House committee votes to block EEOC reform


Legislation making its way through Congress would require the Equal Employment Opportunity

Commission to notify lawmakers before opening a national call center or closing field offices.

The House Appropriations Committee passed the legislation June 23 as part of the bill funding the EEOC next year. Language in the fiscal 2005 Commerce, Justice, State and judiciary appropriations bill  prohibits the EEOC from executing any work force a repositioning or reorganization unless it notifies the  subcommittee in charge of the bill in advance. The bill also specifically blocks the EEOC from spending  any money to open a national call center, also called a contact center, until a spending plan is submitted to the subcommittee.

The legislative effort is being spearheaded by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D‑Ohio, a former EEOC  trial lawyer who says she is concerned that such restructuring efforts could weaken the agency’s ability to eradicate workplace discrimination.

Closing field offices could make it harder for employees to file discrimination complaints with EEOC,  Tubbs Jones said. She is also concerned that EEOC plans to staff the call center with contract workers  instead of career employees, who she said are best qualified.

To use a privatized customer service center with people who don't have that background and experience, in my opinion, would deprive the people of having the opportunity of having the best folks to  handle their issues, she said.

More than 100 House members joined Tubbs Jones in sending a letter to the Republican and

Democratic heads of the House subcommittee that handles EEOC's annual appropriations request,  urging them to block EEOC's restructuring efforts.

EEOC declined to comment for this article.

A 2003 report by the National Academy of Public Administration suggested EEOC close some of its 51 field offices to save money and better position the agency's resources. The report, commissioned by the EEOC, also suggested a national call center, where highly trained employees could answer  questions about the EEOC process, give the status of complaints, and accept new claims.

EEOC has requested $3 million in fiscal 2005 to go toward opening the national call center, and earlier  this year asked a working group of agency employees to study the feasibility of consolidating 51 field  offices into 10 or 11 major district offices.

The working group, which submitted its report to the EEOC on March 3, recommended retaining the  current field structure. Our collective experience demonstrates that presence in a community makes a difference in the  commission’s ability to effectively enforce [anti‑discrimination] laws,” the group said.