Mrs. JONES of Ohio. Mr. Chairman, my amendment would prohibit any funds under this act to be used for the operation of the National Contact Center of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, something that was created and has already failed, and now they want to make it permanent.
As a result of the support that I enjoy from my colleagues, I yield 1 1/2 minutes to Congresswoman ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON. Congresswoman Norton was the former member, actually Chair, of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Ms. NORTON. I thank the gentlewoman for her initiative. As a former chair of the EEOC credited with bringing efficiencies that eliminated the backlog, I strongly support her amendment. The efficiencies that I brought to the commission included settling cases. At first, they were controversial, but the civil rights community focused in and around them. When the remedy rate increased, the businesses were very grateful for them because they got them out of the city.
The call system is not such an efficiency. It makes work that has not saved either work or money. Callers instead want to get to somebody who really knows something, the way when you have a recording or a customer service person and you say, let me speak to a real person who can tell me some real information.
Meanwhile the Nation's civil rights enforcement agency is being dismantled. What other agency has lost 20 percent of its staff since this administration took power? What kind of message is the 109th Congress sending to civil rights. Eliminate the call center. Let trained staff do their work.
Mrs. CAPPS. Mr. Chairman, I am honored to support this amendment because it properly refocuses the mission of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The goal is to ensure that all Americans are protected against discrimination in the workplace, and to do this, we should make sure that EEOC offices are properly staffed with workers to handle complaints and assist employees in taking action.
Instead, the current chair has pushed for the development of this National Contact Center. In effect, we are outsourcing the protection of civil rights on the job to entry level personnel who rely on scripts instead of expertise. The National Contact Center, which costs $2.5 million annually, continues to have a backlog of cases. The caseloads grow. The staff has expressed great frustration in dealing with this new structure. [Page: H4754]
In fact, 91 percent of the employees when surveyed reported that the process required through the call center is as long or even much longer than when calls come directly through the field offices. That doesn't sound like a streamlined process to me.
Focusing resources into the contact center is directly inhibiting the EEOC's ability to perform its duty of protecting victims of discrimination. I urge passage of this amendment that we may end wasteful spending and refocus our energies in hiring more qualified staff on the ground where the workforce is.
Mr. WOLF. In 2003, the National Academy of Public Administration, NAPA, completed a study recommending the creation of the EEOC National Contact Center. So NAPA, a nonpartisan, bipartisan group, has recommended that the call centers, which the gentlewoman wants to shut down, be established.
Following a 6-month startup period, the National Contact Center handled 402,383 inquiries in a 12-month period in addition to the 118,322 hits on frequently asked questions. The National Contact Center staff handled 302,622 of these inquiries, resolving 70 percent without further involvement of EEOC field staff.
Also, it has been said, if you shut these call centers down, the technology that EEOC would have to have would cost anywhere from $10 to $12 million. Currently, the volume of inquiries coming into the National Contact Center is increasing as field offices have begun to route their calls through the contact center.
By handling these inquiries, the National Contact Center has not caused any further staff reductions but rather has freed up EEOC employees to devote more time to the critical functions of mediating, investigating and litigating charges.
I do agree it has to be monitored, but to that, I believe the staff and Mr. Mollohan's staff have worked together to provide oversight in this regard. The report accompanying the bill includes language to require the commission to implement the recommendations of the Inspector General. We are working to ensure a better EEOC National Contact Center, but prohibiting the funds for the center would increase the workload on the EEOC front line, detract from the people that are helping. So
I urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mrs. JONES of Ohio. Mr. Chairman, in all due respect, that is not what the IG report, in fact, stated. It stated that the EEOC backlog continued to accelerate with 39,061 unresolved cases in 2006. In fact, they are up from 33,562 in 2005. It only saves the agency six full-time positions. The contractors do not understand their role as an agency. That is the report of the IG.
The importance that I need to bring to your attention, sir, is that a contract center for equal employment opportunity complaints is not like a contact center for your utility bill or your telephone bill or your gas bill. This is about employment discrimination in jobs across this country.
Having worked as a trial lawyer for the EEOC, as a person who worked in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, I know that the contact center is not the place in which you want to resolve your claims. If you had an age discrimination claim, you wouldn't want to do it over the telephone.
So what I am suggesting to you is, the reason I am opposing these contact centers is because it is not giving people the opportunity to do what they really do need to do, which is have the opportunity to talk with a person who is experienced. It is like all the centers now who are using India in order to take calls from people in America, and you have to explain four or five, six times. I don't have anything against Indians. But in order to make my complaint, I want to make sure that I have someone
who is experienced and knowledgeable of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the laws and what I need to do.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mrs. JONES of Ohio. I want you to note, recently the Washington Post published preliminary findings of a study commissioned by the EEOC which highlighted various concerns by job performance commissions, recommended significant changes, significant changes, or that the national call center be eliminated. I agreed with them that the center should be eliminated, that people across America who have claims with regard to employment ought to have the opportunity not to deal with the call center but
to deal with an experienced employee who has worked with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and has the background and experience to take those claims.
I want to thank my staffer, Terence Houston, for all the work he did in helping us put this amendment together. I thank you for the opportunity.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. WOLF. I urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment. But what I would like to do, this is a pilot program, and the pilot, if my memory serves me, ends in September of this year, September of 2006, so the pilot has not finished.
So to destroy the pilot before the pilot is finished, what I would like to do is, when we finish the pilot in September or maybe even we could try to expedite it a little bit to see, is to invite the gentlewoman up and ask NAPA to come up with us and sit down and have NAPA take a look at that, maybe at an appropriate time.
But I think the pilot has to go. NAPA is a very good organization. We have used the NAPA people with regard to the reorganization of the FBI and many other agencies.
What I would ask is we have a ``no'' vote. At the end of the pilot, in September, I am going to remind the staff; we will call NAPA up, also call the EEOC. I would invite the gentlewoman to come to the meeting and kind of see where we are. Fortunately, we will still have time to kind of deal with the issue, because I don't believe that we will be in conference by then.
But we are in the middle of the pilot; you don't kill it while the pilot is still operating. This is the National Academy of Public Administration, which so many individuals have used so many times.
Mrs. JONES of Ohio. The reason I am making the amendment, I brought up the amendment, is the proposal is to make the NCC permanent before the pilot is over with. That is why I am screaming and hollering. If you are saying to me that it is not going to be made permanent by this bill and that we will have an opportunity after the pilot is completed to have a conversation about this and make sure things are taken care of, I am willing to work with you. I would love to be able to wait until the pilot
ends before we make an amendment.
Mrs. JONES of Ohio. Let me just say this, if I have the assurance of the chairman, and I have not worked with you before, but I know that you are a man of your word, you are willing to work with me to try to keep it from being permanent until we hear what is happening with the pilot, I will withdraw my amendment.