The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Meeting of September 8, 2003, Washington D.C. on Repositioning for New Realities: Securing EEOC's Continued Effectiveness

Comments of Gabrielle Martin, President
National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216

Comments to the Chair

Good Afternoon Madam Chair, Vice Chair, Commissioners, Staff, Colleagues and Guests. My name is Gabrielle Martin. While many of you may know that I am the President of the National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216, which represents the bargaining unit employees at EEO, you may not know that I am a 16 year EEOC employee from the Denver District Office.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.

First and foremost, I must tell you that employees at EEOC are angry about the following:

The focus on EEOC employees is not to say that the customer is not important, but is to recognize another important point well-trained, recognized and satisfied employees make for well-serviced customers.

This may sound redundant, but I believe it needs to be said, because it seems we have lost our focus. The EEOC is a Federal law enforcement agency. What EEOC does or does not do, impacts almost every employee covered by the laws this agency is mandated to enforce. While we are a small agency, I suspect that we are one of the most important. With that in mind, we cannot undervalue the employees that I stand here representing, or their issues.

EEOC is a small and chronically underfunded agency. It is clear however, that this agency wants to chart a different course. EEOC cannot and should not change merely for the sake of change. And, it would improve employee morale if there were forthright communications with employees about the process for dealing with the NAPA recommendations and about office closings and downsizings. In seeking input, EEOC must be willing to share all of the data which supports underlying facts and issues, with its employees and stakeholders. In the process of evaluating change, EEOC should not lose sight of the fact that our mandate is to enforce the laws that prohibit employment discrimination.

The existence of offices in locations in itself is a deterrent factor. Law enforcement cannot and should not be done from virtual offices for that suggests that discrimination is virtual, existing only in the minds of those claiming to be victims. EEOC should not send this message to America.

Law enforcement by its very nature, is labor intensive and EEOC must invest in people, using this resource to perform mission critical work. Moreover, the EEOC's mission is so important that selling any job at auction to the lowest bidder is unacceptable. It also is unacceptable that while a number of Federal agencies have publicly fought against contracting out, EEOC has not. EEOC must fight even harder for its employees in the budget process, both for more money and against contracting out.

Notwithstanding EEOC's budget limitations, EEOC must hire sufficient numbers of employees to get the work done. Sufficient staffing includes both professional and support staff. To continue in the vein of not employing sufficient numbers of support staff is something we can ill afford. Our too few employees are stretched too thin, filling the void left by so many vacant positions.

EEOC needs to do a much better job of recognizing and rewarding the talents and efforts of its employees. In order to be more credible, the awards program must reward employees for performing in the manner the agency identifies as being important. For example, while EEOC says that customer service is vital, too often, monetary rewards go to those individuals who produce the highest numerical results. Moreover, EEOC is willing to contract out its responsibilty for this vital service to a call center and discourages employees from spending the time necessary to provide good customer service.

As for the performance management system, it is in dire need of change. It impacts staff development and awards and ultimately, the service we provide. Quite frankly, as one of those involved in developing the current system, we have tried it and it does not work! It is time to go back to the drawing board.

I note that it will be counterproductive for EEOC to improve the performance management and employee recognition programs, until it reviews and updates employee position descriptions and resolves longstanding classification issues. Position descriptions and skill competencies should be updated more frequently.

As for employee development, poor performers are not the only employees who need or benefit from this type of planning. Until this is changed, EEOC will continue to fail both its employees and its customers.

Finally, EEOC must invest adequate time and budget for training purposes. We cannot continue to be penny wise and pound foolish. EEOC's internet training program is largely underutilized. Those who seek to use the benefit do not the have time to take the courses, there has been insufficient education about the program and there is very little encouragement from managers for employees to take advantage of this training tool.

Last year, in spite of our tight budget, EEOC turned money back. During that time, investigators were told not to schedule on-site visits, hearings and litigation travel and activities were rescheduled or canceled, we did not hire staff, training requests were denied and monetary awards were limited. There were numerous other "We Cannot Dos". Employees should be able to count on the agency to implement sound financial practices, not face potential furloughs in one month, be told there will not be an awards program or training the next month and then learn that there is an awards program and travel money the following month.

Other areas needing significant change include EEOC's management structure and technology.

Despite finding support for the need to reduce the layers of management in budget circulars from the office of management and budget, - the President's management agenda,- and the NAPA Report, EEOC is still top heavy. Given our budget limitations, EEOC must scrutinize and make changes redirecting resources to directly support the mission. EEOC must get rid of the numerous redundancies in headquarters and the field. For example, in the field, up to four levels of management review enforcement work. And two levels of supervision review legal unit work. At least two levels of staff in headquarters also review field legal work. Given our budget situation, EEOC cannot continue to fund layers of review.

Training for its managers is an investment EEOC also needs to make. It should train them to be good coaches. Good coaches know when to push, and how, when to let it ride, and how to build an effective and cohesive team.

Technology is an area where changes can improve what we do. While technology can be useful, it cannot do the job alone. The union advocates that the agency explore the following uses of technology:

As a final note on technology, EEOC must not think of call centers as a quick fix for our call volume. The use of EEOC staff is a mandatory component in providing service to our varied customers and constituents. A script and a laptop alone will not allow us to provide the requisite quality service. Just ask the veteran's administration and the IRS about the time, money, and toll on customer service required before they realized that call centers are not the quick answer.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Standing in this building watching the tapes of those events and rereading the "I Have A Dream" speech reminded me that Title VII exists because Dr. King and other people put their lives on the line, in part, for fair employment laws. The Anniversary was also a reminder that today, members of our society still carry the dream of Equal Employment Opportunities.

It is the Commission's obligation to provide adequate staffing as well as the tools and other resources necessary for us to meet our mandate. My question in closing is whether the changes this agency is preparing to make, keep us true to the dream?

This concludes my remarks.

This page was last modified on September 25, 2003.

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