EEOC becoming one by meeting strategic goals

One year into its 16-point strategic plan, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is doing more than just improving performance across its mission areas.

Claudia Withers, the EEOC’s performance improvement officer and chief operating officer, said the strategy is changing the agency’s culture to create a “One-EEOC.”

“I think overall the progress has been quite good. Of the many, many measures, we’ve made progress on most of them and have made partial progress on others,” Withers said in an interview with Federal News Radio Wednesday after the commission’s public meeting in Washington. “The most important thing has been is we’ve begun reorganize and realign ourselves to change the culture of the agency, which is what the strategic plan is about.”

The strategic plan is centered on three main objectives:

  • Combating employment discrimination through strategic law enforcement
  • Preventing employment discrimination through education and outreach
  • Delivering excellent and consistent service through a skilled and diverse workforce and effective systems

“The natural challenge has been to make sure EEOC, which is headquartered across the nation, is able to develop a conversation about the strategic plan across our 53 offices in 15 districts across the nation. That’s a big challenge,” she said. “I think we’ve been successful in having ongoing conversations online and through video.”

Deputy PIO Deidre Flippen said during the meeting that the implementation of the strategic plan hasn’t been a top down push. She said employees from the field have given input to improve the process, which was not something that was done in the past.

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Carlton Hadden, the director of EEOC’s Office of Federal Operation, said the biggest difference now is the agency is no longer separating itself into federal and non-federal efforts. Now, he said, employees are working together.

Federal sector plan in motion

Withers said over the past year, EEOC has made a lot of progress in meshing these two worlds together.

“We recognize that while the federal sector may have a different stakeholder audience, it along with the rest of the agency still has as its goal stopping and remedying unlawful discrimination,” she said.

As part of the strategy, the EEOC is developing a federal sector plan to address issues and the specific needs of agencies.

Withers said the plan will look at issues that emerge from the federal workforce and figure out what the agency needs to do to better serve federal workers.

EEOC issued a draft in January and closed the comment period Jan. 24. It will submit the draft with changes based on the comments next month to the commissioners.

Withers said the commission is expected to vote on federal sector guide by May 31.

“We will start with the national priorities the commission adopted in the strategic plan. Then we will see to what extent those national priorities play out in the federal sector,” she said. “Those issues include things like hiring issues, immigrant and migrant workers, equal pay, harassment and others. Those issues may have different approach or tinge to them as we look at them in the federal sector. One of the issues that those of us who work in the federal sector know is that retaliation is a big issue whether you are talking federal or private sector. How will that be looked at? I don’t know yet, but I suspect that will be part of the conversation as we develop the federal sector plan.”

IT as a strategic tool

A key theme throughout the strategic plan is the impact technology will have to help the EEOC meet its goals.

For example, the strategy calls for the development of a case management system. Withers said that program is one of the areas where the agency has made good progress on transforming.

“That means taking a look how we approach both cases that come in as appellate cases and cases that are heard by our administrative judges across the agency,” she said. “We’re taking a look at how to categorize them and develop levels for them: simple, more complex, systemic versus individual, a whole range of categories. Those haven’t been established yet. We’ve developed an internal plan for our folks to take a look at.”

The case management also is a good example of how the EEOC is coming together. Withers said the federal and private-sector folks are working together to create the categories to develop a more effective case management system.

Additionally, the EEOC is working on applications to let attorneys and other check the status of charges and an online form intake process to ease the burden of submitting documents to the agency.

All the technology projects, however, face a bit of an uphill climb because of budget pressures. Withers said about 75 percent of the agency’s budget is in salaries and benefits, meaning the impending cuts from sequestration or other reductions from Congress would likely impact how it completes significant portions of the plan.

Focus on enforcement, not prevention

Withers said the commission also is developing an enforcement plan, which drills down into the different tools the agency has to challenge discrimination and setting up a system to look at all those goals and setting priorities.

“We’ve also made substantial progress in looking at the kind of relief we seek for charging parties. We’re calling it targeted equitable relief,” she said. “What that means is, instead of just money, we are looking for things that change the game for an employer after the EEOC has been involved. We’ve made great progress in identifying that, coordinating that and beginning to document that.”

The focus on enforcement still doesn’t sit well with one commissioner.

Constance Barker, the one commissioner who voted against the plan in February 2012, said she still remains unhappy with the tenor of the plan.

She said the plan goes against the EEOC’s primary mission to prevent employment discrimination. Instead, the strategy is too focused on enforcement and litigation.

“Our resources and priorities are backward,” she said. “We should focus on an entire new generation of Americans and educating them about the protections our laws give employees. By focusing on the actions after the laws are broken, we are locking the proverbial barn door after the horse got out.”

But other commissioners said the strategic plan gives the EEOC the ability to transform.

Jacqueline Berrien, the chairwoman of the commission, said the strategy is ambitious and charts a new course for the EEOC.

“When the commission adopted the plan, it sent a clear message. We cannot be satisfied with fighting the same battles with the tools of yesterday,” she said. “The strategic plan is a living document and it will impact how we operate as an agency.”

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