Equal Employment Opportunity:

DOD's EEO Pilot Program Under Way, but Improvements Needed to DOD's Evaluation Plan

GAO-06-538: Published: May 5, 2006. Publicly Released: May 5, 2006.

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Delays in processing of equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaints have been a long-standing concern. In 2000, as part of the Department of Defense's (DOD) fiscal year 2001 authorization act, Congress authorized DOD to carry out a 3-year pilot program for improving processes to resolve complaints by civilian DOD employees by testing procedures that would reduce EEO complaint processing times and eliminate redundancy, among other things. The act requires two reports from GAO--90 days after the first and last fiscal years of the pilot program's operation. In December 2005 and January 2006, we provided briefings on our initial review of the pilot program. This report (1) describes key features and status of the three programs and (2) assesses DOD's plan for evaluating the effectiveness of the pilot program.

In August 2004, the Secretary of Defense authorized 2-year programs in (1) Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), (2) the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), and (3) components of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) which became operational in fiscal year 2005. While the legislation stated that the pilot program is exempt from procedural requirements of current Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations, to a large extent two of the three programs were designed and are operating within existing EEOC requirements, with a specific emphasis on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as encouraged in DOD's memo soliciting pilot program proposals. ADR techniques include, but are not limited to, conciliation, facilitation, mediation, or arbitration and usually involve the intervention or facilitation by a neutral third party. After the first year, program officials reported low case activity and stated that they plan to request approval from the Secretary to continue their respective programs for a third year. To carry out the programs, officials used similar strategies--outreach to inform eligible staff about the pilot programs, staff training, and the use of electronic data collection--but implemented them differently. Our assessment of DOD's evaluation plan for the pilot program found both strengths and limitations. A sound evaluation plan contains such features as criteria for determining program performance and measures that are directly linked to program objectives. Such key features increase the likelihood that the evaluation will yield sound results, thereby supporting effective program and policy decisions. Lacking these key features, DOD is limited in its ability to conduct an accurate and reliable assessment of the program's results, and Congress is limited in its ability to determine whether features of the overall program have governmentwide applicability. Officials from DOD's pilot program oversight entities have acknowledged shortcomings and have indicated a willingness to modify the plan.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although the Secretary of Defense did not direct the identified parties to establish a formal exchange of information specific to the DoD EEO Pilot Programs which concluded in 2008, DOD took action to establish regular intra-agency exchanges of information, thereby meeting the intent of our recommendation. During the conduct of the pilots and continuing to the present time, DOD offices engage in ongoing discussions and collaboration on outreach strategies, training, and electronic data collection. The Civilian Personnel Management Service (CPMS) instituted an annual conference (in addition to their regular customer communications) to ensure the dissemination of best practices and contemporary guidance throughout the DoD. The Civilian Personnel Policy (CPP) staff attends the bi-monthly Defense Human Resource Board which is another forum for the consideration and discussion of programs and policies that affect civilian personnel across the department. In addition, DoD EEO Directors attend bi-monthly DoD EEO Directors Meetings which provide regular intra-agency exchanges of information on myriad issues, including complaint processing, related to equal employment opportunity.

    Recommendation: To improve the performance and results of the pilot program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy, the Deputy Undersecretary for Equal Opportunity, and the Civilian Personnel Management Service to establish regular intra-agency exchanges of information on outreach strategies, training, and electronic data collection from which the pilot programs could achieve potential benefits that would not be available if working separately.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD issued a final report on their EEO Complaints Pilot Program in June 2008. The report provided an overview of the results from the three pilot sites. In a response to an inquiry on DOD's final report from a congressional staffer in August 2008, GAO reiterated findings from our February 2008 report indicating that based on recommendations we made in our May 2006 report, DOD made changes to its evaluation plan, including establishing benchmarks to assess pilot "success" and clarifying objectives and how they were to be measured. DOD officials, with assistance from USAF pilot officials, made the most substantive improvements to the evaluation plan for the USAF pilot and, as a result, an evaluation of that pilot initiative will likely produce sound results. However, because of continuing weaknesses in DOD's evaluation plan, an evaluation of the other two pilot initiatives will not likely produce results sufficiently sound to be applied governmentwide. On March 1, 2010, an Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity (ODMEO) official informed GAO that the DoD did develop a sound evaluation plan to assess the pilot programs' results, using guidance provided by the GAO. We appreciate the assistance and collaboration. A direct outcome of this collaboration is the recent legislative proposal submitted by the Department of the Air Force, on behalf of the Department of Defense, for authority to use alternative methods to process EEO complaints. The legislative proposal was recently approved by the Office of Management and Budget and we are hopeful that the proposal will be successful. The previous pilots were beneficial in that they produced valuable information on the efficacy and appropriateness of various alternative processing approaches.

    Recommendation: To improve the performance and results of the pilot program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy, the Deputy Undersecretary for Equal Opportunity, and the Civilian Personnel Management Service to develop a sound evaluation plan to accurately and reliably assess the pilot programs' results, including such key features as well-defined, clear, and measurable objectives; measures that are directly linked to the program objectives; criteria for determining pilot program performance; a way to isolate the effects of the pilot programs; a data analysis plan for the evaluation design; and a detailed plan to ensure that data collection, entry, and storage are reliable and error-free.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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