On Thursday, June 23, 2005, the Agency embarrassed itself in front of concerned members of the public. This, during the public forum the agency did not want to have. By now, you have seen various press reports on the meeting.
The meeting started with the Chair attempting to persuade people that her plan was harmless since it would keep open offices and retain jobs. The Chair even proposed to make changes to the plan, "as appropriate" before voting on it July 8, 2005.
The next act belonged to Nick Inzeo, who tried to convince the audience that the plan would allow EEOC to be customer centered, results oriented and employee friendly. Nick then claimed that the plan is based on demographics and our work force. Apparently, the plan is to have larger offices service areas with larger workloads. Nick then said that there would be no administrative staff in an office if the workload does not support it. According to Nick, this would allow about 40 employees to be shifted to front line work.
Jim Lee then began a defensive tirade claiming that attorneys will not be reduced and that the litigation program will not suffer. According to Mr. Lee, our District Directors and Regional Attorneys, who can take on more work without a doubt, will take the brunt of the reorganization, since many of the SEES positions will not be filled and some RAs no longer will be RAs. According to Jim Lee, in the future, filling a vacancy will depend on the budget (where have we heard that and seen something else happen?) or translated – vacancies will not be filled. In his other defensive moves, Mr. Lee then went on to deny that there will be any less civil rights enforcement, as alleged in the Wall Street Journal article of June 23, 2005.
Cynthia Pierre performed the final act, saying that with the call center, there will be no diminutions of services since callers now have either 12 hour access to live callers, instead of 6-8 hour access provided by offices or 24 hour access to EEOC via the voice recognition system at the call center. Pierre also denied that the demoted districts– Baltimore, Denver, Milwaukee, Cleveland, San Antonio, Detroit, Seattle, New Orleans, serve high minority populations or that it was the agency's plan to reduce staff in high minority offices.
After the great defensive play, the questions and the fireworks began. Questions about the budget largely went unanswered, except for the cost of opening new offices- $180 thousand the first year for rent and equipment, and $55 thousand thereafter. Since no new employees are being hired, the agency alleges that there is no additional employee cost, whatever it is. The agency refused to acknowledge that if the same numbers of employees have to service more offices, some with even greater geographic territory to cover, that services will diminish. Not even when faced with its admission that the backlog is rising and we are asking for money for fewer employees next year, would the agency acknowledge that services would suffer. According to the agency, only the ranks of the senior managers will suffer.
When asked by several individuals/groups (AFGE. NAACP, Commissioner Ishimaru and I) for a set of the documents on which EEOC relied to develop its proposal, there was no real answer why they would not be provided. A number of groups questioned why various organizations received information not made available to everyone. EEOC's response was that it could not recall all the questions asked, that different groups asked for different information and that it had no way to track it all. EEOC never acknowledged the specific information on which it relied to formulate its plan, always dodging the question. Yet, invariably, whenever someone rose to ask a question about statistics, the person was told that they must have been reviewing a draft, have incorrect data or that in some fashion, the individual was wrong or reading the data incorrectly. Even when Commissioner Ishimaru asked why the public could not have the financial data, EEOC could only reply that it would look into it.
When one individual, Leroy Warren of the NAACP Federal Sector Task Force asked for the justification for the proposal, specifically, the before and after charts/pictures with projected cost savings in each office for each year out, the individual was told that EEOC did not have it because there was no office by office review. The individual further was told that EEOC could not provide any projected cost savings because EEOC could not make those kinds of annual projections and had not done a simulation. The individual merely was told that the District Directors was attempting to look at staff and "redeploy" them to front line positions and that top management had to give.
In response to questions by a representative of the FEPA group, the agency attempted to say that there would be one contracting agent for states to deal with, even if the state now was required to report to two different EEOC offices. The agency tried to say it was a good thing that more state agencies now would have to report to two different Directors in two different states. In the end, the agency had to admit that the states would end up dealing with more than one person. In response to the FEPA representative's question about having more time to digest the plan and provide input, the agency said that implementation would not be instantaneous since it had called for an implementation group to decide how best to carve us up.
When asked by Rachel Shonfield, the Council's Legislative Coordinator, how the plan would work since savings relied on people retiring, who HR says are not retiring soon enough, the agency replied that the individual just did not have all the information and that HR would have to answer staffing questions and review the data.
Another individual from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR, an umbrella organization of civil rights groups) asked about the litigation program and was told that nothing would change, not the decision making processes in downgraded offices, not the work flow generally, and that 15 RAs were more than enough to handle the work. There is only a minimal increase in litigation expected.
In response to another individual from AFGE HQ asking about demographics for the offices being downgraded, since his data showed that populations were swelling in these areas, EEOC could only say that SES employees will have to do more work or delegate it to directors in the field, area and local offices.
When asked by Commissioner Ishimaru about what happens to people whose jobs are targeted, EEOC said it is creating jobs for these people and that they will not loose salary or jobs. HR is currently looking at these people's personnel files to determine the jobs for which they qualify. Some positions, though not named, may be created for individuals in positions in downgraded offices. EEOC said it would not force any transfers or incur any costs in that fashion. In the end, EEOC was forced to admit that it would not see savings by placing people in other jobs.
Terence Houston, a representative from Ohio Representative Stephanie Tubbs-Jones' office, grilled the agency on how Ohio would be served by splitting the state in two, having the offices report to Indianapolis or Philadelphia and questioned how the smaller office could cover half the state without any new employees or money. EEOC could not answer that question.
EEOC could not answer questions about how it would deal with the rising backlog. EEOC wanted to argue that instead of the projected 1,000 cases backlogged for next year, it would be all right since the backlog number would remain at 30,000 cases per year. EEOC took this position despite the fact that it told Congress that the backlog would be 51,000 and despite the fact that its FY 06 budget requests fewer staff for FY06.
In the end, EEOC said everyone concerned was misguided, had the wrong information and was being unnecessarily cruel. EEOC failed to recognize it cannot maintain or improve its service if it opens new offices, robs existing offices of staff, fails to replace staff, waits for (or urges employees to leave) and then asks Congress for less money to cover greater territories.
Finally, in acknowledging that the vote will go forward on July 8, 2005, the Chair implored Commissioner Ishimaru to take 30 minutes fewer for his comments and questions since he talked at least that long at the June 23 forum.
We also had a chance to meet with various lawmakers while in DC. Many are concerned about the EEOC plan to reduce staff below levels. We have sent out the language in the Senate bill. While it talks about retaining staff, your Congressional representatives need to hear from you about your concerns. Please look on the Council's website late Wednesday to find the model letter or fax that you should send to your Senators. If your senator hears only from the legislative coordinator and I, they view this as a "Union" issue and not as a constituent issue.
Thanks for taking action in the past, and do not stop now. Now is an even more critical time to use the momentum we gained by our actions related to the Tubbs-Jones Amendment in the House of Representatives.
The vote is scheduled for July 8 at 2pm. Will keep you posted.
Will keep you posted.