EEOC gives government passable marks on diversity, complaints process

The federal government deserves a mediocre grade for its handling of diversity-related issues over the past year, despite some improvement in discrimination claims processing at individual agencies, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Thursday.

In its annual report to the president and Congress, the EEOC gave the government a grade of C+ for maintaining a fair and diverse workplace. Federal agencies generally need to address discrimination allegations faster, according to EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez. They also should do more to promote alternative dispute resolution methods, including mediation, and should make an effort to hire more workers with disabilities, she said.

Agencies, on average, took 267 days to investigate Equal Employment Opportunity complaints in fiscal 2002 and they typically took 326 days to issue final decisions, down roughly 19 percent from the previous year.

While agencies generally need to improve their timeliness, Dominguez said, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Smithsonian Institution and State Department deserve recognition for reducing the average time spent investigating discrimination allegations by 57, 50 and 44 percent, respectively. The Consumer Product Safety Commission decreased the average time needed to decide cases by 73 percent and the Smithsonian was 72 percent faster at issuing decisions.

Several agencies also boosted participation in alternative dispute resolution programs, the EEOC reported. The Railroad Retirement Board increased participation by 42 percent over fiscal 2001 and the State Department boasted a 22 percent increase.

The EEOC recently launched a mediation program called RESOLVE, which it hopes will serve as a model for other agencies. The program makes mediators available to EEOC workers upon request at every stage of a grievance and is expected to help ease the backlog of cases within the commission.

Agencies have also failed to hire an adequate number of workers with disabilities, Dominguez said. The percentage of government workers with one of nine disabilities tracked by the EEOC declined for the seventh consecutive year and was well below the percentage of the disabled population qualified for federal jobs, the EEOC reported. About 1 percent of the federal workforce in fiscal 2002 had one of the nine disabilities EEOC tracked, which included deafness, blindness, paralysis and compulsive disorders.

For further statistics on diversity initiatives at specific agencies, the types of discrimination cases filed in fiscal 2002, the demographic composition of the federal workforce and trends in Equal Employment Opportunity litigation, see the full EEOC annual report.