By Kimberly Palmer
An outspoken critic of how discrimination complaints are handled in the federal government said that agencies are not implementing the 2002 Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act, known as the No FEAR Act, in a report released Tuesday.
The NAACP Federal Sector Task Force examined statistics from major government agencies and found that much of the data - which the actrequires to be posted online - is missing.
"The bill is not being implemented with any standardization," said Leroy Warren Jr., chairman of the task force. He said he believed the problem is intentional, and partly driven by administrators' desire to avoid paying large settlements. "[Equal Employment Opportunity] is an unwanted child in most agencies," he said.
The report also found that at some agencies, the number of complaints has risen dramatically in recent years. At the Social Security Administration, for example, the report said that the number of complaints pending final agency action increased 733 percent, from 84 in fiscal 2000 to 700 in 2004.
Warren also expressed concern that agencies rarely made internal findings of discrimination, and that discrimination findings were much more likely when the complaint went to an administrative judge from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The report was especially critical of the EEOC and the Office of Personnel Management, two of the agencies charged with implementing the No FEAR Act.
Warren pointed out that OPM is one of the few agencies that has not yet posted its No FEAR Act data on its Web site, as required. An OPM spokesman said the agency has submitted its No FEAR data to the EEOC and is considering putting the data online, but could not immediately explain why it had not yet done so. There is no penalty for failing to comply with the act's data posting requirements.
Warren said he was troubled by the fact that the EEOC had the highest percentage of employees--1.5 percent--who were EEO complainants. When asked whether it is possible that more employees complain at EEOC because they feel more comfortable than employees at other agencies, Warren acknowledged it was impossible to know if that was the case, but he is still concerned with the high percentage.
David Grinberg, a spokesman for the EEOC, said the agency had not been provided with a copy of the report and could not confirm the 1.5 percent figure. "EEOC is abiding by the spirit and letter of that law, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous," he said.
He pointed out that EEOC has met with federal sector groups, including the NAACP task force. He also said that under Chairwoman Cari Dominguez, the number of internal complaints was cut in half, from 66 in 1999 to 33 in 2004. One reason, he said, is that the EEOC encourages an internal resolution method instead of the formal complaint process because it saves money and time, and it avoids open conflicts that tend to destroy work relationships. Grinberg also said that the EEOC has acknowledged government-wide problems with the complaint process and is reviewing them.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, released a statement in support of the report. "If the findings that have been brought to our attention today are accurate, there needs to be an immediate redress and disciplining of offending managers, in order to restore integrity," she said.
Warren said he wanted to see congressional hearings, a congressional staff focused on implementing the No FEAR Act, and a Government Accountability Report on the subject.
On Monday, OPM issued aproposed rule in the Federal Register outlining agencies' training requirements under the
No FEAR Act. The proposal includes requiring agencies to develop written plans describing their training programs but gives agencies latitude in determining the content and method of training.