EEOC Is Hobbled, Groups Contend
Case Backlog Grows as Its Staff Is Slashed, Critics Say

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006; A21

With a shrinking workforce and a flagging budget, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is falling behind in enforcing federal civil rights laws in the workplace, labor union officials and civil rights advocates said yesterday.

The EEOC is expected to have a backlog of 47,516 charges of employment discrimination next fiscal year, up from an estimated 39,061 this year and 33,562 in 2005, say officials with the American Federation of Government Employees, citing federal figures. The agency logged 75,428 complaints in 2005 and more than 79,000 the previous year.

At the same time, President Bush's 2007 budget request for the agency is $323 million, $4 million less than it received this budget year. The agency's full-time staff, which numbers 2,343 employees, has shrunk by more than 19 percent since 2001, according to the Office of Personnel Management. A partial hiring freeze has kept the agency from filling many openings.

"The EEOC is in a state of crisis and is systematically being weakened from within to justify its elimination," Andrea E. Brooks, a national vice president for the government employees federation, said in a statement.

Nicholas M. Inzeo, director of the EEOC's Office of Field Programs, acknowledged that funding has been tight and that the agency has had to trim its staff as Bush and Congress have directed more money to national defense and homeland security.

"These are tight times for all agencies. It means that the belt gets tighter, and we understand that," Inzeo said. "We believe very strongly in what we do. And with the resources that we have, we can do a lot. We try to make every penny count."

The government employees federation represents 1,300 of the agency's employees. Brooks appeared at a news conference yesterday with officials from several other groups, including the National Organization for Women, Blacks in Government and the Alliance for Retired Americans, to call attention to what they say are serious funding and management problems at the agency. They hope to influence members of a House appropriations subcommittee who are scheduled to deliberate today on the agency's 2007 budget.

Critics say the agency was weakened by a reorganization last year that downsized several district offices, created offices in Las Vegas and Mobile, Ala., and redeployed some staff members, including managers, to enforcement, litigation, mediation and customer service positions. Inzeo responded by saying the agency is spending money on frontline staff members rather than on more supervisors and managers.

Critics are especially upset about a nationwide call center staffed by contract workers that opened in Lawrence, Kan., last year to field calls that previously had been routed to district offices.

"It's a huge waste of money," Gabrielle Martin, president of the government employees federation's national council of EEOC locals, said of the $4.9 million contract with Pearson Government Solutions. "It does a terrible job."

A draft study commissioned by the EEOC's inspector general that was published in April found that the call center handled one-fifth of the projected call volume and saved the agency six full-time positions, not the anticipated 21. The study by Job Performance Systems Inc. found that the contractors do not understand their role or the work of the agency. The call center "should be either significantly changed or discontinued," the study found.

Inzeo said the final report should reflect "extensive comments" made by agency officials. "A lot of the numbers inside that draft are internally inconsistent," he said. ". . . Our field employees are telling us that they are receiving 500,000 fewer calls a year because of the contact center. The report doesn't do the math that gets you there."