Remarks of Leslie E. Silverman Commissioner, EEOC

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Meeting of September 17, 2004 to Vote on Authorization of Funds for Pilot National Contact Center

Thank you, Madame Chair, for convening this meeting to talk about this important topic. And thank you, Cynthia, for your informative and helpful presentation.

I must admit that when we started this process, I was somewhat skeptical. I did not know a lot about contact centers and how they work, and I was not sure that this was the right approach for the Commission.

But I did recognize that we have some serious problems that need to be addressed.

First, and foremost, we are understaffed in the field. We receive over one million unsolicited calls per year, and many of our offices do not have sufficient staff to answer the phones. As a result, the phones go unanswered; or callers have no option other than to leave a voice mail message, and oftentimes the voice mail box is full; or callers who have left a message with us wait days, or longer, for a return call. This is simply unacceptable. We are a civil rights enforcement agency. An unanswered call may very well be a one-time plea for our help a missed opportunity for us to fulfill our mission. And we cannot afford to let this continue.

Second, beyond our staffing shortfall, there is another issue at play. Our offices do not have adequate technology to assist us in answering the calls that we receive. Only some of our offices have phone systems that allow callers to choose various options to get pre-recorded information. None of our offices has an interactive voice recognition system.

Third, we need to ensure that our highly skilled resources are able to devote their time and attention to investigating charges of discrimination. GS-12 investigators should not be spending a good deal of their time answering the phone, but our study of this issue showed that in many of our offices, they do. Financial constraints have prevented us from hiring as many investigators in the field as we would like. Our investigators and investigative support assistants should be conducting intake, investigating charges, and resolving cases, not spending their days answering routine phone calls.

From the research that our folks have done, it seems that more than half of the calls we receive could be answered by people who just have basic knowledge or basic information at their fingertips.

As I stated earlier, when I first heard about the National Contact Center proposal, I had some hesitation. I know that many others did as well. For example, one particular concern of some EEOC staff has been that establishment of a National Contact Center would have a negative impact on the number of jobs in the field, but we have been assured that it will not.

Personally, I had questions about whether a private contact center would hire the right kind of people for the Customer Service Representative positions people who are compassionate and have the appropriate skills. I was also concerned about the level of training that Contact Center employees would receive. I had questions about the extent to which the Commission would maintain oversight of the program and ensure that high quality work was being performed. And, I was concerned about whether the National Contact Center would be taking charges.

But I must say that through the extensive work performed by Commission staff on this project, I am satisfied that my concerns have all been addressed. I have been incredibly impressed by the thought and effort that Cynthia Pierre and other EEOC staff have put into this project. Through working groups and committees, the Commission has learned about contact centers from top to bottom, evaluated contract proposals, consulted with other agencies who have already ventured down this path and ultimately determined what would work best for this agency.

So I am in favor of giving this National Contact Center a chance. This is a pilot project. I believe that my vote to obligate funds for the National Contact Center is a vote to raise the level of customer service that the Commission is providing. I also believe that a National Contact Center will free up critical staff resources. The net result is that our people will be able to spend more time on higher level work that furthers the Commission's

goals of identifying, investigating and eliminating discrimination from our workplaces.

This page was last modified on September 20, 2004.