EEOC threatens employee furloughs over budget shortfall

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will have to furlough all of its employees for 16 to 19 days this year unless Congress acts to remedy a budget shortfall at the agency, EEOC Chairwoman Cari M. Dominguez wrote in a letter to members of Congress this week.

The furloughs, wrote Dominguez, would "significantly impair our ability to effectively enforce the nation's civil rights laws." For example, she said, approximately 10,000 private sector allegations of discrimination and 1,200 federal sector cases would not be resolved if the furlough took place.

In the omnibus fiscal 2003 appropriations measure passed earlier this year, Congress approved $309 million for the EEOC. But the measure also required the agency to transfer $3 million of its funding to state and local agencies, to absorb its share of a 0.65 percent governmentwide budget recision, and to fund an additional 1 percent pay increase for its employees. Those requirements will leave the EEOC $18.3 million short of the money it needs to fund operations this year, Dominguez said.

The administration had sought an $11.6 million amendment to the fiscal 2003 spending bill earlier this year to cover rent and employee compensation and benefits costs at the EEOC, but Congress rejected the idea. In its fiscal 2004 budget proposal, the Bush administration requested $335 million for the EEOC.

Dominguez "is working around the clock with [the Office of Management and Budget] and Congress to address the budget shortfall and avoid any staff furloughs," said EEOC spokesman David Grinberg. "We are cautiously optimistic that the problem will be corrected and furloughs will be avoided." On Wednesday, Dominguez told The Washington Post, which first reported the letter, that she was "confident" the agency could avoid furloughs.

Dominguez sent the letter to Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that approves EEOC funding, and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Dan Scandling, a spokesman for Wolf, said the legislator "hopes to resolve the problem," but said the EEOC must work with the White House to try to secure additional funds in an upcoming fiscal 2003 supplemental appropriations bill. "They were very late in coming to [Wolf] to tell him there was a shortfall," Scandling said.

Dominguez has implemented several cost-cutting measures since she took over at the EEOC in August 2001. She instituted a hiring freeze that is still in place, deferred plans to extend transit subsidies to nonheadquarters employees, delayed $2 million in information technology initiatives, and "significantly reduced" spending for training and employee awards, she wrote in the letter. In January, the agency announced it would work with the General Services Administration to try to cut its rent costs by 35 percent over the next five years.

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