PubDate: 03/26/2007


Publication: Federal Times

Author: Tim Kauffman

Staff shortages lead to EEOC backlog, lawmakers told

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is taking longer to process discrimination claims filed by federal and private-sector workers because it doesn't have enough money to replace employees who retire, the agency's chairwoman told a budget panel March 20.

The White House is requesting $328 million to fund EEOC in fiscal 2008, a nominal increase from the $327 million the agency received in both 2006 and 2007. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the agency's budget, said the 2008 request actually is a cut of almost $1 million from the 2007 approved level because of extra money EEOC and other agencies received above their annual appropriations this year to fund half of the 2.2 percent pay raise.

EEOC is in the process of hiring 70 new investigators, attorneys and clerical employees who will be scattered across the agency's 53 field offices, EEOC Chairwoman Naomi Earp told Mollohan's subcommittee. But under questioning by Mollohan, Earp conceded that the agency will be able to continue funding those positions in 2008 only by not filling other positions that become vacant.

"With a regular amount of staff attrition, then we would be able to fill those 70 positions," Earp said.

EEOC has lost about 23 percent of its work force since 2001, mostly to attrition and buyouts that the agency offered to free up resources. The loss of so many skilled employees has had a significant impact on the agency's ability to keep up with workloads, Earp said. EEOC took 193 days on average to process private-sector discrimination claims in 2006, a 12 percent increase from 2005, and had nearly 40,000 private-sector cases pending at the end of fiscal 2006, up 19 percent from the previous year. On the federal-sector side, EEOC took 248 days to process hearings requested by employees before EEOC administrative judges, unchanged from the previous year, and took 220 days on average to process appeals of decisions made by administrative judges or the employing agencies, up 13 percent from fiscal 2005.

"Insufficient budget and staffing resources have caused a dramatic increase in the backlog of pending cases," Mollohan said.

In a controversial move, the agency contracted with a private firm in 2004 to handle questions and calls received from the public that previously were fielded by EEOC employees. EEOC said opening the call center would allow agency employees to focus on processing cases, but union officials say the call center has only exacerbated problems.

"The millions of dollars expended on the call center could be used far more effectively to address EEOC's front-line staffing crisis and fund other needed resources," representatives from the American Federation of Government Employees said in a March 19 letter to the budget subcommittee.

As vice chairwoman of the five-member body that oversees EEOC's operations, Earp, in July, was one of two members who voted against extending EEOC's contract with the call center for another year. She became chairwoman in September and now says she would vote to continue the contract for at least another year because many of the call center's problems -- namely coordination between the call center and EEOC offices -- have been rectified.

"Unless something very dramatic happened, I would think it's in the best interest of EEOC and the public to continue the pilot," she said.