Navy EEO overhaul saves time, money

klunney@govexec.com

A pilot program designed to streamline the discrimination complaint process is saving the Navy more than $34,000 per case.

According to a Navy study, the pilot program, which started in June 1998, has cut the average processing time for cases from 781 days to 90 days. Employee morale has improved and the service has saved a significant amount of money-cases in the pilot program cost an average of $5,800, as opposed to $40,000 per case in the traditional complaint process.

Many federal agencies have backlogs of thousands of EEO complaints and spin-off complaints in various stages of the EEO redress system. Governmentwide, the average EEO case has been pending for more than a year.

Last October, the Clinton administration launched a task force to study and recommend ways to improve the federal EEO complaint process. The goal of the program is to identify best practices in dispute prevention and early dispute resolution and to develop better data on EEO issues in government.

The Navy's pilot process saves time and money by eliminating duplications in the counseling, investigation and hearing stages of the EEO process, and by giving local commanding officers the authority to issue final decisions for the Navy.

In reviewing the program, the Navy conducted a survey of employees, held focus groups with managers, human resources professionals and union representatives, and interviewed more than 100 senior military and civilian executives.

According to Navy statistics, complainants chose the pilot program 61 percent of the time, and 89 percent of those cases were resolved, compared to 58 percent under the traditional system.

The pilot program reduces the traditional EEO process from seven to four steps: an intake stage where the complainant meets with a dispute resolution specialist to discuss the issue and develop a plan of action (10 days); a dispute resolution/fact-finding stage (45 days), which includes a menu of resolution choices, such as mediation, conciliation, early neutral inquiry or a settlement conference; request for a final agency decision (5 days); and the final decision (30 days).

Depending on how successful each stage is, some cases can be resolved in as little as 30 days.

Lt. Jane Alexander, a spokesperson for the Navy Office of Information, said the service hopes to eventually replace the traditional system with the new streamlined program. The pilot program is now in its second phase.

"Phase two of the pilot program is an opportunity for us to take recommendations from the EEOC and fine-tune the process," Alexander said.

Sites participating in the new dispute resolution process include the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, N.C., the Naval Medical Center, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., and the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

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