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

Written Testimony of Sharon Eller
U.S. Department of the Interior

On behalf of Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, I thank you for providing me this opportunity to share comments to the EEOC regarding the future Strategic Enforcement Plan. Greetings to Madame Chair, and Commissioners Barker, Feldblum and Lipnic.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is America’s principal conservation agency. Its mission is to protect America’s natural resources and heritage, honor cultural and tribal communities, and supply the energy to power the future. The DOI offers unparalleled recreational opportunities, protects the Nation’s monuments and priceless landscapes, conserves wildlife and fisheries, protects and interprets cultural collections that tell the Nation’s history, and manages resources that help to fulfill the responsibilities for American Indians and Alaska Natives and commitments to affiliated island communities. Our programs touch the lives of most Americans, from the people of Yosemite National Park and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, American Samoa and Guam, and the Virgin Islands.

We at DOI are looking for opportunities to build on our collaboration with EEOC. Our priorities at DOI for the next three years, include continuing to build a diverse work force at DOI to make DOI a best place to work: training our managers on employee rights and responsibilities to continue to reduce our complaints of reprisal; cultivate a culture that encourages collaboration, flexibility and fairness to enable employees to contribute to their full potential and retention; and continue the work with our Diversity Change Agents to build on the challenge of delivering the Inclusive Workplace vision.

What could EEOC be doing better?

I have reviewed the comments and suggestions of the other panel members and in general support their positions. In addition to their comments I want to add the following suggestions.

The two different enforcement mechanisms available to the EEOC in the federal sector are not effective.  The adjudication of claims brought by federal employees does not deter discrimination nor does the cumbersome process deter complainants from filing. An improved case management approach would help to better enforce the findings of discrimination and final agency decisions. Administrative Judge's (AJ’s) should be assigned to specific agencies. This would ensure consistency in the results across the each agency. This will allow for better trend analysis. The AJ’s role would expand to include an outreach and education peace with the agency under their jurisdiction. We as an agency know and collect data. We can run reports to see where the “hot spots” are located, but no one outside the organization sees that information. The EEOC could track the “hot spots” with the data it has but does the current EEOC technology allow for such queries? If the AJ could focus on a smaller case load of specific agencies, we all could work collaboratively to come up with a solution rather than have the boiler plate training. The AJ would become more involved at the agency level rather than being so removed from the process after the appeals, etc.

The second enforcement mechanism is the oversight authority regarding the federal agencies’ equal opportunity and affirmative action plans. There isn’t enough accountability in these plans.  Who is really monitoring the implementation and completion of the plans? EEOC monitors if the requirement to have a plan was met – is the box checked?  This is an opportunity to show how the diversity movement can go hand in hand with the action plans. We suggest that EEOC limit agencies to three to five obtainable goals and objectives in collaboration with an EEOC specialist and a review of historical data.  Then agency works to actually make improvements in those three areas.  In other words take a more focused results driven approach.

Additionally, EEOC could be more aggressive in their enforcement roles. Specifically, 29 C.F.R. Section 1614.102 should be enforced by continuing to do staff assistance visits until full compliance is achieved.

Are there laws or regulations that need to change, be eliminated or be created?

Executive Order 13087, FURTHER AMENDMENT TO EXECUTIVE ORDER 11478, EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. With the Macy Decision, the EEOC should push for a law that will replace this executive order and establish this protection under Title 7.

Madame Chair, we at the Department of Interior look forward to assisting EEOC in formulating this plan for the future and its implementation. Thank you for this opportunity to put our comments forward.