Securing EEOC’S Continued Effectiveness – Testimony of Wade Henderson

Media 09.8,03

Location: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today and offer comments on proposals before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding its structure and organization. I am Wade Henderson, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), a diverse coalition of more than 180 national organizations representing a broad constituency, including persons of color, women, children, labor unions, individuals with disabilities, older Americans, major religious groups, and gays and lesbians. LCCR and its members have a shared commitment to advancing equal opportunity in employment and ensuring that all Americans are treated fairly in the workplace. We believe deeply in the EEOC’s mission and the critical role it plays in investigating and challenging discriminatory employment practices. We are firmly committed to helping to ensure that the Commission thrives as a vital institution with the tools and resources it needs to accomplish its work in an effective manner.

I. Background and Overview

Today’s public meeting comes at a critical juncture in the life and history of the Commission. The EEOC faces many challenges, all of which have important implications for the structure and organization of the agency, the ability of claimants to access the Commission’s services, and the overall effectiveness of the agency’s enforcement work. We recognize that the Commission’s limited resources increasingly must be stretched to respond effectively to a wide mix of employment discrimination cases with varying levels of complexity. Even with significant progress over more than three decades, persistent discriminatory employment practices continue to limit job opportunities for women, people of color, older workers, people with disabilities, and other employees. The Commission must tackle not only visible practices, but also subtler forms of discrimination that, although hidden from plain view, continue to deny equal employment opportunity to far too many.

It is in this context that the Commission is now considering important questions about its structure and organizational design. Among the proposals under consideration are recommendations issued by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) in February 2003 proposing significant structural and organizational changes, and detailed comments submitted by numerous stakeholders in response to the NAPA recommendations. This public meeting provides an important opportunity to put these comments and recommendations into the broader perspective of the Commission’s goals and objectives, and chart a direction for the agency that preserves and advances the agency’s essential mission to combat discriminatory employment practices. I would like to focus my remarks on several specific questions we understand are now under consideration, as well as some of the overarching principles that we believe should guide this discussion. Most importantly, we caution against implementing changes without comprehensive analysis of their potential impact, significant outreach to stakeholders, Congressional oversight, and full opportunity for formal public comment on specific proposals.

II. Establishing a Framework for Discussion ? Guiding Principles for Considering EEOC Structural and Organizational Challenges

There are several key questions on the table for today’s public meeting: identifying improvements in EEOC service delivery that are cost effective and promote greater efficiency, evaluating the implications of changing demographics and population trends, strengthening the Commission’s discrimination prevention and overall enforcement efforts, enhancing the Commission’s technological capacity, and exploring how best to maximize the Commission’s limited resources. In addressing these questions, we believe that the Commission should be guided by several core principles. First, any decision about the structure or organization of the Commission must be consistent with the EEOC’s primary role ? to enforce employment discrimination laws and help individuals vindicate their rights. We strongly believe that any changes to the EEOC’s structure or organization must not detract from these fundamental enforcement responsibilities. Second, it is essential to ensure that all potential claimants have equal access to EEOC’s services. Any changes embraced by the Commission must not impede the ability of claimants ? particularly those with special barriers such as limited language proficiency, disabilities, or limited transportation options ? to get the services they need. Third, it is critical to ensure public accountability as the Commission contemplates potential changes. Articulating a clear decisionmaking process that affords ample opportunity for public comment is a crucial part of garnering support for any actions the Commission pursues. Fourth, achieving high quality and high performance in all EEOC services and functions must be a top priority as organizational changes are evaluated. Fifth, the Commission must maintain a strong institutional presence in different communities throughout the country to maximize access to EEOC services. Finally, it always is important to focus on identifying new strategies to detect and remedy discrimination. With these principles in mind, we offer the following comments.

III. Improving the Delivery of Services by the EEOC

A. Assessing the Needs of the Community. We believe that the discussion of potential improvements in the EEOC’s service delivery must start with a thorough assessment of the needs of local communities. To ensure that such an assessment is comprehensive and accurate, we urge the Commission to engage in a dialogue with community leaders and local groups in different regions of the country to identify unique challenges facing their communities. The Leadership Conference appreciates the opportunity we have had to discuss different issues with Commissioners and staff, and we urge you to continue these discussions with many different stakeholders. Such consultation is critical to making informed judgments about how best to serve claimants and communities. It is also important for members of local communities to hear from you directly and concretely about specific changes that are being contemplated in different areas of the country to minimize confusion and misinformation. We believe that this is an important threshold step that must take place before implementing significant changes.

B. Ensuring Equal Access for all Claimants. One key priority in advancing the Commission’s work is to ensure that individuals understand their rights and have meaningful access to the Commission’s technical expertise and investigatory process. Operational or structural changes that make it harder for claimants to have their complaints investigated or resolved should not move forward. Further, any changes must take into account the unique challenges of serving different communities, such as communities where there are significant language barriers. It is with these concerns in mind that we have considered several specific proposals that we understand are under review by the Commission.

  1. The National Call Center. One proposal that has received a great deal of attention involves the creation of a “national call center.” Although the design has not been completely determined, the call center proposal likely would have all phone calls to the EEOC being routed to one central location where they would be handled by call center staff or referred to local offices. In prior comments to the Commission, we raised serious concerns about using a call center for the intake of claims. We believe that, while providing basic information about the EEOC might lend itself to a generic call