November 22, 2004, Federal Times

EEOC judges, investigators mired in paperwork


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has slashed its clerical and administrative staff to help stretch inadequate budgets, managers and union officials say.
As a result, investigators spend much of their time filing court documents and mailing notices to people named in complaints. Besides presiding over hearings and writing decisions, administrative judges must prepare and send out orders scheduling the hearings and copy and mail the decisions to affected parties. Attorneys and mediators also find themselves taking on many clerical duties.

“The agency is very reluctant to hire support staff,” said Michael Davidson, first vice president of the National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees. “The agency has done well, but they’ve done well on the backs of those employees who are devoting extra hours to it.”

It’s not just clerical staff that’s been hurt. EEOC has been under a hiring freeze for most of the three years that Cari Dominguez has been chairwoman.

The agency recently began hiring some investigators and legal clerks, but only on a temporary basis, said Gabrielle Martin, president of the EEOC union. Those employees barely are on the job long enough to get fully trained before they’re shown the door, Martin said.

More than a half-dozen field offices are without permanent directors, so directors from other offices - in some cases, hundreds of miles away - must travel back and forth to manage those offices in addition to their own.

Being short-staffed takes a toll on those who are left, said an EEOC manager who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.

“If you don’t have enough people, you’re going to take shortcuts. If you’re an investigator and you’ve got to do clerical work, it takes away from their investigative work,” the manager said.

The number of cases EEOC prosecutes has remained consistent despite only modest budget increases, but the manager said those numbers are misleading. With one month to go in fiscal 2003, investigators had forwarded to the general counsel’s office about half the number of requests for investigations that the agency had launched the previous year. Agency leaders instructed investigators to submit more cases for litigation.

“There was a mad rush to get that number up,” the manager said, adding that some cases that shouldn’t have been prosecuted might have been swept up in that final push. “It’s a superficial number. Whether or not the case is a good case or not, we don’t know.”

The Bush administration requested an 8 percent increase in the EEOC’s budget for fiscal 2005, or nearly $26 million in new money.

But Congress appears poised to give the EEOC far less: The House voted in July to give the agency a $10 million increase, while the spending bill pending before the Senate would increase the budget by only $2.6 million.