Meeting of September 8, 2003, Washington D.C. on Repositioning for New Realities: Securing EEOC's Continued Effectiveness
TO: Cari M. Dominguez Chair Naomi Churchill Earp Vice Chair Paul Steven Miller Commissioner Leslie E. Silverman Commissioner FROM: District Directors SUBJECT: Additional Comments of the District Directors, Submitted for Entry Into the Record of the Public Meeting of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, on September 8, 2003
We appreciate the opportunity afforded to us to provide you written comments setting out some of our thoughts on the general topics of repositioning/restructuring or otherwise improving the effectiveness of this agency, to which most of us have devoted much of our working lives. Both in these comments and in the brief oral remarks of our chosen representative, we hope that you will note the contributions we desire to make as full participants in the process EEOC now undertakes. In general, our level of experience in the agency is greater than that of any group of career staff. Quite specifically, some of us were already serving in key management positions at the time of EEOC's first and most far-reaching reorganization, in the 1970's. We have successfully worked in all the structures EEOC has used. We have led those changes in structure, as well as major changes in responsibilities, policy and practice, all of which contributed to the level of success the agency enjoys today. In short, when it comes to change, this group has "been there, done that." But as far as we believe EEOC has come under our leadership, we are convinced that we have even farther to go. We are eager and invigorated by the prospect of working with the appointed leaders of the agency as a unified team, to achieve the promise of equal rights in the workplace for all the American people.
We believe it is important, before reaching discussion of the content of any plan for restructuring/repositioning, to reach agreement on the following fundamental questions. Who will participate in the designing of the Plan? How will each participant contribute to the construction of the Plan? What should the overall plan look like what form should it take? When should we anticipate completing the Plan, and then when should we expect to implement the changes called for by the Plan? And, why are we engaged in this effort to design a Plan to significantly change EEOC? We outline our responses below.
1. WHO? Everyone concerned, but with an essential caveat.
Here, "everyone" means all stakeholders, and they should get a real, meaningful hearing, in proportion to their interest and their capacity to contribute. The speakers assembled for today's meeting appear to be a fair sample of the range of interests concerned. The caveat is that the invitation to contribute, and the attention given to the contributions, should not be undifferentiated. For example, when senior field managers are first made aware of a proposed organizational development say, a five-year strategic plan and of the opportunity to comment, if that opportunity is essentially coterminous with and undifferentiated from the same opportunity given to all employees, it is a fair conclusion that the comments of a 30-year senior executive will be given essentially the same consideration as those of a 30-week-tenure clerk. This conclusion can be dispelled simply by the manner in which views are solicited, considered and responded to.
The same differentiation should occur with "outside" stakeholders, so that organizations which are the most interested in us and the most familiar with our activities should participate most closely in our "repositioning" discussions.
2. HOW? Through constant, day-to-day, active participation in the study, the discussions, the exchange of ideas, the actual production of proposals, the listening to feedback on proposals at all points in the design of a Plan for change/repositioning.
This is very important. In order to achieve the level of "buy-in" and enthusiasm needed for changes to be easily embraced, the participation by stakeholders in their formulation must be real rather than apparent. For example, leaders may in good faith believe that they have provided fully for input, when in reality only "Before and After" apparent participation was made available. That is, where the moments at which comment is requested are limited to (1) a period too early to know precisely what one is commenting about, or when the factual predicates for planning are not fleshed out, or when no portion of preliminary thoughts of the leaders is known, and (2) comments upon an all-but-final draft, demonstratively reflecting the views and choices of the leaders, the choice of comments available to stakeholders is, in effect, "yea" or "nay." The District Directors' desire to participate in the work of creating change plans will not be satisfied by any such limited opportunities, or by any means which devalues the experience, expertise, institutional memory, and commitment which we want to bring to the planning process. Our suspicion is that this call for an open process will be echoed more strongly by the other participants today than any other suggestion we will make, and for good reason.
3. WHAT? The work product of the process: a Master Plan to guide future staffing and resource allocations.
Our suggested model here comes from the field of land use planning. Most local governments have a planning commission which, among other duties, generally produces what is variously called the [city's etc.] Comprehensive Plan or Master Plan.(1) Over the area being regulated, the Master Plan identifies how future development is to occur: where the green space should be, where the industrial parks and shopping centers will be allowed, etc. The important point is that such plans provide an inexpensive and generally unobjectionable way of guaranteeing consistency and rationality in decision-making, because following adoption of the plan, all future decisions must be in keeping with its terms. It operates only prospectively and hence does not alter past decisions, on which parties had relied. It provides predictability, since any party can know the range of future decisions, and plan accordingly. It limits expense and disruption which would be much greater if retroactive application was involved. Because many citizens will have important stakes in the Plan's terms, they are generally years in the making, and when made are often stable for as many as twenty years.
In EEOC terms, we should seek many of the same benefits. A couple of weeks ago, in a conversation with some of us, the Chief Operating Officer indicated, "Planning is hard. Implementing change is hard. We don't want to do this very often, so we need to do it right the first time." We could not agree more. Under an EEOC multi-year Master Plan, agency leadership could take advantage of current and future staff departures, and minimize expenditures and dissatisfaction flowing from involuntary relocations. In deciding on transfer requests, agency leadership could consider whether future staff reductions are planned for the receiving office. When retirements occur, it might appear that person's function was planned for discontinuance in the future, and therefore filled only temporarily. In short, a Master Plan would produce nearly all the benefits of a massive agency reorganization, without the disadvantages of tremendous expense (concentrated into a short time), and immense losses in productivity and morale due to the disruption of work and personal lives. Not only is it fully transparent, it generally provides notice of decisions long before they are implemented. By separating decision from implementation, it allows for piecemeal, "as practicable" change, and hence more substantial real change than could be afforded at one time. It amounts to a Vision Statement in organizational terms.
4. WHEN? The period over which to implement the Plan [decided for us by OMB, et al.]: 5 years; the period over which to gather facts, exchange views, develop drafts, etc.: between now and adoption of Plan, 1-2 years.(1)
Given the complexity of the project, the wide range of stakeholders with whom to consult/collaborate, and the need to be certain that we "do it right the first time," a period of 1-2 years of planning seems reasonable. While some may be of the view that the planning process (as described under "HOW?" above) began prior to today's meeting; we are unable to agree with this view, and indeed are aware of no evidence whatsoever that would support it. We are not even certain as to what alternative beginning date would be alleged. The earliest time at which the field managers were asked to suggest public service improvements was June 30, 2003 but that request had only one specific requirement: that the suggestions result in a 20% reduction in "fixed costs." Today's meeting, which seeks input on restructuring the agency that is not limited to cost reduction proposals, appears to be an entirely different process. As we anticipate Mr. Elkins has confirmed, the responses from the field to the June 30th request focused overwhelmingly on the mandatory 20% cost reduction, and in many cases service enhancements were not discussed, being viewed as inconsistent with a radical decrease in resources. More importantly, we learned just two weeks ago that no analysis of these cost-reduction proposals had been undertaken or was planned. There has been no response from anyone to any of the authors of the "plans."
If it is suggested that the planning process is of an even older vintage, say, from the time the NAPA report was issued, or the IG/Futrend report before that, we note only that none of us has been engaged in any dialogue or any process, since we are not aware that any consideration has been given to our submitted comments thereon, or indeed that they have been read; certainly we have never received any response to our comments. Again, it is difficult for us to characterize this pattern as one involving the respectful consideration of our views. Indeed, precisely because our work products appear to fall in the words of one of your staff into the Black Hole that is Headquarters a number of our colleagues have despaired, and now respond to requests for comment as merely a work assignment that should be complied with in as minimal a fashion as possible; this may be reflected in the views of some in Headquarters that field managers' submissions are not very well thought through; if so, a truly regrettable vicious circle has been created. To prevent and/or correct this, the Executive Committee of the District Directors Council volunteered to gather together and attempt to build and report the consensus views of the Directors on the range of current restructuring and cost reduction issues in a single document for easier review, but we were unable to obtain approval/funding for this proposal.
5. WHY? To comply with the President's mandate to overhaul the federal government to create government that is citizen-centered and results-oriented (i.e., oriented to achieve "results that make a difference to the American people").
The District Directors unequivocally and enthusiastically endorse these aims, and will continue to pursue them relentlessly, even when it is unpopular to do so. The Administration has been precise about what sort of restructuring/repositioning is required of us in order that we might be citizen-centered: "flatten the . . . hierarchy, reduce the number of layers in upper echelons . . . , and redistribute higher-level positions to front-line, service-delivery positions that interact with citizens." (3) The District Directors do not understand themselves to be in policy-making positions, but to have the responsibility to implement policy professionally and faithfully; we have done this over many years. Therefore, whether or not it is in our personal interests to do so, we will continue to press for the full implementation of this mandate.
Citizen-centered government, furthermore, is a substantial, far-reaching departure from the way life in government agencies has traditionally gone on. Traditional government views the political appointees of any agency as the central figures, around whom all activities revolve, and whom all staff serve. Thus, the next-most important group in such an agency is the senior executives who, while not being political appointees, have work which brings them into regular contact with the appointees (i.e., those who have the most "face time") and therefore serve the appointees in the most direct and immediate way. The central problem with the traditional-government model is that the People, for whose benefit the agency presumably was established are, literally as well as figuratively (see Figure 1 attached hereto), on the outside. But a related problem is that the agency personnel with the best means for knowing the situation of the agency's presumed beneficiaries, i.e., the line staff that constantly "interact[s] with citizens," are nearly as far removed from power and influence over agency decision-making.
Citizen-centric government reverses this view. Clearly the American People are at the center, but the next-greatest importance is given to those public servants "that interact [routinely] with citizens." Inside the agency, the next level of the food chain now is to serve the needs and interests of the staffers who directly serve people; and so on. Figures 1 and 2, attached hereto, are visual approximations of this difference, and dramatize the change being required of us all.
The District Directors' Response to the Current Studies Related to Restructuring
To avoid simply repeating ourselves, the Directors refer you to the comments submitted long ago with respect to the NAPA Study, those submitted in response to the IG/Futrend Report, and so much of our June 30, 2003, submissions as relate to either. We have no response from Headquarters to any of these, and in the main our views have not changed. With particular respect to the NAPA Study, we have identified to you some recommendations regarding streamlining the Finance and HR staffing, realigning the functions now within the Office of Legal Counsel, and establishing a performance culture which emphasizes rewarding our best people and separating poor performers, for example that seem so obviously right that we feel they are already due for adoption. We have pointed to other NAPA recommendations which in our judgment should not be considered favorably, and a third sort of recommendation which warrant careful consideration, often in the light of agency history which many District Directors can provide. But, as noted, we look forward to engaging you on this wide range of topics, once we learn of your views concerning our submissions. We want to also note that we have submitted, on Headquarters request, two sets (based on considerable study) of recommendations relating to increasing the effectiveness of field operations and allocating available resources more efficiently, to which no response has been received.
Finally, there is the evolution of the IG Report's suggestion that substantial longer-term cost savings could and should be made in part by increasing our costs for an initial two-year period. In a manner we were not privy to, some of your senior staff extrapolated this into a requirement that a 35% reduction in rents be produced in the field. At this time, we have but three brief comments (although we hope you will allow us the opportunity for full, open discussion of this and subsequent similar requirements, first with the appropriate Headquarters senior staff, then with you). First, we have been unable to obtain an answer to the question of understandable concern to us: is this requirement now "off the table" (though we are aware of ongoing activities in seeming pursuit thereof)? Second, our efforts to ascertain from our assumed teammates in Headquarters the facts which could serve as the underpinning for such an extreme and sudden measure have been neither easy nor highly successful. Third, a substantial majority of us, simply trusting that the need existed and that no doubt all alternative means of reducing costs had been explored, submitted plans for radical reduction of our own office rents, even if it jeopardized service delivery. Regrettably, we have not received any response to our work products.
In our experience, any planning for restructuring should work from this one premise: whether we seek effectiveness, or efficiency, or both, finally, it's about the people. We largely discredit the passing parade of pop management "consultants," who in the 70's, told us it was organizations that prevented greater success, and so we repeatedly reorganized, with only marginal improvement; who, in the 80's, told us it was the systems, so systems were studied and changed, with no significant result; who, in the 90's, told us it was management that held us back, so we spent literally millions on training and retraining our managers. In this decade perhaps we can understand that very good, motivated people will regularly survive these transient fads and continue to do very well, and that unmotivated or incapable people are unlikely to be reborn through structural changes. This is not to say that organization/structure, systems and training have no value it is simply to state what we all know. When it's time to restructure, "objectivity" is not uniformly a good watchword; we should not fail to save our best people (and organizational elements). This requires accommodation of special situations, both with regard to individuals and groups/offices. If because of a wholly objective analysis, restructuring displaces a superior performer and retains an inferior one, the agency is unnecessarily disserved. Similarly, if through analysis of population trends, charge traffic or the like, restructuring results in the elimination of part or all of an office with an unusually high performance level, an office culture which requires and applauds excellence, while bypassing an office of unequal "return on investment," then it should be anticipated that we will lose more than the new "structure" could possibly gain us, for years to come. So, before we restructure based on abstractions in a Plan, we should accept that not all of our employees or offices are models, and should not therefore be treated as if all were the same.
Related to this, let us propose two corollaries regarding restructuring:
This year, we have been repeatedly asked to submit proposals through which EEOC could both reduce costs and improve service to the public. By and large, we found such suggestions did not abound in our offices. Cost-savings of significance seemed likely to cost us as much or more in long-term diminution of service levels, and innovations to perform services better risked higher costs. But in June, at the suggestion of the Acting Director of Field Programs, we began to focus on the agency as a whole, not just our own offices. That made a formerly fruitless search easy. For whatever risks some may want to take in the field that service enhancements and cost reductions can actually be combined, it is beyond serious debate that changes can be made in Headquarters that would do both, with ease. It is not that we wish any ill upon Headquarters staff members; indeed, some of our best friends and colleagues are in Headquarters. Rather, the truth here is so obvious and well-known that most Headquarters staff we know agree with this.
In conclusion, let us repeat for emphasis we are excited by the prospect of engaging you and all the agency's leadership, career and term, and all of our stakeholders, in an urgent discussion to discern those changes that will best improve both the effectiveness (the success at carrying out the mission) and the efficiency (making our limited resources go farthest toward completion of the mission) of this agency. After all, the District Directors, with the other senior field managers, are the team that conceived, developed, piloted, and implemented the Mediation Program, the Priority Charge Handling Procedures, the National Enforcement Plan, Legal-Enforcement collaboration - as well as the melding of "the Big Case" and media relations that has put EEOC on the map. All these highly successful changes and others resulted from teamwork in which career field leaders "invented" and appointee leaders formalized and "nationalized" those inventions. We certainly recognize that final decisions about change are ultimately yours to make, with or without dialogue. The important point is that change without dialogue seems less likely to succeed, especially when the Directors and others are so anxious to participate with you now and continuously to develop and implement the many significant changes we believe would improve upon our present level of success. We believe that collaboration with us should not lightly be turned aside, since while endorsing change at a conceptual level is valuable, experience with changing this organization is priceless.
1. The name is of little importance. We selected "Master Plan" to avoid confusion with other EEOC "Plan" documents developed in the past.
2. This seems to be in keeping with the OMB guidance. As we understand it, OMB initially sought restructuring plans to accompany FY03 budget requests, due in early September, 2001. Beginning with the effective date of the accompanying budget (October 1, 2002), the plan was to be implemented over 5 years (FY2003-2007). While agency plans had to be submitted to OMB only 4 months after they were requested, agencies were generally able to recast the plans until October, 2002, some 16 months after they had begun the planning process.
3. OMB Bulletin No. 01-07.
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