Equal Employment Opportunity:

Rising Trends in EEO Complaint Caseloads in the Federal Sector

GGD-98-157BR: Published: Jul 24, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the inventories of unresolved equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaints at federal agencies and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), focusing on: (1) trends in the size of inventories and the age of cases in inventory at the various stages of the EEO complaint process; (2) trends in the number of complaints filed by federal employees and the time taken by agencies and EEOC to process them; and (3) implications of these trends.

GAO noted that: (1) agencies' complaint inventories and, even more so, EEOC's hearings and appeals inventories, have increased since fiscal year (FY) 1991; (2) at agencies, the number of unresolved complaints in inventory rose about 102 percent, from 16,964 at the end of FY 1991 to 34,267 by the end of FY 1997; (3) at EEOC, during this period, the inventory of hearing requests from complainants increased 218 percent, while the inventory of appeals filed by complainants increased 518 percent; (4) at agencies in FY 1996, about 49 percent of cases pending the initial dismissal or acceptance decision had been in inventory longer than the 180-day time limit, an increase from about 13 percent in FY 1991, while the proportion of complaints pending investigation more than 180 days was larger in FY 1996 than in FY 1991; (5) the size of inventories and the age of cases in them increased as agencies and EEOC did not keep up with the influx of new cases during the 1990s; (6) at agencies, the number of complaints increased, from 17,696 in FY 1991 to 27,587 in FY 1997; (7) postal workers have accounted for a large and disproportionate share of complaints, hearing requests, and appeals; (8) with the increased case loads, EEOC and, to some extent, agencies, took longer on average to process complaints, contributing to the size and age of the inventories; (9) also, the time EEOC took to adjudicate an appeal had increased from 109 days in FY 1991 to 375 days in FY 1997; (10) agencies took longer to close and issue final decisions in cases that involved a hearing before an EEOC administrative judge than it took them to close other cases; (11) the implications of these trends are that inventories of cases pending will grow even larger in the future, particularly at EEOC, and that cases will take even longer to process than they do today; (12) to deal with these increases, EEOC requested funding for additional administrative judges to process hearing requests and attorneys to process appeals in its FY 1999 budget requests; (13) at agencies, it is unclear if, and to what extent, complaint filings will continue their generally upward trend; (14) it is unclear whether the overall reduction in the number of complaints filed by nonpostal employees signals a moderation in the future flow of nonpostal cases through the process; and (15) considering recent trends, however, the Postal Service seems likely to continue to be a significant factor in the volume of complaints.

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