Many agencies not complying with new diversity guidelines

FEDERAL WORKERS

April 08, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

Fewer than two-thirds of federal agencies are complying with new diversity guidelines that require them to file annual reports on barriers to minority hiring and promotions, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Thursday.

EEOC spokesman David B. Grinberg said about 60 percent of federal agencies have filed the first report, which was due in January.

He declined to provide a list of the agencies that failed to do so. Grinberg said the EEOC plans to publish the list in its annual report, scheduled for release by the end of May.

"These are new rules, and it may take longer for some agencies to meet our deadlines," he said. "We are working proactively with agencies to ensure as high of a level of compliance as possible."

As to the quality of the reports received, Gail S. Demers, acting director of the EEOC's affirmative employment division, told a meeting of federal civil rights executives last week that agencies are making "good-faith" efforts.

But she said she would have preferred greater emphasis on identifying problems and solving them, according to the meeting's minutes, posted on www.fedcivilrights.org.

The new guidelines, called Management Directive 715, are controversial for a few reasons.

First, the directive calls for managers to focus on changing the agency's culture, rather than solely relying on statistics to determine whether a group is being discriminated against. These annual reports are a primary vehicle for that. Second, the rules scratch the word "underrepresented" - even though women and minorities statistically are, especially in management.

EEOC officials said that the directive's primary benefit is that it focuses on prevention.

"We are trying to show agencies how they can come into compliance and prevent discrimination before it starts," Grinberg said. "We are trying to treat the symptoms, rather than just respond after the illness is full blown."

But an attorney for a large federal union said that agencies' lack of compliance exposes a poor commitment to diversity.

"The EEOC is setting the tone," said Ericka Guthrie Dorsey, an attorney for the American Federation of Government Employees. "So it's not surprising that the agencies have followed suit in a lackadaisical manner."

For information on MD-715, go to www.eeoc.gov/federal/md715/index.html.

More on the EEOC

The EEOC has steadily reduced its backlog of discrimination cases filed by federal workers during the last five years, but debate continues about new and old changes that are easing the agency's burden.

Right now, the EEOC, which also sues private companies for discrimination, is handling about 4,000 appeals of federal workers' cases, or about 7,000 fewer than in 1999. The average time it takes to resolve these appeals has decreased from 467 days to 207 days.

The caseload for regular federal hearings has been cut in half, from 12,808 in 1999 to 6,833 in 2004. And the time it takes to get them done has been reduced from 420 days to just under one year, on average.

The success rate, however, is slim.

EEOC hearing officers, called administrative law judges, ruled in workers' favor 2.8 percent of the time in 2004. When workers opted not to go before judges, agencies sided with their own workers 2.9 percent of the time in 2003.

But EEOC officials say those figures are misleading. They point to the fact that of all cases resolved in 2004, 27.1 percent were settled, almost always in workers' favor.

Some changes aimed at improving efficiency, such as a new nationwide call center, were started as recently as two weeks ago. But Doug Gallegos, an attorney at the EEOC, attributes most of the decline to a partial overhaul of the process in 1999.

Among the most important steps: Federal agencies were forced to stop ignoring hearing officers' rulings, and they had to create alternative dispute resolution programs.

In 2004, of the 19,024 allegations of discrimination federal workers filed, 8,391 of them, or 44 percent, were resolved at that early stage in the process.

Tax break for veterans

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s tax break for military retirees is stuck in the state Senate, and the House of Delegates has cut it in half.

Ehrlich's proposal gradually makes income from military pensions exempt from state and local taxes, but the House of Delegates voted 137-0 on March 24 to make only half of that income tax-free. The delegates also took the benefit away from officers - one-third of military retirees in Maryland.

The House bill saves the state about $60 million more than the governor's proposal during the five-year phase-in period, and also requires enlisted personnel to serve 20 years to earn the benefit.

Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Republican representing portions of Frederick and Carroll counties, tried to get the full tax break restored, but his effort failed 64-68.

The governor's hope is that the Senate will pass a more generous version of the bill and win in conference committee, where the two houses iron out their differences.

As of yesterday afternoon, the Senate had not voted on the issue.

"The governor is cautiously optimistic," said spokesman Henry Fawell, adding that the bill is one of Ehrlich's top two priorities for the session, scheduled to end Monday.

To read the bill and its amendments and learn how your delegate voted, go to http://mlis.state.md.us/2005rs/billfile/HB0245.htm.

The writer welcomes your comments and story ideas. She can be reached at melissa.harris@baltsun.com or 410-715-2885.

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