Equal Employment Opportunity Office

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Equal Employment Opportunity Office

Audit Report No. 224
November 2, 1996

SUMMARY

Our audit of the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) program identified several possible improvements, including: creating an EEO Committee; increasing use of alternative dispute resolution; informing supervisors of the duty to cooperate with counseling; and emphasizing recruitment efforts for under-represented groups protected by the EEO laws.

The EEO Office and the Office of Administrative and Personnel Management generally concurred with our recommendations.

OBJECTIVES AND SCOPE

Our objectives were to obtain information about the EEO program for audit planning, and to identify possible improvements to the program. We interviewed EEO staff and managers, and reviewed relevant documentation, including program guidance and selected case files. We did not conduct extensive tests of management controls.

The audit was performed between January and August, 1995, in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

BACKGROUND

Discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability is prohibited under EEO statutes, regulations, and executive orders, as well as under personnel laws and regulations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for oversight of EEO programs in the Federal government.

The Office of Equal Employment Opportunity oversees the Commission's EEO program. The Director of the Office reports to the Chairman. The Office is composed of two branches: Compliance and Affirmative Employment.

The Compliance Branch counsels employees and investigates discrimination complaints. Collateral duty staff throughout the Commission serve as counselors, under the general oversight of the branch. EEO investigations are conducted by investigative staff in the branch. The EEO Director issues decisions on discrimination complaints. These decisions are subject to further review by the EEOC and the courts.

The Affirmative Employment Branch identifies barriers to advancement faced by protected groups. It coordinates actions to remove the barriers, as well as to recruit members of under-represented groups. The Branch also prepares an annual report to the EEOC regarding these issues.

The Commission has several special emphasis programs, including the Federal Women's Program, the Hispanic Employment Program, and the Black Employment Program. The programs are run by collateral duty managers and sponsored by the EEO Office. The programs promote diversity in the work place through a variety of activities.

Each office and division is responsible for complying with the EEO statues and regulations. Managers and supervisors are required to have a performance element on human resource management which includes compliance with EEO regulations.

AUDIT RESULTS

We identified several possible improvements to the EEO program, as described below.

Communications

The Commission does not have a senior level management committee devoted to EEO issues. An EEO Committee would provide a forum for discussing crosscutting issues, and improve communication between the EEO office and other Commission offices.

At a minimum, the Committee would include representatives from the Offices of EEO, Personnel and Administrative Management, the General Counsel, and the Division of Enforcement (which oversees the regions), as well as the special interest group managers. The EEO Office would develop the agenda for Committee meetings, and publicize information from them.

Recommendation A

The EEO Office should establish an EEO Committee as discussed above.

Recommendation B

The EEO Office should disseminate the agenda before, and distribute a synopsis of issues discussed after, the EEO Committee meetings to all Commission offices.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Under the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act (Public Law 101-552), the Commission is encouraged to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) where appropriate. ADR includes arbitration, mediation, and other consensual methods of resolving disputes.

ADR appears appropriate for resolving personnel disputes that otherwise could result in EEO complaints. Based on our interviews with EEO staff, employees sometimes filed complaints because they felt no adequate alternative was available.

The Commission recently established an ADR Task Force, which is expected (if Congress approves) to lead to the creation of a new ADR Office, the Office of the Ombudsman. This action implements a recommendation in a prior draft of this report. Ombudsman staff would use ADR techniques to help employees resolve work-related disputes. See the comments in the Appendix.

ADR also appears appropriate as an option for resolving some EEO complaints. Formal complaint procedures involve many procedural stages, and can be both resource intensive and adversarial. ADR is intended to be quick, cheap, and effective.

Recommendation C

The Commission should establish an ADR office for non-EEO personnel disputes and publicize its procedures.

Recommendation D

The Office of Equal Employment Opportunity should establish and publicize ADR procedures for EEO-related disputes. It should require EEO counselors to inform employees about these procedures during counseling.

Appraisal of Personnel Operations

The EEOC requires agencies to appraise their personnel operations to ensure their compliance with EEOC regulations. The Commission has not yet performed this appraisal. However, OAPM indicated that it has done some of the required analysis.

Recommendation E

The EEO Office and OAPM should periodically appraise the Commission's personnel operations to determine their compliance with EEOC regulations.

Counselors

We interviewed twenty-four current and three former EEO collateral duty counselors. A number of these counselors indicated that their supervisors were not supportive of their counseling (e.g., work assignments were adversely affected).

Possibly, supervisors may be concerned that counseling reduces the time available for the counselor's primary work. However, under EEOC regulations, agencies are required to ensure that all employees fully cooperate with EEO counselors.

Recommendation F

The EEO Office should consider alternatives to ensure that counseling does not significantly interfere with counselors' primary work.

Recommendation G

The EEO Office should inform all division directors, regional directors, and office heads of their supervisors' duty to cooperate with counseling. Counselors should notify the EEO Office if their supervisors are not supportive.

Affirmative Employment

The Commission's fiscal year 1994 Affirmative Employment Report indicated that certain groups protected by the EEO laws were under-represented at the Commission. For example, only 2% of the GS-14 level staff were Hispanic, compared to 8% of the corresponding work force.

Recommendation H

The EEO Office and OAPM should encourage hiring officials throughout the Commission to establish affirmative employment objectives for the correction of employment imbalances.

Guidance

The Commission has issued an EEO employee handbook (SECHDBK 27-1, August 1, 1991) and EEO regulations (SECR 27-1, July 8, 1986, and SECR 27-2, June 15, 1992). This guidance is out of date; e.g., the EEOC issued new regulations (29 CFR 1614) effective October 1992.

Recommendation I

The EEO Office should issue updated EEO guidance.

Counselor files

We sampled ten files submitted by EEO counselors. They contained the required information, but were not well organized, which made finding specific documents more difficult.

Recommendation J

The EEO Office should review files submitted by counselors to ensure that they are adequately organized. It should provide guidance to counselors on file organization.

Telephone Listings

Twelve of the thirty-two EEO counselors were not listed in the Commission's phone book.

Recommendation K

When updating the phone book, OAPM should request an updated list of current EEO counselors from the EEO Office for inclusion in each revision of the phone book.