Millennium Dreams: 21st Century EEO Practices for Federal Employees
Zorn, Tama, The Public Manager
A leading practitioner examines the overall effectiveness and efficiency of providing equal employment opportunity (EEO) and averting discrimination in the federal workplace.
Millennium dreams inevitably involve the hope that we can create new systems to alleviate old problems as we enter a new epoch. Practitioners in the field of equal employment opportunity dream of inclusive, nondiscriminatory workplaces peopled with engaged, effective employees. That dream is especially relevant to the federal workforce that has been covered by a complex system of laws, regulations, and executive orders in an effort to make our government the model employer. The cost of this system is shared by all who pay taxes and its achievements should lead the way to improved employment practices nationwide.
Are We Achieving EEO Goals?
It has been 29 years since federal employees garnered the protections provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to private sector employees. It has been 23 years since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) inherited the management of the federal sector EEO system from the long-defunct Civil Service Commission. The question after a quarter of century or so of experience is: Are we achieving the goals of the EEO system, to provide equal opportunity in federal employment, eliminate and prevent discrimination in the federal workplace, and use the most effective approaches available to achieve these results?
Executive agencies whose EEO practices are monitored by the EEOC's Office of Federal Operations (OFO) report more than 2.7 million employees as of 1999, the most current year for which EEOC has published data. Are we serving the customers of this system--those employees, the additional thousands of applicants for federal employment, and the taxpaying community that pays for the identification and eradication of discriminatory employment practices in the federal workforce?
The EEO system that covers employees of the federal executive branch is the major component of a complex and multifaceted system affecting all federal employees. It includes those in the legislative and judicial branch: the Merit Systems Protection Board has a parallel system with jurisdiction over permanent employees and specific personnel actions, and negotiated grievance procedures addressing the right to bring discrimination claims within the union grievance arena exist in many federal collective bargaining agreements. Judicial and congressional employees are covered under the Congressional Accountability Act through a system that is not monitored by EEOC. It is likely the questions that are relevant to the system that governs procedures for the executive branch also apply to these parallel EEO universes: are they achieving their goals effectively and cost-efficiently?
Four Enabling Statutes
The EEOC has jurisdiction over federal sector EEO complaints filed under four major statutes: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which did not extend the protection of anti-discrimination laws to federal employees until 1972; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, amended to prohibit age discrimination in the federal sector in 1974; and the Equal Pay Act, prohibiting gender-based wage discrimination and part of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1963. Under these four statutes, discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, color, religion, age (40 or over), mental or physical disability, and reprisal for participation in protected EEO activity are prohibited. These eight bases constitute the protected categories under the law and are inclusive of all workers and potential workers. For example, white employees file under these laws and represent about five percent of all complainants alleging race discrimination and males represent more than nin e percent of all complainants alleging gender bias.
The primary system for enforcing these prohibitions against discrimination was developed by the EEOC and is outlined in its regulations and management directive. …