The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission could save money by streamlining services, moving or closing some field offices, encouraging flexible work arrangements and investing in new technology, according to a new report from the National Academy of Public Administration.
Faced with rising costs and a modest budget, the EEOC is having a harder time fulfilling its mission of preventing workplace discrimination and adjudicating discrimination suits, according to the NAPA report released on Feb. 25. NAPA is an independent, nonprofit organization chartered by Congress.
The cost of renting office space has increased significantly at 51 field locations and is rising at more than $1 million a year at some locations, the report said. These and other escalating expenses have required the EEOC to implement an agencywide hiring freeze and delay some technology modernization projects. At the same time, the commission is facing an increasing number of private sector discrimination cases and a backlog of federal cases, according to the report.
EEOC leaders decided to reorganize the agency, in hopes of cutting costs and using scarce resources more wisely. They requested that NAPA help them develop a plan. They are currently looking at NAPA's report to decide which recommendations they will implement.
In the mid-1990s, the EEOC streamlined the way that it processes private sector discrimination cases and revised the federal hearings process, but these changes were not "sufficient to align the EEOC's structure and processes with its budget and broadened mission," the report said. "The commission needs more fundamental changes to enable it to provide its diverse, far-flung customers with the level and quality of services they need."
NAPA's top priority for the EEOC is the establishment of a national call center that would allow EEOC customers to get their questions answered at a central toll-free number. Phone line staff would be equipped to take down basic information about inquiries and inform customers about the status of their claims, taking some of the burden off the local offices that spend a good portion of their time answering such calls now.
The EEOC should also eliminate some local offices and consider moving others to places where they will be the most effective, NAPA suggested. To determine where the offices are most needed, the report suggests that EEOC look at demographic data and employment trends to see where the highest number of discrimination cases are likely to emerge in the near future. Once EEOC determines a good location for the offices, it should consider ways to reduce rent costs, such as leasing office space at the outskirts of a city or sharing space with other federal agencies, the report added.
In addition, the EEOC should do more to encourage flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting, so that workers can respond to complaints in person at a wide variety of locations. Currently, the commission has 914 people on alternate work schedules, and many telecommute at least one day a week, the report said.
But the practice could become more prevalent if the EEOC worked to develop technology that would let workers access the commission's computer systems and data from remote locations, while protecting the security of the systems. The new remote access system would have to include adequate firewalls, antivirus protection, intrusion detection systems, password authentication ID systems and encryption software on the laptops that telecommuters carry when they travel.
The report suggest several other technological advances that would help the EEOC increase efficiency and reduce costs, including the development of an electronic charge filing system. Ideally, this system would collect basic information about cases and then allow EEOC staff to follow up with customers for in-person or phone interviews.
But technology improvements would not help solve all of the EEOC's problems, the report cautioned. "While technology improvements such as electronic charge filing will provide better access for many, there are millions of people who do not use or have access to the Internet," NAPA said. The new technology would go hand-in-hand with policies to encourage telecommuting and encourage workers to do a better job by giving them better training and holding them accountable for their performance, the report said.