EEOC officials answer critics of reorganization proposal

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission officials on Thursday defended a recently unveiled reorganization plan against criticisms that it could lead to weaker enforcement of civil rights laws.

The proposed "repositioning" would thin EEOC's top-heavy management structure, while allowing more rank-and-file employees to engage in outreach, litigation and other front-line duties, said Nicholas Inzeo, director of agency's office of field programs. This could be accomplished without any employees losing jobs or having to move, he added, during a public question and answer session at the commission's Washington headquarters.

Approximately 40 people would probably switch to front-line jobs in the first year alone, Inzeo said.

The plan, which entails downgrading eight of 23 district offices headed by senior executives or GS-15-level regional attorneys to field offices directed by GS-15-level managers or GS-14-level supervisory trial attorneys, and the addition of two local offices-one in Mobile, Ala., and a second in Las Vegas-is projected to save as much as $8.2 million during an eight-year period, Inzeo said. It would also expand the total number of EEOC offices in the field from 51 to 53, letting the agency cover more territory, said Cynthia Pierre, director of field management programs.

Critics of the proposal, including several representatives of the American Federation of Government Employees, questioned how EEOC can save money while opening new offices, and also expressed concern that the level of service would deteriorate in the eight district offices slated for reclassification. They questioned whether the plan is well-thought-out and grounded in accurate statistics on workload and case inventories.

More than half of the projected money, or $4.8 million, would be saved as higher-salaried upper-level executives retire and are replaced by managers in lower pay grades, Inzeo said. The EEOC's chief financial officer estimated that another $3.4 million could be saved through reductions in office rental costs.

Recommendations to reclassify district offices were made based on a careful analysis of workload and demographic data, according to Inzeo and EEOC Deputy General Counsel James Lee. For instance, EEOC officials found that the Milwaukee district office handled fewer than than 1,400 cases during a four-year period, while the relatively nearby Chicago office received more than 6,000 cases in the same time.

There's no need for two district offices, with disparate workloads but the same management structure, in such proximity, Inzeo said. Under the proposed restructuring plan, the Milwaukee office would become an area office.

The reorganization would not result in changes to the total number of trial attorneys employed by EEOC, nor would any offices close, Lee emphasized. The public is unlikely to notice cutbacks in service, he said. The plan should help EEOC address cases more efficiently, as resources will be better aligned to offices with the highest workloads, he and Inzeo added.

But after the question-and-answer session, Gabrielle Martin, president of AFGE National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216, said she remains concerned about the proposal, in part because it fails to address serious staffing shortages at the agency. Ideally, she said, any savings gleaned from the restructuring should be used to hire more employees.

EEOC officials did not commit to increasing staff levels, Martin noted. The front-line jobs discussed could also go to higher level managers rather than rank-and-file employees, she said. All employees should be able to compete for any positions created as part of the reorganization, she said.

The proposal is designed to make better use of the EEOC's approximately 2,400 existing staff members, Inzeo and Lee said at the meeting. The agency currently lacks the budget for extra hires, they said.

EEOC officials have gathered extensive input from the public and have received 85 written comments on the proposal, said Cari Dominguez, EEOC's chairwoman. After considering this feedback, agency officials will modify the proposal "where appropriate," she said.

The commission will discuss and vote on the final plan at a July 8 meeting.

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