Chronic understaffing at the EEOC

The Bush administration instituted a hiring freeze in 2001 and kept budget requests for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission modest, even while the number of complaints increased

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A backlog in cases and increasing delays in processing investigations have plagued the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as a result of funding challenges and organizational issues during the Bush administration. The EEOC is charged with assisting people who claim they’ve suffered discrimination; the agency enforces the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and relevant sections of the Civil Rights Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Cari M. Dominguez, confirmed as chair in 2001, received solid reviews from the Congressional Black Caucus, but many accounts noted a chronic paucity of funds.

The Bush administration instituted a hiring freeze in 2001 and kept budget requests for EEOC modest, even while the number of complaints increased. Dominguez attempted to streamline the agency, but one of her initiatives — having most inquiries handled by a privately-staffed call center — proved especially controversial. Gabrielle Martin, president of the National Council of EEOC Locals 216, charged that calls were being handled by untrained professionals and were of “very poor quality.” A restructuring of offices in the field also drew complaints that some offices were given broader jurisdiction but less power. Many of the agency’s problems were rooted in budget constrains: The $329 million requested for the agency in fiscal year 2009 is 9 percent higher than what was provided in 2001. Critics charged that wasn’t enough to support the agency’s workload. EEOC had 2,158 employees at the end of 2007, down 22 percent from 2002. The number of investigators dropped from 857 in 2000 to 565 in 2007. The average time for an investigation to be completed went from 160 days in 2003 to 206 days in 2008. The backlog of cases increased 38 percent between 2005 and 2007.

Follow-up:
Cari Dominguez stepped down in 2006 and was replaced by Naomi Earp. In 2007, the EEOC voted to close the call center and began the process of hiring new staff to handle inquiries. Calls and e-mails are now directly routed to EEOC field officers, which has pleased the union. The EEOC hopes that a proposed 4 percent budget hike for fiscal year 2009 will allow hiring of 175 new staffers, which the commission says will allow it to “address our growing case inventory to provide timely, efficient customer service to the public.” An EEOC spokesman told the Center that “the Commission is doing the best it can with the resources available during these challenging times.”

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