Daily Labor Report
No. 54 Tuesday, March 22, 2005
ISSN 1522-5968

EEOC Contract Employees at Private Call Center Field EEOC Queries in Newly Launched Pilot

For the next year and a half, the majority of an estimated 1 million unsolicited annual telephone calls to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission initially will be answered by private employees at a contractor-operated national center, rather than by EEOC employees.

The pilot program will free EEOC employees "to do what they do best--investigate, mediate, and, if necessary, litigate," instead of "getting bogged down in routine questions," Chair Cari Dominguez said in a March 21 conference call to announce the launching of the project.

Under a $4.9 million contract, employees of Pearson Government Solutions will respond to public inquiries to EEOC through two toll-free numbers and by electronic mail. Telephone calls to the agency's 51 field offices will be routed to the contact center or answered by commission employees.

The call center, one of Dominguez's top priorities at the commission, stems from recommendations from the National Academy of Public Administration, an independent organization, which called for a major restructuring of the commission in a February 2003 report (36 DLR A-1, 2/26/03).

Last September, on a 3-1 vote, the commission agreed to move forward with the program, characterizing the outside call center as the most efficient way to handle routine inquiries and an approach that would be significantly less expensive than establishing an in-house center (181 DLR AA-1, 9/20/04).   Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru, the sole Democrat on the panel, opposed the program, as did the union representing EEOC employees.

Gabrielle Martin, president of the American Federation of Government Employees' National Council of EEOC Locals, reiterated the union's opposition to the program March 21, saying the new approach would erode customer service and confidence in the agency.

Monitoring the results of a recent one-month "prepilot" at the EEOC district office in Dallas, the union found no difference in the number of phone calls coming into the local office, contradicting the commission's contention that the call center would save time and money, according to Martin. In addition, she told BNA, a large number of the reports filed by the call service employees were inadequate or incomplete, requiring EEOC employees to repeat the same tasks.

A commission spokesman declined to respond to the union's specific allegations, but said the call center was expected to improve both efficiency and services.

'Higher Level of Service'Dominguez said EEOC employees had been "struggling" to handle the increasing number of calls--about 60 percent of which she characterized as "routine inquiries."

The call center approach will be "more customer-centered and results oriented," she said. "We'll provide a much higher level of service than we've been able to provide in the past."

Pearson operates several contact centers for a number of federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission, the Office of Personnel Management, and the departments of Justice, Labor, and Health and Human Services. The EEOC inquiries will be handled by 36 customer service agents working out of Pearson's Lawrence, Kan., facility.

Five of the customer service agents are bilingual in Spanish, an official for Pearson said. The agents also will have access to translators in 150 languages.

The customer service agents, who completed two weeks of training, including a program developed by EEOC, will answer general inquiries and also will assist potential charging parties by recording information on an "E-questionnaire" and then forwarding the report to the appropriate district office. While the initial contact with the customer service agent will not constitute filing a charge with the commission, "it will jump-start the process," an EEOC spokesman explained.

The Pearson employees also will have access to an EEOC database and be able to respond to questions from charging parties, as well as respondent employers, on the status of a charge, he added.

Following the 18-month contract, the commission will conduct a "comprehensive, independent analysis" of the program to determine if the program should be continued, Dominguez said.

The call center will provide access to customer service representatives between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern Time. An automated system with answers to frequently asked questions will be accessible on a 24-hour basis.

The public can reach the call center toll free at 800-669-4000. The number for individuals with hearing and speech impairments is 800-669-6820.

By Nancy Montwieler