Lawmakers hold off on endorsing EEOC reorganization

A House appropriations subcommittee leader is waiting to approve the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission's recently unveiled restructuring plan until he sees the results of a Government Accountability Office study.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary, is withholding an opinion on the civil rights enforcement agency's reorganization efforts until he looks over GAO's assessment, said Dan Scandling, a spokesman. The auditors' report-requested earlier this year-is due out shortly, he said.

The GAO review could very well indicate that the EEOC is on the right track, Scandling said. "But let's not make any decision until the [GAO] review is completed," he added.

EEOC commissioners approved a final reorganization proposal in July and alerted House appropriations subcommittee members by sending them a "reprogramming request." It outlines the agency's plans for thinning management layers at field offices and placing a greater emphasis on investigations, mediation, litigation, outreach and other front-line work.

Senators also have proven reluctant to sanction the EEOC's plan without seeing the GAO report. On July 30, Senate Democrats sent a letter to the agency expressing concerns that the planned changes could wear the agency's ranks of regional attorneys and managers too thin, resulting in a decline in the number of charges referred for litigation.

The senators encouraged further research on the plan's possible implications.

"I think it makes a lot of sense to wait for the GAO report," said Gabrielle Martin, president of American Federation of Government Employees National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216. "From my perspective, they should have waited and had all the people involved. We might have had a whole lot less controversy had they done [that]."

Union officials have been wary of the reorganization effort from the beginning, and recently have argued that the final proposal fails to address what they see as the agency's most pressing problem: understaffing. They also have said that they have yet to receive statistics that support the planned downgrading of eight district offices headed by senior executives or GS-15-level regional attorneys to field offices directed by GS-15 managers or GS-14-level supervisory trial attorneys.

Wolf's actions will force EEOC officials to take a "more holistic view" of the restructuring effort and to gather more opinions before proceeding, Martin said.

But EEOC spokesman Charles Robbins said that the restructuring drive has been "very collegial" and will continue to be so. "We have been working closely with members of Congress and their staffs since before the plan was announced, and we've been meeting with them and their staffs to address any concerns," he said.

EEOC officials also have helped GAO with its review, Robbins said, adding that the report is "imminent." He declined to say whether, or how, the report could influence the agency's plans, which have already been voted on and approved by the commission.

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