Proposed EEOC budget cut of $4.2 million draws criticism

By Daniel Pulliam

Drawing disappointment from some observers, the Bush administration's fiscal 2007 budget proposal for the federal agency charged with enforcing workplace anti-discrimination laws is $4.2 million less than the amount appropriated for this year.

The $322.8 million Equal Employment Opportunity Commission budget proposal includes an additional $4.4 million for compensation and benefits, which takes into account a 2.2 percent salary increase. But it also contains cuts, including $4 million in general operating expenses, $2 million in information technology funding, and $2.5 million in payments to state and local agencies.

Under the budget proposal, the number of authorized full-time jobs would be reduced by 19, leaving the agency with 2,381 full-time positions available. Currently, EEOC has 2,300 employees nationwide, according to an agency spokesman.

Reducing funding in these areas is necessary to meet the agency's financial challenges, the spokesman said.

Budget documents state that the overall EEOC request allows the agency to maintain its enforcement and outreach activities, provide timely processing of cases and maintain its litigation program.

But to EEOC Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru, who said he has no input on the budget process, a cut in funding would hamper the agency's mission, preventing the pursuit of larger cases and blocking more aggressive pursuit of cases involving discrimination against African Americans.

"It's hard enough if your budget is virtually flat," Ishimaru said. "Obviously this is the start of the process and the Congress will appropriate funds and we'll see where it ends up."

A reorganization of the agency, started in January, is intended to improve customer service and efficiency by reducing the number of managers and administrators and placing more employees in front-line positions.

The reorganization plan, along with a pilot nationwide call center launched in March 2005, has drawn criticism from a member of Congress and the agency's employee union.

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, a former EEOC trial attorney in Cleveland, said the budget proposal has her concerned about the agency's ability to carry out its civil rights mission.

"Since 2001, EEOC has lost over 575 employees, 20 percent of their workforce," Jones said. "As a result, the EEOC is losing its battle to keep up with its workload."

Jones said she has a personal interest in the agency's success and will speak with Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees EEOC funding.

The subcommittee will not hold hearings on the agency's budget proposal, according to Dan Scandling, a spokesman for Wolf.

Scandling would not comment further on the budget proposal.

The American Federation of Government Employees branch representing EEOC employees also criticized the budget proposal, stating that it sends a message that the agency does not want to serve the public.

Gabrielle Martin, president of AFGE's National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216, said the agency's call center, office restructuring and reduced budget are attempts "to have zero contact with the public on the civil rights issues."

"They're not really hiring front-line employees," Martin said. "I think it's just very disheartening that the budget is not dealing with issues like staffing, training and awards ... issues that are near and dear to the employees' hearts."