>From the Daily Labor Report:


EEOC Declines to Extend Contract

For Private Operation of Call Center


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has decided not to renew a privately operated national call center for receiving discrimination charges when its contract expires in September, ending a three-year pilot project, an EEOC spokesman told BNA July 30.

A private "notation" vote among the four EEOC commissioners on a one-year extension of the National Contact Center was completed July 26, according to the spokesman. The vote was 2-2, which under commission procedures means that the matter under consideration was not approved. The commission will be considering further proposals relating to the EEOC's contact center functions in the near future, the spokesman said.

EEOC originally had scheduled a July 17 public meeting to consider the future of the controversial call center, which was launched in March 2005, after the Senate and House appropriations committees both approved fiscal 2008 budget bills that would bar EEOC from contracting out call center functions (144 DLR A-13, 7/27/07 ). But EEOC canceled the public meeting and instead circulated a notation vote among the commissioners, which allowed them to decide in private. EEOC Chair Naomi Earp and Vice Chair Leslie Silverman, both Republicans, voted to extend the National Contact Center for another year but Commissioners Stuart Ishimaru and Christine Griffin, both Democrats, voted against continuing the contract, according to commission sources.


Capitol Hill Reaction

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees EEOC's budget, applauded the commission's decision. "I am pleased the EEOC has listened to Congress and recognized that their pilot project--a contracted-out call center--has been a complete failure," Mikulski said in a July 30 statement. "The center has failed to provide adequate customer service and has undermined the EEOC's mission. I have been fighting the EEOC's efforts to create this call center from the beginning because I believed it would create more bureaucracy and make it harder for people to file employment discrimination claims."

Mikulski added that she is committed to providing EEOC with the resources it needs to protect workers from unlawful discrimination. "At the same time, we also need to make sure the EEOC is doing its job," she said. "I will continue to work with EEOC leadership to find a new model to fulfill the EEOC's mission of quality customer service while enforcing federal equal employment opportunity laws."


Union Concern on Next Step

An official with the union representing EEOC employees said she is "thrilled" the commission is discontinuing the privately operated call center, which the union believed was poorly performing functions that should be handled by EEOC employees (75 DLR A-2, 4/19/06 ). "It's good that they finally came to their senses," said Gabrielle Martin, president of National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216, an affiliate of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Union representatives, however, expressed concern that EEOC has not specified how it will handle taking calls from the public after the National Contact Center contract expires Sept. 20. The commission's failure to develop options, given the pressure from Congress regarding the call center, shows "poor stewardship," Martin said.

The union would like to see EEOC spend the $2.5 million saved by terminating the privately operated call center on hiring new employees who could take calls in the commission's existing field offices, according to Martin. She said that such a system, using investigation support staff to handle calls, builds "a better working relationship with the charging parties" and is better than directing all calls to one standalone center. Martin warned that the latter option, even if staffed by EEOC employees, would repeat some of the alleged problems of the National Contact Center.

Martin added that the union hopes EEOC will use the savings from scrapping the contract "to actually hire people" and that it assigns the call function to an investigative support assistant position, which is "a cut above" telephone operator.



By Kevin P. McGowan