Equal Employment Opportunity:

Complaint Caseloads Rising, With Effects of New Regulations on Future Trends Unclear

GGD-99-128: Published: Aug 16, 1999. Publicly Released: Aug 16, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) complaint caseload, focusing on: (1) trends in the size of inventories and the age of cases in inventory at 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 and how future caseloads may be affected by EEOC's regulatory changes to the complaint process.

GAO noted that: (1) inventories of unresolved federal sector discrimination cases at agencies and EEOC have continued to grow; (2) overall, from fiscal year (FY) 1991 to FY 1998, complaint inventories at federal agencies rose by about 114 percent, to 36,333; (3) at EEOC, during the same period, the hearings inventory rose by 280 percent, to 11,967, while the appeals inventory went up by 648 percent, to 10,966; (4) as inventories grew, the average age of cases in agencies' inventories (446 days) and EEOC's hearings (320 days) and appeals (293 days) inventories also reached new levels; (5) the size of the inventories and the age of cases in them continued their upward trend during FY 1998 as neither the agencies nor EEOC kept up with the influx of new cases; (6) agencies' inventories grew by 6 percent in FY 1998 despite a 2.8 percent decline in the number of new complaints; (7) the growth in EEOC's inventory of hearing requests during this period--19.5 percent--was greater than the increase in the number of new hearing requests, which rose by about 9.2 percent; (8) at the same time, EEOC's appeals inventory increased by 9.9 percent, even though the number of new appeals filed remained almost unchanged; (9) the average time to process a complaint at agencies showed a small decline in FY 1998, from 391 to 384 days, but there were sharp increases in the average time EEOC took to process hearing requests (rising from 277 to 320 days) and appeals (rising from 375 to 473 days); (10) a case travelling the entire complaint process could be expected to take 1,186 days to process, based on FY 1998 data; (11) this was 91 days longer than in FY 1997; (12) the logjams at EEOC and agencies are likely to persist, at least in the short run, as long as agencies and EEOC receive more new cases than they process and close; (13) the long-term outlook, however, is unclear; (14) substantive revisions to complaint program regulations and procedures are to be implemented beginning in November 1999; (15) these revisions are intended to reduce the volume of cases flowing through the complaint process; (16) the revisions include a requirement that agencies offer alternative dispute resolution, as well as other rules to reduce the opportunities for multiple complaints by the same complainant; and (17) however, EEOC has not yet developed estimates of how the revisions to program regulations will affect caseload trends and resource needs, nor has the agency completed development of measures and indicators to track the effects of these revisions once they are implemented.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with a clear picture of future caseload trends and the resources that are needed to deal with current backlogs, as well as the volume of cases expected in the future, the Chairman, EEOC, should take steps to develop estimates of the effects of the forthcoming changes in program regulations and procedures on agencies' and EEOC's caseloads.

    Agency Affected: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the agency's comment on GAO's report, EEOC said that it would develop estimates (at the end of calendar 2001) of the effects of changes in program regulations and procedures, once EEOC has had one full fiscal year of experience with the revised regulations (which implemented in November 1999). The Chairwoman's letter pursuant to 31 U.S.C. 720 said that EEOC would provide estimates of resources EEOC would need to comply with timeframes in the new regulations. The fiscal year 2001 budget proposal contained judgmental estimates of the effect of the revised regulations on EEOC's hearings and appeals workload but no estimates of resources needed to meet regulatory processing timeframes. In addition, EEOC has not prepared estimates of the effects of changes in program regulations and procedures on agencies' caseloads. With the regulations implemented, EEOC was able to get a sense of their effect on the hearings and appeals caseloads, as reflected in projections contained in the FY 2002 performance plan. EEOC also asked for and received information from agencies that would enable it to assess the effect of the regulations on agencies' complaint volume.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with a clear picture of future caseload trends and the resources that are needed to deal with current backlogs, as well as the volume of cases expected in the future, the Chairman, EEOC, should complete development of measures and indicators to track and assess the impact of these revisions on caseload trends.

    Agency Affected: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the agency's comment on GAO's report, EEOC said that it would develop estimates (at the end of calendar 2001) of the effects of changes in program regulations and procedures, once EEOC has had one full fiscal year of experience with the revised regulations (which implemented in November 1999). The Chairwoman's letter pursuant to 31 U.S.C. 720 said that EEOC would provide estimates of resources EEOC would need to comply with timeframes in the new regulations. The fiscal year 2001 budget proposal contained judgmental estimates of the effect of the revised regulations on EEOC's hearings and appeals workload but no estimates of resources needed to meet regulatory processing timeframes. In addition, EEOC has not prepared estimates of the effects of changes in program regulations and procedures on agencies' caseloads. With the regulations implemented, EEOC was able to get a sense of their effect on the hearings and appeals caseloads, as reflected in projections contained in the FY 2002 performance plan. EEOC also asked for and received information from agencies that would enable it to assess the effect of the regulations on agencies' complaint volume.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, EEOC, should establish a policy of an acceptable level of timeliness for processing appeals and develop estimates, under various timeframes, of the resources needed to reduce its average appeals processing time to meet this standard.

    Agency Affected: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In responding to a draft of the report, the EEOC Chairwoman said that 180 days is an appropriate goal for the processing of appeals but did not indicate how the goal would be operationalized. GAO suggested that for such a goal to carry more significance and accountability, it be included in EEOC's Annual Performance Plan. EEOC's fiscal year 2001 Performance Plan included a measure that 25 percent of appeals received in FY2001 would be resolved in 180 days. Also, in her letter pursuant to 31 U.S.C. 720, the Chairwoman said future budgets would identify resources needed to process appeals in a timely manner, in accordance with GAO's recommendation. As of September 2001, the 180-day timeframe for the processing of EEOC appeals has become a de facto standard through its continuing inclusion as a measure in the agency's annual performance plans required under GPRA. At the beginning of FY 2001, to help achieve more timely processing of appeals and reduce inventories, EEOC implemented the Federal Appellate Inventory Review (FAIR) Project. This project will provide for an early assessment of an appeal, expedite the consolidation of appeals from the same complainant, and provide for a priority scheme. Heretofore, EEOC did not have a cleary defined and transparent appeals case managment policy. However, the performance plan does spell out the resources that would be required, under various timeframes, to reduce the inventory and process appeals within the 180-day timeframe, as GAO had recommended.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, EEOC, should use these data to develop estimates, under various time frames, of the resources needed to reduce its average hearings processing time to meet the 180-day requirement in regulations.

    Agency Affected: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In her letter pursuant to 31 U.S.C. 720, the Chairwoman said future budgets would identify resources needed to comply with timeframes in regulations. Although not identifying resources needed, EEOC's FY 2001 Performance Plan included a measure that 20 percent of hearing requests received in FY2001 would be resolved in the 180 days required by regulations. Although EEOC has developed projections of new cases expected and inventory backlog that consider the effect of the new regualtions, the agency has not, as of September 2001, spelled out the resources it would take, under various timeframes, to reduce the backlog and meet the 180-day requirement.

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