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Johnson and Jackson Lee Release Letter to EPA on EEO Processes

Jul 28, 2003
Press Release
<em>GAO Report Finds More Work Needs to be Done</em>

Today, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking Member on the Research Subcommittee, and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), a senior Member of the Committee, sent a letter to Acting Administrator Horinko encouraging the agency to redouble its efforts in the fair and timely disposition of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) cases.

Specifically, they direct EPA to: undertake testing of the reliability of a new data tracking system deployed by EPA for EEO cases; finalize procedures for EEO complaint processing; develop disciplinary processes for managers who discriminate.  Finally, they ask the EPA to provide more information on a new group of contractors used by EPA since June 2002 to investigate EEO complaints.

The text of the letter is attached.

The impetus for this letter came from a new GAO report released today by Representatives Johnson and Jackson Lee.  The report, Environmental Protection Agency: Continued Improvement Needed in Assessing Equal Employment Opportunity, was requested in October of 2000.  The work on this GAO request was delayed until policies being drafted by then-Administrator Browner - a task finished by the new administration - could be put into place for evaluation.

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, the lead requester, commented that, "I am pleased to learn that EPA has established draft procedures for handling EEO complaints.  I am also pleased to learn that progress has been made in cutting into the backlog of the longest standing complaints.  However, it is clear that EPA still needs to tend to this issue as the number of complaints has risen in the past two years.  I am particularly adamant that EPA establish a policy for dealing with managers who have been found to engage in behavior that leads to findings of discrimination."

Representative Jackson Lee added that the work to improve data systems at EPA was crucial to improving the disposition of cases.  "I was very disturbed to learn that the EPA did not have a reliable system for keeping track of complaints.  I congratulate EPA for adopting a new data system, but I will reserve my fullest congratulations until that system is validated for reliability.  It is impossible to provide justice in these cases unless they are handled in a prompt fashion and that must rely on a reliable system to track cases and flag those that need attention to meet the regulatory guidelines on disposition of cases."

EEO complaints at EPA, and government-wide, grew throughout the 1990s.  GAO explained this growth (GAO/GGD-98-157BR) as a consequence of changes in law, regulation and downsizing.  A similar phenomenon, driven by the same factors, was found in the private sector (GAO/GGD-97-157).  At the same time as complaints were rising, the composition of the workforce at EPA was changing.  At EPA, under then-Administrator Carol Browner, the Senior Executive Service (SES) saw its minority participation triple between 1992 and 2000.  Women at EPA saw their participation in SES grow by 50% during the same period.  EPA also witnessed a doubling of minority employees in GS-13 and above positions between 1993 and 2000.  The broader changes in the workforce, enhancing its diversity, came even as EEO complaints were on the rise.

Administrator Browner began the process of attempting to address the growth in EEO complaints by hiring more EEO counselors to oversee cases and launching a review of the process for handling the cases.  In addition, the Administrator launched a series of "listening sessions" around the country to let workers express concerns about the workplace.  That led to initiatives to enhance diversity training among SES managers and a review of the diversity training all managers received.  Whitman took that effort up and announced a new training protocol for managers in May of 2001.

Whitman continued the efforts launched by Browner by further expanding the number of EEO counselors and hiring new contractors in June 2002 to handle investigations.  GAO could not verify the performance of these new contractors; EPA said it was too soon to have reliable data on their performance.

Overall, EEO complaints at EPA have been on the rise.  In 1999 the number of new complaints was 78.  That declined to 75 in 2000.  In 2001 the number was 85.  It rose to 104 in 2002.  Given the experience of the 1990s, it would be reasonable to assume that the very aggressive "downsizing" associated with the Bush Administration’s A-76 contracting out effort will lead to an explosion in complaints.

Representative Johnson commented that, "With workers fearing for their jobs, managers at EPA and around the government should brace themselves for a tsunami of complaints as workers find entirely new and unreasonable evaluations put in their files as a justification to terminate them and meet the President’s management goal of eliminating 850,000 government workers."

The report, GAO-03-462, can be found on the GAO website, www.gao.gov

108th Congress