From ‘postal’ to productive: How USPS became a leading EEO claims service provider

The U.S. Postal Service has come a long way since a series of violent incidents in the mid-1980s, when some agency employees shot and killed co-workers, managers and members of the public while on the job. Those events marked a dark time for the agency — and helped coin the phrase “going postal.”

“The employees were very unhappy, a lot of labor grievance issues, a lot of [Equal Employment Opportunity] complaints and issues,” Randy Caldwell, human resources executive manager at USPS, said at a Government Executive panel discussion in Washington March 9. “We had cases that were sitting untouched. I’m talking thousand of cases for years or end. Of course, a lot of that led to the frustration, the anger and then the release of that anger in employee workplace violence.”

Now, USPS is turning around its reputation as a leading equal employment opportunity services provider for 28 to 29 other agencies. The Postal Service handles about 60 percent of all federal EEO complaints now, and it’s looking to expand.

These organizations have entered into inter-agency agreements with the Postal Service, which performs a certain amount of EEO casework over a specific period of time.

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But the agency took a long path to get where it is now.

The Postal Service once had at least 4,000 EEO cases in its backlog.

The Postal Service stood up the National Equal Employment Opportunity Investigative Services Office (NEEOSIO) in Tampa, Florida, back in 2004. The agency cut 188 of its full-time postal positions and replaced them with 60 others. USPS also hired 300 fee-for-service contractors, many of whom are retired federal employees.

“We do most of the transactional work,” Caldwell said. “We know what questions to ask. We have a lot of senior executives, GS-14s, 15s and above that have retired and come to us as a second career. We recycle those years, decades of knowledge.”

These contractors gather the appropriate paperwork to resolve equal employment opportunity cases from both USPS employees and the agencies’ who have agreements with NEEOSIO.

“We would then assign [a case] to a contractor,” said Dino DeSorbo, manager of equal employment opportunity services at the Postal Service. “We would pick and choose the ideal contractor for your particular case. We would hand it over to them, and they would do the work in terms of making all the inquiries, gathering all the important and pertinent documents, with our oversight.”

The Postal Service’s EEO unit reviews the case once contractors finish their own investigations. Together, NEEOSIO  processes about 4,000 cases a year. The EEO office can process most claims in an average of 100 days — faster than the 240 day average it once took USPS to process complaints before standing up its service center.

Postal Service employees can also call the agency’s EEO complaint hotline, where they’ll receive a response within 24 hours. An EEO employee will try to resolve the case informally with the employee. If they can’t within 24 hours, the employee can file a formal complaint.

The agency is expanding this feature to its customer agencies as well, Caldwell said.

Caldwell said USPS can resolve most EEO complaints if they’re addressed quickly. It’s a time and money saver, he added.

“The vast majority of these issues start as a misunderstanding or a personality issue,” Caldwell said. “If you can get there and deal with it very quickly, you can spin it into a positive learning ‘Kodak’ moment. That’s what we try to do. That’s your money-shot, not doing all … the investigations, following through [and] paying thousands of dollars [for] attorneys in your legal department.”

With 650,000 employees, USPS is the largest non-military federal agency. And turning its attention to equal employment opportunity and engagement is a valuable tool to improve USPS customer service.

“If you have a customer who’s working with an employee, who has a bad attitude or is being sexually harassed or their boss is being an idiot to them, what do you think the customer experience is going to be?” Caldwell said. “It’s not going to be good, because that person is going to carry that to the customer.”