EEOC threatens furloughs for employees

Budget woes also could reverse progress to reduce discrimination case backlog, observers say.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission employees could be facing furloughs thanks to proposed cuts in the agency's fiscal 2012 budget.

In an email to staff late last month, EEOC Chairwoman Jacqueline Berrien wrote that a drop in funding could force the agency to consider furloughs for its nearly 1,800 workers. The current continuing resolution cuts EEOC's budget by $5.5 million. In fiscal 2012 spending bills passed earlier this year, House lawmakers kept the agency's budget frozen at $367 million for fiscal 2012, but Senate appropriators recommended a $7 million drop in funding for EEOC salaries and expenses.

"I understand the serious consequences of these decisions," Berrien wrote to employees. "I will do everything I can to avoid furloughs, and, if they are necessary, lessen the impact on our staff and the mission of the agency."

EEOC "has not announced any plans to furlough staff," said spokeswoman Christine Nazer. "Give the tight budgets we're operating under, the commission may need to consider a range of cost-saving measures."

According to Gabrielle Martin, president of the National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216, EEOC has yet to determine who will be affected or how long furloughs will last. But the move likely would affect everyone unless the agency forms a skeleton staff to ensure the public still has access to its services, she said.

EEOC needs to change inefficient processes to save money before considering furloughs for employees, Martin added. For example, the agency already faces a backlog of discrimination cases but has not streamlined its intake procedures, she said.

In its budget report, the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote that the proposed cuts would "regrettably reverse" EEOC's progress in reducing the backlog. The agency is expecting 108,000 discrimination charges to be filed by the end of fiscal 2012, with the goal of having 93,000 end-of-year pending cases.

"Budget cuts and expanding enforcement responsibilities will make EEOC hard-pressed to meet this goal, leaving the commission with an erosion of mission-critical staff, increased discrimination charge inventory, limits on its litigation docket, diminished employment sector enforcement efforts and delayed customer service," the report stated.