Remarks of Chair Cari M. Dominguez

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Commission Meeting on Federal Sector Reform
November 12, 2002

The purpose of this meeting is to examine the equal employment opportunity complaint processing system currently available to 2.7 million federal employees.

Stakeholders representing both complainants and federal agencies have long voiced concerns that the federal sector process is much too slow, far too expensive, unnecessarily intricate, and inherently unfair. While previous administrations have tried to improve this system through regulatory changes, clearly, more must be done.

During the past several months, I have met with representatives of advocacy groups who have graciously shared their experiences and ideas for reform. Additionally, numerous individuals and groups have communicated with me on this topic through written correspondence. Today's meeting represents a continuation of this ongoing dialogue. I want to emphasize that this is a fact-finding expedition. At this time, no formal plan is under consideration by the Commission.

I, along with my fellow commissioners, am grateful for the opportunity to learn from those of you who have navigated the federal sector complaint process firsthand. Please be assured that your input will be central to the Commission's deliberations regarding reform.

Our next step will be to discuss options for a complaint processing system that will be more efficient, responsive and fair. When the Commission is ready to propose a plan, we will do so through the formal rulemaking process.

The principle behind the phrase "equal employment opportunity," or EEO, is that everyone has the right to compete for a job, go about his or her work, and pursue advancement free of discriminatory barriers. Race, gender, national origin, religion, disability and age have no place in these matters. Likewise, all employees should be able to seek and obtain prompt corrective action when they believe that violations of law have occurred. Discrimination can have devastating consequences to people's lives. The system meant to protect civil rights should not compound their problems.

Federal employees are expected to serve their country with diligence, respect and commitment. In return, they deserve no less from their government. More than 23,000 complaints of discrimination are filed annually by federal workers nationwide. The system is so overburdened that many of these complaints stagnate for years before they are resolved.

Fiscal Year 2001 statistics show that federal agencies closed 25,283 complaints. (1) However, only 3830 (or 15.1%) resulted from decisions of EEOC Administrative Judges. They took on average, 800 days to process from filing to issuance of the agency decision, compared to 402 days for complaints on which decisions were issued without a hearing.

Hearings are a carry-over from the old Civil Service Commission complaint process. But, for many the hearing represents, the only independent, neutral, objective review of the complaint in a process that is viewed as controlled by the agency alleged to have discriminated. If that is the purpose of the hearing, it clearly benefits very few complainants and at a significant cost in time and dollars spent by complainants, who frequently are represented by counsel; by agencies who normally are represented by counsel and who must fund witness travel to hearings and pay for other administrative expenses; and for the Commission, who provides the Administrative Judges and the support personnel to process the hearings request, conduct the hearing, and issue decisions.

While the majority of decisions finding illegal discrimination flow from AJ decisions, not all do. 194 of the decisions finding discrimination issued by agencies in FY 01 followed an AJ's decision, compared to only 67 (25.7%) issued by agencies without a hearing. Agencies disagreed with 73 AJ decisions finding discrimination. Even including those decisions with which agencies did not agree and did not implement, only 344 of the 25,000 + closures were in someone's opinion findings of discrimination. That represents a paltry 1.54%!!!

We have made some progress in processing federal sector EEO complaints. The changes to the regulations made in 1999 have yielded some positive benefits. Agencies are working diligently to reduce their processing time.

EEOC's Office of Federal Operations has reduced its appellate processing time and inventory. Currently, appellate inventory is 4809, a reduction of 36.2% since FY 2001. The average age of the appellate inventory is 256 days compared to 430 days at the end of FY 2001. Our AJ's have increased productivity as well. In FY 2001, they resolved only 9402 complaints, compared to 11,666 at the end of FY 2002.

But as statistics show, our stakeholders' criticisms are still well founded. These issues demand and deserved the EEOC's attention. Even more compelling than the statistics, though, are the real people behind them.

1. FY02 data from the agencies is not yet available.

This page was last modified on November 13, 2002.