Meeting of July 18, 2012 – Public Input into the Development of EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan
Chair Berrien, Commissioners, General Counsel. Thank you for inviting me to testify as part of the roundtable on this very important topic. I am Reuben Daniels, Director of the Charlotte District Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I welcome and support your leadership on the development of a new Strategic Enforcement Plan that supports and implements critical components of the recently approved 2012-2016 Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan presents a challenge to the agency, and especially your field staff on the front lines, to find ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our programs in combating employment discrimination through strategic law enforcement, education and outreach.
Let me begin with a plea from the field that this plan not be simply a litany of aspirational goals that exhort staff to do more of everything with less resources and staff. Our staff have consistently responded to every challenge and goal set before them with unmatched energy and professionalism. They overcome impossible odds everyday to deliver quality services to the many customers, external and internal, who demand our attention to the issues that most directly affect them. I truly believe a primary reason for the extraordinary retention rate of staff at EEOC is that our staff believe in the mission of this agency and take great pride in the steps taken each day – small or large – that move us closer to stopping and remedying unlawful employment discrimination. Unfortunately, our intake of charges has grown steadily over the past 6 years as our resources and available staffing has declined. This is a time for new strategies and hard choices among important and deserving priorities.
The Strategic Plan anticipates this body will make these difficult choices when it states under Strategic Objective 1, Combat employment discrimination through strategic law enforcement … “Strategy I.A.1: Develop and implement a Strategic Enforcement Plan that: (1) establishes EEOC priorities and (2) integrates the EEOC’s investigation, conciliation and litigation responsibilities in the private and state and local government sectors...”
The span of unlawful employment discrimination issues confronting employers, workers and our agency is vast. Even as race charges continue to dominate our inventory 48 years after passage of the enabling legislation for this agency, we have seen extraordinary growth in claims and issues for all the laws addressed by our agency. Sex harassment, pay, age, national origin, religion and disability claims have grown in numbers and complexity. This year the agency shined new light on issues of unlawful sexual discrimination against members of the LGBT community, revisited the impact of the use of arrest and conviction records in employment and opened a much needed review of national origin discrimination and its role in human trafficking as well as discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The challenge for the agency and its field office will be consistent, efficient enforcement across the range of issues. We have offices with as few as 3 or 4 investigators servicing hundreds of customers. Even our larger offices are stressed as they seek to deliver efficient pre-charge screening/counseling, Intake, ADR/ investigations on the front end and effective remedies and litigation vehicles on the back end.
The identification of targeted priority issues and policies is only the first step recommended for this body. I would welcome an array of targeted priorities under which offices are allowed to identify issues and policies to which they may best contribute toward the SEP. Directors need the opportunity to identify the most efficient utilization of resources for case management that support integration of investigation, conciliation and litigation responsibilities. We also need clear direction on the implementation of PCHP as both an inventory and case management tool and your support for the hard choices that surely must follow.
The identification of national priorities through the Strategic Enforcement Plan can greatly aid field managers in the design of appropriate local strategies and systemic plans to channel resources to issues and charges that will best contribute toward the national goals. The agency collects a wealth of information through its Information Management System (IMS) that can be accessed and evaluated to aid in the identification of national and local priorities. Many of the resources to assist in data and trend analysis are in our Headquarters offices of OFP and ORIP. Those offices, in concert with OIT, should be oriented to provide the field offices with the necessary analytics that aid in the crucial decisions on how limited resources are best deployed to greatest effect in reducing employment discrimination.
Directors and Regional Attorneys must be on the same page with respect to enforcement and litigation priorities and the allocation of their respective resources in support of those priorities. The hard truth is that every office cannot be all things to all people. Your field executives and managers will need discretion to make choices appropriate to their jurisdiction and their available resources. This will necessarily mean localized discretion and prioritization from the overarching SEP. Regional and national collaborations among offices must be encouraged wherever possible. Finally, the judgments of enforcement and legal executives in the field must be respected and supported as they are held accountable for resource utilization and program outcomes.
The consistent investments you have made in the training and development of front line professionals over the past few years are greatly appreciated by managers and staff. It has returned huge dividends in the morale of staff and the quality of services and resolutions. We urge a continuation of this investment with a closer integration of practical legal and enforcement skill sets. For example, developing deposition or interview outlines, conducting interviews, drafting affidavits or witness statements and structuring settlement negotiations are common skill sets that impact the pace and quality of our work from intake through litigation. Unfortunately, we often train investigators, ISAs, mediators and attorneys in isolation from each other with no opportunity for sharing of experiences and skills. This is a missed opportunity to foster legal enforcement interaction in a neutral setting where challenges and experiences can lead to greater understanding and collaboration. The ultimate benefit for the agency may be more efficient legal / enforcement interaction that support our charge management and remedies goals.
Experience has shown that education and outreach are essential components of our law enforcement strategies. We believe most businesses want to comply with federal anti discrimination laws as they build the most talented and competitive workforce possible. We strongly support the efforts by this body to address the needs of small businesses and their educational associations. Private sector businesses, advocacy and special interest groups as well as our state, local and federal agency partners must be embraced as contributors to the national dialogue and actions to reduce employment discrimination. Our Program Analysts are a critical link to these constituencies as they are viewed- much like our Mediators- as trusted intermediaries who serve the mutual interests of all parties.
National programs such as TAPS and Excel are greatly appreciated and afford the agency valuable visibility in the employer and legal communities. The employee and advocacy communities are identified and reached through local initiatives. Our small cadre of program analysts / outreach coordinators carry a great deal of the workload for these activities. Directors and supervisors also work hard to bring key constituencies to the table to design outreach and education strategies that respond to local needs. It is recommended that the plan continue to give local offices discretion in the identification and servicing of their advocacy and underserved communities.
Directors appreciate and support your concern regarding consistency in the customer service experience across the agency. The current OFP initiative on forms and letters is an area where we can agree that consistency has its merits and virtues. We urge however that the discretion of executives to interpret, implement and execute policy not be so constrained as to inhibit our ability to execute timely decisions that respond to real time events at the local level. The ultimate goal of combating discrimination must not be held hostage to a slavish commitment to form and practice at a national level.
The executives, managers and staff in the field are keenly aware of the challenges faced by you in the development of a national strategic enforcement plan. We confront many of the same issues and competing interests with which you will wrestle in the days ahead. Your final plan will reflect difficult choices as you focus the resources of the agency to have the broadest possible impact in reducing unlawful employment discrimination. As always, we stand committed to meet the challenge.