Equal Opportunity:

Limitations in DOD's Evaluation Plan for EEO Complaint Pilot Program Hinder Determination of Pilot Results

GAO-08-387R: Published: Feb 22, 2008. Publicly Released: Feb 22, 2008.

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In August 2004, pursuant to Section 1111 of the fiscal year 2001 Department of Defense authorization act, the Secretary of Defense authorized components of the United States Air Force (USAF), the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), and the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) to implement an equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint pilot program to reengineer the EEO complaint process to, among other things, reduce complaint processing time and reinforce management accountability. The program was exempt from the procedural requirements of 29 C.F.R. Part 1614 and other regulations, directives, or regulatory restrictions prescribed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). As required by the legislation, in May 2006, GAO reported on the implementation of the pilot programs and found that two of the three pilot initiatives operated consistent with existing EEOC requirements, with a specific emphasis on alternative dispute resolution (ADR). USAF's pilot operated outside of EEOC regulations, as authorized under the legislation. We identified limitations in the Department of Defense's (DOD) evaluation plan for the pilot program that, if not addressed, would limit the likelihood that the evaluation would yield sound results. For example, the plan did not have well-defined or clear objectives or set criteria for determining if the pilots had met objectives. Accordingly, we made recommendations to DOD on ways to develop a sound evaluation plan that would more accurately and reliably assess the pilot programs' results and thereby support effective program and policy decisions. DOD made some changes to the evaluation plan based on our recommendations. USAF and DeCA's pilot programs ended on September 30, 2007; DLA ended its pilot on September 30, 2006. As required by the legislation, GAO evaluated the pilots at the conclusion of the program. Our objectives were to (1) describe the key aspects of the EEO process that were tested by the pilot program, (2) present data DOD reported from the pilot program, (3) evaluate improvements DOD made to its evaluation plan, (4) describe ADR processes used in the pilot programs compared to other ADR processes reported by federal agencies, and (5) provide lessons learned from the pilot program that can inform future EEO complaint process reform initiatives.

In summary, DeCA and DLA tested the informal stage of the EEO complaint process, primarily by increased use of ADR to informally settle disputes before they became formal complaints. DeCA developed a toll-free call line which they indicated was to enable employees to "vent" their grievances and DLA required management and new hires to attend training on ADR and offered it to all employees. USAF made substantive changes to the formal stage of the complaint process--combining the investigative and hearing phases--with a goal of reducing complaint processing times to an average of 127 days or less. At the end of their program, USAF officials reported that the average processing time for pilot cases was approximately 108 days. USAF's program officers informed us that they plan to seek approval to continue their program and have drafted legislation that would authorize them to do so. We have not obtained a copy of this draft legislation. Data reported by DOD showed that rates of participation in the pilot programs varied widely. As specified in the legislation, claimants had the option of participating in the pilot program or staying with the traditional process within their respective organizations. Further, DOD afforded those opting to participate in the pilot program the opportunity to opt out and go back to the traditional process at any time. USAF's participation rate was about 16 percent of those offered the pilot, but 76 percent of the pilot cases were resolved and another 9 percent, which were still pending as of September 30, 2007, will remain under the pilot. USAF officials generally attributed the relatively low number of complainants who opted to participate in the pilot to a lack of familiarity and trust in a new EEO complaint procedure. DeCA had 100 percent of those eligible accept the pilot and 51 percent (44 of 87 complaints) completing it with resolution. Over 95 percent of those eligible accepted DLA's pilot with 75 percent (12 of 15 complaints) completing it with resolution. During our briefings, we received several questions from congressional committee staff about what was meant by "completed the pilot with resolution," especially for USAF cases since these could be appealed to EEOC. USAF described as "resolved" those cases that received a decision on the merits or were settled during the USAF's process. Since DLA's and DeCA's pilot programs focused on the informal stage of the process, these agencies considered a case "resolved" when it did not proceed to a formal complaint under the traditional EEO complaint process.

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