National Contact Center Solicitation) as an open competition on March 8, 2004. Technical and cost proposals were received on April 12, 2004. During this same period, an EEOC Technical Evaluation Panel was established with the aim of completing its proposal review process and submitting a recommendation to the Source Selection Authority for approval by August 2004.
Additionally, during the period December 2003 through April 2004, to ensure the successful transition of the National Contact Center, several agency work groups developed a number of useful documents to facilitate the process. For example, the knowledge base content that the customer service representatives will use when responding to inquiries, has been developed and approved by the EEOC's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Another work group, made up of the very best training designers and presenters put together a comprehensive training program with instructor and trainee materials concerning all the laws the EEOC enforces as well as the processes it is responsible for implementing. This training will be conducted by senior EEOC staff to ensure that the customer service representatives receive superior training on all EEOC procedural and substantive issues. Because of their high quality and utility, these materials are being used to assist EEOC staff in responding to public inquiries and training new EEOC employees. In addition, the training package developed for customer service representatives has been used by internal EEOC staff in its development of a new EEOC website aimed at teens in the workplace.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) filed a bid protest with the General Accounting Office on March 29, 2004 challenging the Commission's decision to seek proposals for a contact center and alleging that the Commission had not complied with OMB Circular A-76. Among other things, AFGE argued that the agency must conduct a public/private price competition before deciding to contract work out unless a waiver is secured from OMB. The GAO dismissed the union's bid protest on April 19, 2004 (2004 WL 836049) stating that federal unions lacked standing to file since they are not "interested parties" within the meaning of GAO's bid protest jurisdiction.
In any event, EEOC , in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and Office of the Chief Financial Officer and Administrative Services, has taken the position that a waiver from OMB for this procurement was not required because the Circular does not require a public/private price competition if the services involved constitute new work or a segregable expansion of existing work. Since the proposed procurement creates a centralized, dedicated contact center with many technological and communication capacities not now possessed by EEOC, the services being procured constitute either new work or a segregable expansion of existing work.
From April 2004 through July 2004, the Technical Evaluation panel undertook the required steps in the solicitation process to assess the proposals of the various offerors. In August 2004, the Chair of the Technical Evaluation Panel (TEP) and the Contracting Officer for the solicitation submitted a joint memorandum to the Source Selection Authority identifying a recommended vendor for selection. The Source Selection Authority met with members of the TEP and the Contracting Officer to discuss their positions and draft recommendations and to seek clarification on various issues. After an independent review the SSA selected a contractor and, on August 26, 2004, a contract approval package was forwarded to the Commission.
A number of concerns and issues have been raised by internal and external stakeholders regarding the appropriateness of a national contact center to handle EEOC inquiries. I will discuss a number of these issues in turn.
1. Cost of National Contact Center
Based on preliminary market research, the EEOC work group estimated the costs of a contractor-operated center to be between $2 million to $3 million annually, after a transition phase. Estimates were subsequently obtained showing that an in-house contact center could cost $12 million, for infrastructure alone, i.e., the technology, equipment, telecommunications required to set up a center). Costs of staffing, space rental, and maintenance would be additional. The September 2003 report estimated that internal staff time for answering calls on an intermittent basis were projected to equal about $1.4 million in salary costs in 2003.
2. Applicability of OMB Circular A-76
As mentioned earlier, the EEOC has taken the position that the national contact center constitutes a new requirement or a segregable expansion to an existing commercial activity performed by EEOC employees because the center will provide EEOC with capacities that are not currently available, such as:
3. Displacement of EEOC Employees.
The national contact center will not displace any EEOC employees. Rather, EEOC employees will be relieved of collateral phone duties and able to devote more time to core job functions such as intake, investigation, mediation, litigation, outreach, management and staff support. EEOC has carefully considered a range of options. Based on available data, the work group calculated and anticipates that the taxpayers will be better served by exploring the economies of scale that can be achieved by a contractor-operated contact center with contractor-owned technology. A two-year pilot program would allow collection of precise and reliable data on performance, customer satisfaction and costs to serve as a basis for decisions on whether to extend the program beyond the pilot period.
4. Ability of Contact Center Employees to Answer EEOC Inquiries
The EEOC's National Contact Center will be capable of answering the most frequently asked questions posed to the EEOC.
In addition, many quality assurance measures will be taken. For example,
5. Inherently Governmental Functions
A final concern raised by critics of the contact center proposal is whether the customer service representatives will be performing inherently governmental functions. In fact, the contact center employees will not counsel or screen out potential charge filers regarding whether or not they have a charge of discrimination. Neither will they be expected to answer questions relating to complex issues of employment discrimination law. Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) will be trained to recognize more complex factual inquiries and refer those seeking an interpretation of the law or a set of facts to our field offices. The CSRs will describe the laws EEOC enforces; serve as a clearinghouse for information on employee rights and employer responsibilities; provide information on how the investigative process and mediation work; give the location and telephone numbers of our field offices and the hours of operation; provide case status information and file disclosure information; provide referral information for other agencies; and provide responses to requests for training and education. Most calls to EEOC cover these subjects. However, if a caller wants to discuss a potential charge of discrimination, the CSR will collect and record the pertinent information using a web-based inquiry assessment tool, and forward the information to the appropriate EEOC office for follow-up.
We note also that our determination that the contact center representatives will not be performing inherently governmental work is shared by many other agencies who have contact centers staffed or operated by contractors; therefore, we are not the first to consider this issue.
In conclusion, we have been very cognizant of the concerns and issues raised by our stakeholders and employees. Many constructive suggestions were made to us which were used to improve the quality of program design. We appreciate that there are some employees who do not fully embrace this proposal; however, we are confident that when the evaluation results are in, the appropriateness and effectiveness of this effort will be fully evident. Our research has shown that investing in a national contact center can help to make us a better agency.
When I was a District Director, it hurt every time I received a letter from someone saying that they called the office to file a charge and got a constant busy signal each time and finally did not get a call through until it was too late to meet the statutory time limits. In these cases, rights were lost that we could not give back. This will be a big step forward for us in finally providing immediate access and responsiveness to our callers. Our main purpose, always, is to enhance customer service and to ensure consistency and accuracy of information provided to callers, wherever they are located-and to do this in a manner that brings EEOC into the 21st century.
Thank you for this time. Jeff and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
This page was last modified on September 17, 2004.
Return to Home Page