Budget boost helps EEOC avoid furloughs

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission no longer needs to furlough any employees this year, thanks to a $15 million budget increase included in the $79 billion war supplemental spending bill President Bush signed into law last week, an agency spokeswoman said Tuesday.

In early March, EEOC Chairwoman Cari M. Dominguez warned lawmakers that the agency would need to send all of its nearly 2,800 employees on 16 to 19 days of unpaid leave this year unless it received an extra $18.3 million in fiscal 2003 appropriations. The omnibus appropriations bill passed in February included $309 million for the EEOC, well short of the funds the agency needed, according to spokeswoman Joan Ehrlich.

While the EEOC is grateful for the boost in the war supplemental, $15 million is just enough to avoid furloughs, Ehrlich said. The agency still faces a more than $3 million shortfall and some training and employee award programs may suffer as a result, she said. In addition, the EEOC may not be able to purchase some new technology it needs, she said.

EEOC won the $15 million budget supplement after negotiations with House and Senate lawmakers. The House version of the fiscal 2003 supplemental spending package did not include any additional funds for the EEOC. But the Senate version had proposed $23 million for the EEOC, including $5 million for an agency restructuring suggested in a February report from the National Academy of Public Administration, a nonprofit organization chartered by Congress.

The EEOC could save money by streamlining services, moving or closing some field offices, encouraging flexible work arrangements and investing in new technology, according to the February report.

Lawmakers may have provided the full $23 million included in the Senate version of the wartime supplemental, had it not been for a last-ditch effort by unions to block the $5 million of funding for NAPA-recommended reforms, Ehrlich said. The unions wrote letters to Congress, some of which misrepresented facts in the NAPA report, according to Ehrlich.

NAPA President and Chief Executive Officer Philip Burgess wrote to Dominguez April 11 to alert her to inaccurate information in some letters sent to lawmakers from unions. "I am writing this letter to ensure that our report is correctly understood," he said. "We have just reviewed a letter apparently being circulated to members of Congress that does not accurately reflect the findings, conclusions and recommendations of our report."

For instance, one letter claimed that NAPA had recommended closing 41 of 51 EEOC field offices according to Burgess. In fact, the report does not name a specific number of field offices that EEOC should close, he said. The report only provides "recommendations for specific criteria that can be used to evaluate the number of offices that are required," based on factors including workload, contact with customers and rent costs. "The actual number that would be closed would depend on what factors are used and how they are weighted, issues that go beyond the scope of our report," the letter said.

Gabrielle Martin, a former EEOC trial attorney who is president of the National Council of EEOC Local 216, which is part of the American Federation of Government Employees, said her union was happy the EEOC received enough funds to avoid furloughs. But the agency should not receive any additional money until it has solicited more comments on its reorganization plan from the public, unions and other stakeholders, she said. Her union would also like more congressional oversight of any reorganization.

AFGE Local 216 felt slighted because EEOC did not allow enough time for comments on NAPA's report, Martin said. She wrote several letters to Congress requesting lawmakers to delay additional funding until the EEOC had spent more time thinking through a reorganization plan.

The letters from Local 216 did not include any claims that NAPA had recommended shutting down 41 or 51 offices, Martin said. But she added that she is concerned about field offices closing as a result of NAPA's suggestions. "If offices close, employees lose their jobs," she said. "To the extent a decision is made, it needs to be made after very careful consideration."

The Bush administration allotted $335 million for the EEOC in its fiscal 2004 budget proposal. That sum includes $5 million for EEOC to act on NAPA's reorganization suggestions.

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