The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Attaining a Model Agency Program: Efficiency

Table of Contents



Maintenance of an Efficient Complaint Resolution Process

Counseling Stage

Performance-Based Accountability and Commitment to Early Resolution of Disputes Produced Results

Recognition of Good Performance For Collateral Duty Counselors Can Help Motivate Staff

Dismissal/Acceptance Stage

Timeliness Requirements in Staff Performance Plans Produced Quicker Decisions to Accept/Dismiss a Complaint

Emphasis on Legal Sufficiency of Decision Enhanced Affirmance Rate

Investigation Stage

Timely Contract Procurement Hastened the Start of the Investigation

Short Time Frames in Contracts Lead to Quicker Investigations

Agency Complaints Manager Involvement Essential to Vendor Performance

Incentives/Penalties Motivate Vendors to Perform

Fees-for-Services Motivate Better Behavior By Program Managers

Timely Legal Sufficiency Reviews Help Ensure A Quality Work Product

Final Agency Actions

Short Time Frames Produced Quick Results

One-Stop Shopping For Investigations and Final Decisions Produced Quick Results

Eliminating Backlog Key to Improved Average Processing Times

Effective Complaints Tracking and Monitoring System



The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Management Directive 715 (MD-715) is the first directive issued by EEOC that identifies the Essential Elements for structuring model equal employment opportunity (EEO) programs. Attainment of a model EEO program provides an agency with the necessary foundation for achieving a discrimination-free work environment.

A discrimination-free work environment, characterized by an atmosphere of inclusion and free and open competition for employment opportunities, is the ultimate goal of MD-715 and the federal government. MD-715 provides a roadmap for creating effective EEO programs for all federal employees as required by Title VII, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq.

There are six Essential Elements for maintaining model Title VII and Rehabilitation Act programs. They are as follows:

Each of these Essential Elements is thoroughly discussed in MD-715. In this report, the Commission focuses on complaint processing aspects of the Essential Element of "Efficiency."

As set forth in greater detail in MD-715, to achieve the Essential Element of Efficiency in complaints processing, agencies must, among other things, maintain a fair and impartial complaint resolution process which is conducted expeditiously with the necessary resources. By recognizing practices which the identified agencies believe help achieve this goal and sharing with other federal agencies the information learned, EEOC seeks to improve EEO programs throughout the federal government and to further the goal that the federal government becomes a model employer.


In its regulations, EEOC has identified timeliness benchmarks for some operations of the administrative complaints process. These benchmarks require agencies to complete the operations in as short a time as possible: 30 to 90 days to timely conduct and conclude EEO counseling (29 C.F.R. § 1614.105) and 180 days to conduct and conclude an investigation (29 C.F.R. § 1614.108). The acceptance and dismissal of complaints (29 C.F.R. § 1614.107) has no specific regulatory benchmark, but needs to be performed in as short a time frame as possible in order to meet the investigative deadline. Finally, regulations require that final agency actions that do not follow a decision by an administrative judge be issued within 60 days of receiving notification from complainant that s/he is requesting an immediate decision from the agency or from the end of the period for complainant to request a hearing when no response has been received from complainant.(1) 29 C.F.R. § 1614.110(b).

From agency data contained in EEOC's fiscal year 2003 Annual Report on the Federal Workforce, EEOC examined data for 95 agencies(2) to determine the extent to which they demonstrated timeliness in the way they performed complaint processing activities. EEOC also sought to determine if there were any commonalities or differences in how they performed their complaint processing activities based on the size of the agency, and focused the inquiry on size as follows:

0 - 999 employees (38 agencies)
1,000 - 9,999 employees (28 agencies)
10,000 - 19,999 employees (14 agencies)
20,000 - 99,999 employees (8 agencies)
100,000 - 250,000 employees (8 agencies)

From this list, EEOC identified agencies of varying sizes who produced results in short time frames in one or more factors (EEO counseling, dismissals, investigations and final actions)(3) and interviewed the appropriate agency officials to learn how the agencies achieved their success.(4) Based on these interviews, we report our survey results about case management in counseling, dismissals, investigations and final agency actions. Although agencies identified many practices which led to their success in the timely processing of EEO complaints, we learned that one trend was common to all areas of complaints processing for most agencies: vigilant management controls which focused on ensuring progress at each step of the complaints process led to shorter processing times.



Pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § § 1614.105(d) and (e), an EEO Counselor must conclude counseling within 30 days of the date the aggrieved person contacted the EEO Office to request counseling, unless the aggrieved person agrees to a longer counseling period or chooses ADR. Under no circumstances may counseling extend beyond 90-days.

In measuring success in timely counseling, we looked to whether an agency met the 30- day and 90-day standard, recognizing that the 30-day time-frame could be exceeded at the complainant's request, and thus the agency could not always control its ability to meet the 30-day time frame.(5)


After receipt of the EEO Counselor's report, an agency should either accept or dismiss a complaint within a reasonable amount of time. Equal Employment Opportunity Management Directive for 29 C.F.R. Part 1614. (EEO MD-110), Ch. 5, at 5-1 (Nov. 9, 1999). An investigation following acceptance must be completed within 180 days of the filing of the complaint. Clearly, the sooner the accept/dismiss decision is made, the sooner the investigation can begin.


Long investigative delays may impede the primary goal of the investigative process: to gather sufficient evidence to permit a determination of whether unlawful discrimination occurred. Such delays can also result in stale witness memories or lost documents.

EEOC regulation 29 C.F.R. § 1614.106(e)(2) requires agencies to conduct an investigation and issue a report to the complainant within 180 days of the filing of the complaint unless the parties agree in writing to extend the time period. If the parties agree to an extension, they can extend the investigative period by not more than an additional 90 days, to a maximum of 270 days to complete the investigation.

An amended or consolidated complaint can also add 180 days onto the processing of a complaint. In no event can an investigation continue beyond 360 days.(8) 29 C.F.R. § 1614.106(e)(2).

The agency may also extend the time period or any period of extension for up to 30 days to sanitize a complaint file containing information classified pursuant to Executive Order No. 12356, or successor orders, in the interest of national defense or foreign policy. 29 C.F.R. § 1614.108(e).

The agencies in this survey largely used contract investigators. The 2003 Annual Report shows that 12 agencies conducted no investigations; 56 agencies used only contract investigators; 27 agencies (including the U.S. Postal Service) either investigated with their own staff or used a combination of in-house staff and contractors.

EEOC has identified several factors which it has found impact the quality and timeliness of EEO investigations. For each of the agencies identified below, investigations were either sharply reduced in average time from 2001 to 2003, or consistently averaged fewer than 180 days from 2001 - 2003:


For a complaint which has not been amended, where the parties do not participate in alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and which does not go to hearing, the shortest amount of time for processing to final agency action would be approximately 270 days:

180 days for investigation,
30 days to determine if a complainant wants a hearing, and
60 days to issue a final agency decision.


Under 29 C.F.R. § 1614.602(a), federal agencies have an obligation to report to EEOC information concerning pre-complaint counseling and the status, processing, and disposition of complaints at such times and in such manner as EEOC prescribes. The Commission has mandated that agencies report to the EEOC all data relating to the EEO process in their Annual Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Statistical Report of Discrimination Complaints (the "462 Report").

As such, it is essential that agencies have a case tracking system to capture data for the 462 Report. Moreover, EEOC has found that an accurate, accessible, verifiable and comprehensive case tracking system is essential for managing an effective and timely program complaint processing program.

Development of internal time frames for each step of the complaint process and regular monitoring of them for compliance reduces complaint processing times. The lack of an effective and accurate data collection system increases complaint processing time, impairs management's ability to identify and correct deficiencies in complaint processing, and obscures the actual work load of the EEO staff.

Almost all agencies reviewed in this study used a complaints tracking system. Some used elementary data bases such as spread sheets (DoDEA, FCC, NGA, TVA, and Treasury), one built its own data bases (Smithsonian), and some contracted with vendors to produce custom EEO complaint tracking systems with pull-down menus (Air Force, Army, DFAS, NARA, and NASA).

Several were in the process of acquiring more efficient tracking systems (Air Force, DFAS, NASA, DOT, and Treasury). Almost all agencies reported that constant monitoring of the tracking system helped their complaints managers follow the progress of a complaint and monitor for problems. No agency interviewed for this study reported sufficient satisfaction with a complaints tracking system that we could recommend its use here.

An agency should regularly analyze the information captured by its complaint tracking system to determine where processing times exceed the applicable regulatory time frame. Such an analysis will enable the agency to effectively target and utilize its resources, hold relevant management officials accountable for their performance, and reduce complaint processing times.


Each of the agencies reviewed in this study established management controls over complaints processing. The tools used by agencies were:

(1) timeliness controls (timeliness elements in performance plans, short time frames, incentives, and penalties in contracts, inclusion of timeliness elements in office goals, use of blanket purchase agreements and interruption schedule agreements to eliminate the need to execute amended contracts),

(2) creative management (employment of early intervention resolution techniques, rewards for employees who performed well and production of final agency action simultaneously with report of investigation), and

(3) quality controls (report of investigation sufficiency reviews completed immediately upon receipt of report of investigation).

Additionally, use of an efficient complaints monitoring and tracking system helped the agencies follow cases and identify problems as they arose. Use of these tools appears to greatly enhance an agency's ability to produce a timely, quality work product, and improve the likelihood that the agency will meet its goal of maintaining an efficient, fair and impartial complaint resolution process.

Interestingly, this study revealed that the size of the agency did not make a difference in how, or whether, an agency achieved success. Rather, the imposition of management controls was essential for effective performance for all agencies of all sizes.


1. Additionally, a final decision should be issued within 60 days of notice from an administrative judge that a complainant has withdrawn a hearing request. Id.

2. The United States Postal Service was not considered in this study.

3. It should be noted that some of the agencies selected marginally exceeded regulatory time-frames, but the volume of their complaint processing suggested that they be consulted about their practices.

4. Success in one or more areas did not necessarily result in overall success in achieving an efficient complaint processing system. For instance, an agency may have excelled in producing a large number of investigations in a short time-frame, but may not have been timely in conducting EEO counselings, dismissing complaints or writing final decisions.

5. Data prior to 2004 did not delineate counselings by those in ADR or those for which extensions were granted by the complainant so it is difficult to be completely certain whether an agency was actually timely if counselings continued beyond 30 days. Therefore, in assessing agencies, we looked at both the 30-day and the 90-day maximum to determine which agencies to examine in more depth.

% Workforce Seeking Counseling
2001 2002 2003
State 1.3 1.2 0.8
National Workforce 1.74 1.63 1.41

7. At the Smithsonian, the complaints manager must accept or dismiss a claim within 30 days; at the State Department, the legal staff in the EEO Office must do so within 10 days; and at the VA, the intake specialist will accept or dismiss a claim within 45 days.

8. Generally, an investigation of a mixed case complaint conducted pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.302 must be completed before the 120-day time period expires for the agency to issue its final decision.

This page was last modified on December 1, 2004.

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