Every year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission releases its annual report, informing the president and Congress of the state of equal-employment opportunity in the federal workforce. But critics say the annual report serves one other purpose: It magnifies what is currently wrong with the federal government's EEO system.
The recently released 2009 report reveals a stunning lack of compliance, commitment and accountability by a number of agencies and agency leadership—especially when compared with the best practices being employed by The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity.
Consider this sampling of numbers from EEOC's latest 2009 report:
- Only 79 percent of federal departments and agencies submitted Management Directive 715 (MD-715) reports. The reports detail agency employment by race, national origin, sex and disability and are required under law to be submitted, reviewed and approved annually by the EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination.
- Only 61 percent of federal departments and agencies heads issued written policy statements, expressing their commitment to EEO and a workplace free of discriminatory harassment, despite an EEOC mandate that this statement "be issued at the beginning of their tenure [and] disseminated to all employees."
- Only 74 percent of agency EEO directors report directly to their agency head, despite a mandate that they do so.
So what happens to the 21 percent of agencies that do not submit MD-715 reports? Or the 39 percent of agency heads who did not issue written policy statements? Or the 26 percent of agencies that don't have an EEO director reporting directly to the top person at a department?
"There is absolutely no accountability for those agencies who do not wish to comply with the regulations,'' says Carol Dawson, president of EEO Guidance, a national consulting and training company based in Jeffersonville, Ind. "There is nobody doing anything about the percent that is not in compliance; there are no consequences whatsoever."
In March, DiversityInc released the findings of its second annual DiversityInc Top Federal Agencies for Diversity list in Washington, D.C. The findings demonstrated that while participating federal agencies have made strides in ensuring that their workforces reflect the changing needs and faces of their constituents, they lagged far behind the DiversityInc Top 50 in a number of key areas of diversity management and representation, including:
- Strategies used to promote and show commitment for diversity throughout the organization
- Workforce and recruitment representation for Blacks, Latinos, Asians, women and people with disabilities
- Communications about employee-development programs, such as employees and managers participating in employee-resource groups and in mentoring programs
Dawson worked at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance for 25 years, the agency responsible for ensuring that private-sector employers doing business with the federal government—specifically, all federal contractors that employ 50 or more employees and have government contracts of $50,000 or more—comply with the EEO laws and regulations requiring nondiscrimination.
She said the federal government does not tolerate the same kind of behavior within the private sector that it allows in its own ranks. "In private industry, we take them to court. We take their federal contracts away. We put their names out there. We make them miserable. They will suffer greatly if they are not in compliance with far stricter EEO laws," Dawson says.
But while EEOC is charged with monitoring federal-agency compliance with EEO laws, it does not have the funds or the manpower to monitor what is arguably the largest employer in the United States—the federal government, she said.
Dawson likens the current system to a fox-watching-the-hen-house scenario. Unlike the private sector, federal agencies themselves are responsible for their own internal EEO compliance and for processing and investigating charges of discrimination filed against them by their own employees.
"Until the federal government removes internal compliance and enforcement from the agencies and places it in neutral hands [EEOC], nothing will change," Dawson says. "The federal agencies must be held accountable, or there is no real need for the EEO regulations."
Dexter Brooks, the director of federal-sector programs at the EEOC, acknowledges that lack of compliance with EEO guidance and mandates is a problem at a number of federal agencies and departments. "What is our enforcement mechanism? We issue this report to the president and Congress every year stating which agencies are in compliance because they actually control the agencies' budgets and the way in which they are lead. So that is one way in which we try to seek compliance," he says. "Actually, it's the primary way right now because we don't have sanctioning authority."
Brooks says the only time the EEOC can issue binding orders to an agency or department is when a deficiency manifests itself into an actual employee complaint.
He says the EEOC has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to "slightly strengthen" the way the EEOC enforces its mandates. "This is not something we take lightly," he says. "We are trying to get a full understanding of how far we can go to achieve compliance in federal agencies."
Brooks says when the EEOC finds an agency or department failing to comply with a particular mandate or directive, "we note it as a deficiency and we give feedback to the EEO program and the agency head noting what we find as deficiencies."
In its annual report, the EEOC also submits "tips" on how to have a more effective EEO program in the federal government. Brooks says another compliance mechanism is the actual complaint process, which he says is more reactive. "Employees who believe they have not received equal opportunities can file complaints of discrimination," he adds. "We are trying to get agencies to do the proactive work before they see us on the reactive side, which is the complaint side."
In fact, federal employees are filing more complaints alleging employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability and reprisal. Federal employees filed 16,947 discrimination complaints in fiscal year 2009, 195 more than in 2008, according to a new EEOC report. The increase is smaller than the previous year's increase: In 2008, there were 584 more discrimination complaints than in 2007.
The rise in 2009 over the previous year is not big, but it is significant because it represents the second year of an increase, reversing what has been a decade of steady declines. "We are watching this trend,'' Brooks says.
Asked whether the rise in complaints could be related to the number of agencies and departments that are not complying with EEO guidance mandates, Brooks says he is not sure but "logically, it needs to be explored."
"It makes sense that if you are not in compliance, you might have higher complaints," he says. "That makes a lot of sense and it's something we are going to be studying and tracking."