The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Monday released the second in a series of instructions on implementing a law that encourages federal agencies to step up their anti-discrimination efforts.
Under the 2002 Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation (No FEAR) Act, agencies must publish information on the volume and nature of discrimination complaints they receive and show how they resolve those complaints. Preliminary rules posted by the EEOC in the Jan. 26 Federal Register provide details on the law's reporting requirements and establish a time line for posting the necessary data.
The interim rules take effect immediately and require agencies to post initial No FEAR reports on their Web sites by Friday. These reports are to cover the first quarter of fiscal 2004, ended on Dec. 31, 2003, and are to include: number of employment discrimination complaints filed and type of alleged discrimination, number of employees filing more than one complaint, number of complaints dismissed and number of discrimination findings. The reports also must contain information on average time spent investigating complaints and issuing decisions once investigations and hearings are finished.
Agencies will likely have a difficult time meeting the first reporting deadline, said Jorge Ponce, co-chairman of the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives.
Agencies already collect much of the data required by No FEAR for use in annual "Form 462" reports to the EEOC on discrimination complaints, he said. In addition, agencies have been aware for some time that No FEAR would require quarterly reports. President Bush signed the legislation in May 2002 and the law took effect on Oct. 1, 2003.
But agency EEO offices will still need more than one week to compile and format data from the first quarter of fiscal 2004, Ponce predicted. "Retooling your Web page takes time," he said.
Under the EEOC's draft No FEAR rules, agencies will need to continue submitting reports within 30 days of the close of each quarter. The quarterly reports are to include cumulative data, and at the fiscal year's end, agencies must release annual numbers. Alongside those statistics, agencies need to include comparable statistics from the five previous fiscal years, if that data is available.
The reporting process would be smoother if the EEOC designed a single form for agencies to use when compiling reports, Ponce said. The interim rules state that agencies must report data in a PDF format or other "accessible text format." But Ponce said he would like for all agencies to post statistics in an identical order and format so that interested viewers could easily scan the data and make comparisons across the government.
Ponce hopes the EEOC will eventually issue a standard reporting form. In the meantime, the Web site of the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives contains several sample No FEAR report formats.
The EEOC should compile aggregate data from agency reports as well and post the resulting governmentwide statistics, Ponce said. Under the draft rules, the commission would publish statistics on complaints within the agency, but would post no governmentwide information aside from data on requests for hearings before an EEOC administrative judge and appeals filed at the commission.
The EEOC reporting guidelines come on the heels of draft No FEAR rules released by the Office of Personnel Management last week. The OPM rules address a section of No FEAR that requires agencies to use their own funds, rather than a general Treasury Department fund, to pay judgments in discrimination and whistleblower lawsuits.
An OPM official said Friday that it took the agency a long time to develop the regulations because a lot of technical questions came up while ironing out the guidelines with Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget. He said OPM should be able to release a separate set of draft guidelines on implementing No FEAR's training requirements more quickly, because OPM is accustomed to designing training programs.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, the senior Environmental Protection Agency policy analyst who shepherded No FEAR into law, said Monday that she had not had a chance to read the draft EEOC regulations thoroughly. But at first glance, the EEOC guidelines appear "much more thoughtful and useful" than those released by OPM last week, she said. She added that she has arranged a meeting to discuss the draft rules with the EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez, and would like to schedule a similar meeting with OPM Director Kay Coles James. Both agencies should host a series of public hearings on No FEAR rules and extend the deadline for commenting on the rules up to 60 days, Coleman-Adebayo said.
Comments on the EEOC's Jan. 26 draft guidelines are due by March 26, and can be sent via fax to: 202-663-4114. Written comments can be mailed to:
Executive Officer, Executive Secretariat
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
1801 L St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20507