Commission Meeting of December 12, 2007 on Extending the contract for EEOC's Interactive Voice Response System
NAOMI C. EARP Chair
LESLIE E. SILVERMAN Vice Chair
STUART J. ISHIMARU Commissioner
CHRISTINE M. GRIFFIN Commissioner
This transcript was produced from video tapes provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
VOTE TO CLOSE A PORTION OF NEXT MEETING
INTERACTIVE VOICE RESPONSE SYSTEM (IVR)
VOTE TO EXTEND CONTRACT/3 MONTHS
CHAIR EARP: The meeting will now come to order.
Good afternoon and welcome.
In accordance with the Sunshine Act, today's meeting is open to public observation of the Commission's deliberation and voting.
At this time I'm going to ask Bernadette Wilson to announce any notation votes that have taken place since the last Commission meeting, Ms. Wilson?
MS. WILSON: Good afternoon, Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioners.
I'm Bernadette Wilson from the Executive Secretariat.
We'd like to remind our audience that questions and comments from the audience are not permitted during the meeting and we ask that you carry on any conversations outside the meeting room, departing and re-entering as quietly as possible.
Also, please take this opportunity to turn your cell phones off or to vibrate mode.
I would also like to remind the audience that in addition to the elevators in case of emergency, there are stairways down the halls to the right and the left as you exit this room. Additionally, the restrooms are down the hall to the right.
During the period November 6, 2007, through December 11, 2007, the Commission acted on four items by notation vote:
Approved litigation on two cases;
Approved amending ADEA regulations pursuant to Smith v. City of Jackson; and,
Approved scheduling a Commission meeting with less than seven days notice to consider authorizing a three-month, noncompetitive contract for temporary IVR hosting services.
Madam Chair, it is appropriate at this time to have a motion to close a portion of the next Commission meeting in case there are any closed meeting agenda items.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Ms. Wilson.
Do I hear a motion?
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So moved.
CHAIR EARP: Is there a second?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Second.
CHAIR EARP: Discussion?
Hearing none, all those in favor?
(CHORUS OF AYES)
CHAIR EARP: Opposed?
The ayes have it and the motion is carried.
Thanks again, Ms. Wilson.
Thank you all for being here today.
First, I would like to welcome Reed Russell, our brand new Legal Counsel. Reed comes to us from Akin, Gump. We are pleased to have you here and look forward to working with you.
Is Peggy in the room? Because I also want to say on the record how much we appreciate the work you've done, Peggy, for the last four years. In the absence of a Legal Counsel you've stood in and been absolutely wonderful to work with, thank you for all your service during that time.
Today we are here to vote on a three-month extension of the Interactive Voice Response Technology currently used as a part of our National Contact Center. The use of the IVR is critical to a smooth transition from an out-sourced to an in-house call answering function.
Voting in favor of the IVR extension benefits the field. The IVR handles 35 percent of the 65,000 to 70,000 calls we receive each month. Extending the IVR will also provide the best customer service during the transition by allowing 24-hour access to the Commission.
I support the three-month extension and urge my fellow Commissioners to vote in favor of the contract. I'd now like to turn the meeting over to Nick Inzeo for a brief presentation.
MR. INZEO: Thank you, Chair, and good afternoon Vice Chair and Commissioners. I want to thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission this afternoon.
I'm here with Cynthia Pierre and Brett Brenner from the Office of Field Programs to seek authorization for EEOC to secure an agreement with Vangent to host the EEOC-owned IVR at the Vangent facility beginning December 20th, 2007.
As you know, for the past three years, the EEOC has contracted with Vangent to operate our National Contact Center. Currently, more than 70,000 people call the NCC toll free number each month while over 3,000 send e-mails to the NCC. Approximately 35 percent of the calls to the NCC are resolved by the IVR or Interactive Voice Response system. The IVR system is available 24 hours a day as the Chair indicated and it provides extensive information about the EEOC, our processes and the laws we enforce.
With the NCC closing at the end of the day on December 19th, 2007, phone calls will be shifted back to the field offices while we continue our work to establish an in-house customer response function that retains the technological benefits of the NCC, but it's staffed by EEOC employees. We recognize the complications the disruption in service may cause for our customers as well as the extra burden this will place on our staff in the field. To address these concerns we're working on several fronts.
First, we're working with the Office of Information Technology and the Office of Research Information and Planning, ORIP, to more efficiently provide our customers with information. This will be accomplished in several ways, including through the mail and electronically via our public website. We also are working with ORIP to provide information about alternative methods to contact us. In addition, we're working with both offices to provide access to, and links to, an online version of the uniform intake questionnaire on our public website.
We will also provide authorization to hire temporary support employees to assist offices with high call volumes during this transition. The expectation is that office directors will determine how best to use the temporary staff while at the same time insuring that calls are being answered. We are exploring the feasibility of providing some training to temporary staff on how to assist callers and the proper soft skills to use when answering the telephone.
Finally, we are asking that you approve the authorization to provide temporary IVR hosting services. As noted earlier, the IVR will resolve up to 35 percent of the calls the EEOC receives through our 1-800 number. In addition, the IVR enhances customer service by providing 24-hour information to callers. Under the proposed contract, callers to the 800 number will be routed to the IVR information in either English or Spanish. When a caller in the English section of the IVR chooses to speak to an EEOC employee, the call will be transferred by the IVR to the EEOC's existing toll free 866 number, which will then route to the caller's closest EEOC office on the basis of the area code or exchange. The calls in the Spanish section of the IVR will be routed to the Miami District Office and we've been in contact with the director of the Miami office who has told us that he would be able to handle those calls. The TTY calls will be forwarded to the Dallas District Office. Again, we've worked with the director of the Dallas Office and with the deputy in the office to insure both that they have volunteered to do this and that their equipment is working for that purpose.
Therefore, we're asking for approval of this authorization for IVR Support Services to assist us to avoid service disruptions, maintain our presence and ease the burden on our staff in the field.
Thank you and I ask for your approval.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you.
Going in usual fashion by seniority, we will begin a five-minute round of questions or comments or statements that Commissioners can make. After the first five-minute round, there will be additional rounds as necessary.
Nick Inzeo is accompanied by Cynthia Pierre and Brett Brenner. We can direct our questions, comments to either of the panelists. We’ll start with Madam Vice Chair.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: Thank you, Nick, for your comments. I have no questions. I just want to also echo Chair Earp and welcome Reed to the EEOC and thank you for joining us.
And I also want to thank you, Peggy, for all of your hard work and I've enjoyed working with you and I look forward to working with you in the future.
And with that I'll turn it over to the next Commissioner.
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Ishimaru?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair.
I too want to welcome Reed Russell. We had a lovely lunch the other day. Welcome to the EEOC family. It's an interesting place to work as we talked over lunch.
I'm pleased that we're here today. I want to thank the Chair for calling the meeting in an expeditious fashion. I appreciated that courtesy very, very much.
I am pleased that here we are a week before the phones get turned off and we finally have a proposal in place on what to do next, at least for the short term. IVR has served an important piece of our Call Center experiment. And as I said at earlier meetings, I think that's one of a number of things we needed to do.
I first have a question and I don't know, I have a number of questions and less of a statement, so, I don't know who can answer this and it may not be anyone on the panel. It's more of a procurement question without going into numbers.
At our meeting to approve the Contractor, Mr. Day, who ended up being Mr. Day, the approval was for up to "X" amount of money. And it turned out that the contract was "X' plus, you know, 40 percent. Is this contract going -- are we voting on spending or authorizing up to the dollar amount stated in the contract or is it whatever anyone wants it to be?
CHAIR EARP: May I get a clarification? What contract are you talking about, the three-month extension on the vote today?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: This three-month extension. I want to know what -- it's to vote for the sole source contract and I've been told not to mention the number, which obviously I won't. But with the contract for the consultant, I thought we were voting on a contract up to a set dollar amount. And what came back later was the dollar amount plus another percentage beyond that. So, which was substantial. It wasn't, you know, change. It was -- it was a substantial amount of money.
And during discussions that we had after that when I asked the question, I thought we were voting to a ceiling. I was told, we're just voting to authorize and I was surprised to hear that, but maybe Cynthia has more.
MS. PIERRE: I'd like to take a stab at it.
When we submitted the Statement of Work for the consultant to do the migration services, we had a government estimate that was from our own internal sources.
CHAIR EARP: I'm sorry, Ms. Pierre, would you keep the answer limited to what we're voting on today?
MS. PIERRE: Oh, okay. I figured that.
Today, in this instance, we have gotten a quote from a vendor because we're asking to do this as a noncompetitive--noncompetitive modification. And the quote is a fixed price quote. So we have some assurance that we will be able to stay pretty close to the estimate. And I'm not saying it firmly because while the fixed price is -- we have a quote for a fixed price which includes a set-up fee and time and materials to maintain and operate the IVR during the three months, there is a per call fee for the calls to the IVR and so we have -- we have an estimate of how many those calls are. We don't expect the number of calls to vary substantially from what we've been getting per month.
So, we've included the average amount for the calls.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I appreciate that but, what if (1) there was a deviation that was substantial? Would -- would -- and I think this came up during our original Call Center debate when we talked about unit cost. Do we turn it off after we hit whatever our ceiling is, or do we continue and be liable for additional costs beyond that?
MS. PIERRE: The average monthly calls to the IVR, we have a pretty good history on at this point, so we feel pretty confident that we're going to be pretty close to that average over these three months.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But that isn't responsive to my question. My question is. If we -- if there was an aberration from that, would we continue to use the IVR and be liable for amounts in excess of this or would -- would we turn it off?
MR. INZEO: Commissioner, I mean, you began your question by, you know, I think suggesting that if there were amounts in excess of the amount that didn't seem unusual, our hope would be that we could continue using the IVR because we think it has great value for us.
If it continues to have great value and the cost doesn't unreasonably exceed the estimate, we would want to do that. If something very unusual happened, we would consult with the Chair to determine, you know, what we needed to do to handle that really extraordinary circumstance.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So, there's no threshold --
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner, would you hold your question for the second round?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Surely.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Commissioner Griffin?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Well, I'll continue along those lines. The vote package actually says that we're voting up to $50,000. So, is it --
CHAIR EARP: Are we -- excuse me, Commissioner. Can we talk about dollar amount and not violate the Procurement Integrity Act?
REED RUSSELL: (Indiscernible).
CHAIR EARP: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Well, forget the figure. It says up to a certain amount in the contract -- in the vote package that we have.
So, the question is, is it that amount? I mean, does it -- I always thought that when we voted up to an amount that was it, that you'd have to come back and get authorization for more. Is that true or not true?
MR. INZEO: If the expenses were going to exceed the amount, I think we would want to work with the Chair to determine, do we need another vote? Would simply informing Commissioners be sufficient? You know, and hopefully as part of the weekly meetings that we've been having, you know, that could all get thrashed out. This is -- this is a -- I mean, it's more than a good faith estimate. It's based on a --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: On actual numbers they --
MR. INZEO: On actual numbers given to us by the contractor, you know, using historical estimates. You know, we expect to be within the amount.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay. Well, let me -- part of why I have a concern about that is in the package it says that if there is a delay that the cost may actually go higher. And I think we are, you know, there's indication that unless Sprint can do some technology-related work in a very timely way, there is going to be a delay to some degree. So, I was just wondering how that impacts the higher cost?
MS. PIERRE: My recollection of the Statement of Work, the intent there was to say if there were any delays that the cost -- the cost or the payment to the contractor wouldn't necessarily be reduced or the contractor not paid if there were delays that were caused by us or the telecom provider that we're using.
Now, this section that you're quoting about delays may increase costs, I'm not sure we were anticipating that. So, could you refer to the section?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Well, I'm going to tell you what it actually says.
It says, delays in Sprint will result in higher monthly costs for labor, HW and SW support.
MR. INZEO: Hardware and software, I would assume, HW, SW.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: But I just didn't know that meant. And I actually didn’t know how it impacted what we're voting on.
MS. PIERRE: Okay, I guess all I can say now is we don't anticipate any delays by Sprint at this point.
MR. INZEO: If there are delays, we'd know that at the front end. And then we could work with the contractor to see what -- what, if any --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay.
MR. INZEO: -- increases would result.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: So, this will be in place by the 20th, is that our anticipation?
MS. PIERRE: Well, you know, we've -- we're sort of at a late date. What the vendor has been able to assure us is that they will work towards making the cut over on the 20th even though they will just be issued a contract today, if it's voted correctly.
But because they would not be able to start testing until early next week, if anything, if any glitches occur that have to be corrected, there may be a few days past the 20th. But, they are – they’re showing us or their contracting for it to be done no later than the 27th.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Out of time?
CHAIR EARP: 24 seconds.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: 24 seconds. What can I ask that will be quick?
And how many temporary employees are we anticipating hiring to do this?
MR. INZEO: At this point I believe the number is 37 or 38...
MS. PIERRE: . . . Correct
MR. INZEO: …temporary employees based on historic -- on the recent historic call numbers, we're putting them where the most calls would go.
CHAIR EARP: Madam Vice Chair?
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: Thank you.
If we don't do this contract, how many employees would we need to hire?
MS. PIERRE: Sixty one.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: Sixty one, and the difference in cost? Can we talk about that between the cost of the temps and the cost of the contract or is that violating the Procurement Act?
REED RUSSELL: Inaudible.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: What would the difference be? -- I mean, we have -- as I see it, well, three options here. One, we could have my fellow Commissioners and their staff answer the phone as you guys had suggested last time. Two, we can have the Commission hire temps.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: I’ve done it before.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: …Hire temps and work the temp, you know, just temps or, three, we've got this IVR that takes care of about 30 percent of the phone calls and routes it and handles where the Spanish speakers -- to insure that we have Spanish speakers at the other end of the phone in combination with some of the temps, so I would like to know the difference between -- because I'm pretty sure your staff has plans for Christmas. I wanted to know what the difference was -- the difference between what is before the Commission and the other.
MS. PIERRE: Okay. If we hire the additional 21 (??) employees to make the difference between the 37 and the 61, the cost for those additional 21 would be a little more than three times the cost of the contract that we are requesting.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So the contract, which is a stop-gap measure because the -- because the Contact Center is stopping on December 20th, would just -- it would save money but still answer some of the calls, it's not a perfect solution, but
MR. INZEO: Right.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: -- it's part of the solution.
MR. INZEO: Right. And it's also available 24 hours a day so, people calling after hours would get some information.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: Okay. Thank you.
I have no more questions for this round.
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Let me go back to the delay question.
The -- the paper we received last night that talked about the possibility of a delay said that there could be a delay in setting up the IVR until December 27th. And I was told -- I was told a few days before that that the delay could go as late as January 7th. Is that no longer the case? Is it guaranteed that it will happen by December 27th?
MS. PIERRE: I mean as much as you can get a guarantee -- as we can get a guarantee in the contract. But, yes, it was initially said January 7th and we sort of pushed with the vendor and talking about, can you tighten up these time frames because of the urgency of the matter.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right.
MS. PIERRE: And so we're kind of back and forth until we got into -- agreed to put every effort and to try to do it by the 27th.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So, you're not anticipating it to be the 7th? You're anticipating this to be in place on the 27th?
MS. PIERRE: Correct.
MR. INZEO: No later than the 27th, hopefully, by the 20th.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right. And if it's not in place by the 27th, are there sanctions or is there a penalty that the contractor pays?
MS. PIERRE: Well, first we would have to assess to see who caused the delay. Was it caused by us or a telecom provider? Was it caused by the contractor? But, no, there is no sanction in place to answer your question, if it's not.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So, we would have to pay the contractor even though the contract wasn't fulfilled?
MR. INZEO: Well, not necessarily, I think would be the right answer. If the contractor defaulted we would not pay, we would default the contractor. But you're talking about a delay, the question would be, how much of a delay was there and for what reason. And that would all have to be assessed. We would have to work with the Acquisition Services Division to make that assessment in conjunction with the Office of Legal Counsel.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: You know, I was glad to hear when the Chief Operating Officer talked to me last week that there was a plan for the short term. But I view this in a much larger context and how do we transition our operations to the long term and to where EEOC employees are answering the phones and have the technology available to provide information to callers in a timely and effective manner?
And one thing that -- and hiring temporaries in this case would strike me as being a reasonable response that you need bodies in place to answer the phones. And it's my understanding, and correct me if I'm wrong, that district directors will have the ability to use their personnel accordingly, that the contract employee -- the temporary employee who I've been told is coming from a temporary agency, can be used for other functions within the office, and that permanent EEOC employees can be used for these functions -- that's all within management's discretion?
MR. INZEO: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Which I also think is a reasonable management piece to do. It's my understanding from looking at the presentation in front of us that there will be a period of time where there is no information coming into the people answering the phones. One of the benefits of the Call Center experiment was that the CSRs, the Consumer Support or Consumer Service Representative had this database in front of them where the scripts were and could answer the questions and could use that as a tool.
It's my understanding here under this scenario for the next three months that there is no support like that, is that correct?
MS. PIERRE: Actually, we are providing -- we will be providing them with at least the introductory and closing scripts that are used by the customer service reps currently at the NCC.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: What would -- is that hello, good bye? Or is it --
MS. PIERRE: No.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: It’s a little bit more than that?
MS. PIERRE: It's a path for jurisdictional screen.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Yes, yes, so, there’ll be some of that but the beauty of having the scripts in place, it was my understanding, was that it gave the CSRs at the Call Center the ability to answer a fair amount of questions. And it's my understanding that for the long run we also want to do that for our IIRs who will be hired. Is that --
MR. INZEO: That's right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Is that also correct?
MR. INZEO: That's correct. And, Commissioner, let me just -- let me just add onto Cynthia's answer.
You know, we anticipate -- the anticipation at this point is that we will have these temporary people for 38 days. During that 38-day period, we may --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thirty-eight working days. So, that's like two months basically?
MR. INZEO: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Roughly?
MR. INZEO: Yes, roughly.
We may be able to give them more scripts during that time period and not just the initial and the ending one, but we'll have to see how it's going and we'll be working with the offices on that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right, but if I could just ask one more question on my red light? I won't prolong this.
CHAIR EARP: Okay.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: They will literally be getting paper scripts though? There's no -- there's no computer link in place, that people will be given pieces of paper to read and understand and to use or something equivalent, but they won't have the same interaction or a database that the CSRs had at the Call Center?
MS. PIERRE: That's correct, I mean, certainly the script could be put on a screen but we won't have the knowledge base that the Call Center has.
MR. INZEO: Right.
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Griffin.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: You talked a little bit about the training that these folks are going to get, is there something, you know, that we're going to do formally or is this informally at the office? Does it depend on who the district director, whether that person even answers the calls?
MR. INZEO: It will depend on all of that. The direct -- I mean, right now there's no authorization out there to procure the temporary help. We’re hoping to do that later today or tomorrow. It will take, you know, it will take some time to get the people in and then the directors are going to have to figure out who’s going to be answering the calls. Will it be these temporary people? Will it be others? And that will then inform as to -- as to how much training can be done in that period of time.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: So, is there a chance that we're going to have some very experienced people actually answering some of these calls?
MR. INZEO: Yes.
MS. PIERRE: It will be a mix.
MR. INZEO: Yes. It will be -- yes.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay.
Can we talk about the next steps as we go forward here on this -- we're in the process of hiring people and to become these intake specialists at the 15 different offices.
Can we --
CHAIR EARP: I think there's some limited discussion. We've got a very narrow vote in front of us. I'd like to keep it limited to that if we can, but if you have a specific question that doesn't veer off too far, I'm sure we will consider allowing it.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Well, I just wanted to see if, there was a recommendation about where we're gong next because I think we have to actually, I think start making decisions now for that.
These folks, I'm assuming they're going to be on board by the time these temp employees are going out the door and they're going to be trained at a higher level and --
MR. INZEO: Right. Let me begin the answer, Commissioner, and then I’ll turn to Cynthia and Brett.
We've been told that the next formula date for the Commission to meet would be January 16th. And I think we're thinking that we'll be here on January 16th to present another vote package for the Commission that will deal with the period beginning after March 20th.
This will bridge us until March 20th. The next vote package would then pick up and hopefully provide a little bit more of the technology that we're used to or that we've been using for the last three years as part of our call-answering function as we move toward making this more of a permanent feature.
So, it will be in some ways another interim step as I see it coming next.
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Griffin, let me try to respond to that by saying this. The process for migrating from out source to in-house as you know has been time consuming and complex. Initially, I approached the Commissioners about getting a year to get this done and that was not approved. So, what I can say to you is we're trying to look at this entire process and manage it as phases. Sometime in the next few days, not mid-January, but in the next few days, my staff or I will share with you what my ideas are for the next phase moving beyond hopefully the approval that we get today.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay. Great. Thank you very much.
The only other thing that I wanted to -- I don't know, it's not really a question, I guess, more of a statement is that I know that we're working with an organization called EARN with regard to looking at hiring some people with targeted or severe disabilities to fill some of these slots through Schedule A hiring process. And I know that they've given us a number of folks that would be Schedule A eligible and I’m just on the record want to say that I hope that we pursue that proactively, and that we're not in a position of comparing people with disabilities against people without, because human nature being what it is, that doesn't usually end up in a positive result.
So, I'm hoping that we actually make a commitment to do a lot of hiring through the Schedule A process and sort of lead the way in the area of hiring people with disabilities.
MR. INZEO: That's our intention.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Great. Thank you.
CHAIR EARP: Round three?
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: I guess my statement is just -- I think what we're trying to do here is provide the best customer service we can under the circumstances, and to come up with a plan to continue to answer our phones as competently as we can during this interim period to come up with a plan that we can transition as seamlessly as possible.
I think we know from the beginning that it's not a seamless process. It's a question of who hosts what and all of that. And I appreciate having meetings like this. At the same time, I hope that we're not going to talk about anything in the meetings that's going to undercut our positions and negotiations later on because, I want to get great customer service, but I also want to get it at the best price that the Commission can because any dollars we spend on this project are dollars that we can't spend on our other functions, enforcement, litigation, mediation, federal sector, what have you. So, I'm hoping that, you know, since I know all of us here are most interested in having customer service at the best price that, we can put aside everything else and work towards that.
That's all I have to say, but I think that this is a good short-term solution and thank you for your hard work.
CHAIR EARP: I would echo the Vice Chair's comments about getting the best value for our dollar, and also caution against what could be interpreted as going on the record to establish a quota for any particular group, we are going to do our best and have outreach to people with disabilities and we'll make as firm a commitment as we can to make sure that the pool of people hired are diverse, but not locking in any particular group.
The Vice Chair has four minutes of time that can be yielded?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Plus my five minutes after that or do I just get my five minutes?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: I'll split it with you.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, I just want to be clear here. Let me say that I agree with the Vice Chair that we should try to get best value, but part of getting best value and one of the things that I argued at our last meeting on this, by not having a meeting in August and by voting on whether we should have a contractor by a notation vote and also voting on the question of whether we should continue the Call Center back in July, almost six months ago by a notation vote, we somehow established an atmosphere that this was not urgent.
And, well, no, no, let me -- excuse me, I control the time, and I'm happy to yield to you in a sec, but the problem is -- is that one of my complaints at the last meeting was that time has slipped by and here we are a week away from the phones being turned off to the Call Center and we finally have a first possible suggestion on where we go to the future, which in my mind didn't make sense, and in my mind raises questions whether we are paying some sort of premium at this point to have temporary employees, to not have some sort of solution in place. We don't know what it's going to be for the long term. The Chair says she's going to provide us something within the next three or four days. I think that's great but it gives me -- I'm voting on this in a vacuum and frankly I expected last August to get answers fairly quickly and they never came.
Now, I'd like to turn to the question of Schedule A. I thought that the one thing that this agency was committed to doing was hiring people under Schedule A authority. And it's my understanding from the way Schedule A works is that we could hire all the people who are qualified under Schedule A first. That we don't have to find a diversity of people, that we can find qualified people who are qualified under Schedule A and we can hire them. And I think that's a good idea because I'm in favor of hiring people with disabilities in jobs in which they're qualified.
And what I hope I'm not hearing here is a trying to back away from that. And I know that there are some people who believe we should use Schedule A authority just as another authority and to have a possible way to hire people with disabilities, but that as we've heard in earlier hearings is a way that leads us to not hiring people with disabilities and the government generally. The people just don't get hired.
This is an excellent opportunity for the agency to put its money where its mouth is and hire people with disabilities.
I'll yield back this round in order to try to keep the continuity, or I'm happy to yield to the Vice Chair if she has something to say.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: Commissioner Ishimaru, with all due respect, I appreciate Commission meetings as well, and they are wonderful, but for one thing we can't talk about costs. We can't always name contractors, and they do present problems. That's not to say they don't have their time and place. Now, I know what happened in August is what we did is through other means, we talked, you know, two together, what have you and we came to consensus at that point that we -- none of the four of us nor our staff had the capabilities to know exactly how to transition from a Contact Center, because one of the things that internal reports told us is we're not Contact Center experts, so, I thought we all had input at that point on well, what should we do next? And in that process there were capitulations on everybody's part. One of them was that we agreed from the forefront that we were going to make it not a one place Contact Center in-house, but a 15 district Contact Center. So, we agreed to that. And then came the question, well, what's the best way to do that? And we decided to hire a consultant, now, we've already had a meeting about that and I don't think we have to revisit that and you can second guess it and that's fine, but I really thought at that point in August that we had come to a solution and maybe it wasn't the panacea, but whether there had been a meeting or not, that is what we all agreed to –
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But..but.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN:...and let me finish, and there's nothing in the last five months that suggests that there hasn't been urgency on this.
But if you want to sit here and grandstand and make it sound like we were just trying to drag our feet because we don't want customer service, I really take issue with that. So, that's all I'm saying to you is, this was the plan that we went to; we all had input to it; we all agreed to it and we all waited for the report and now we're trying to deal with it; so, that's, you know, that's really what I have to add here.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: If I could reclaim my time?
CHAIR EARP: Excuse me. In the interest of making sure that our transcript is understandable, we cannot talk over each other and we need to be respectful of the time limitation.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right, and you just granted the Vice Chair two minutes off of my time and what I was trying to do was to reclaim my time. I'm happy to wait until the next round.
CHAIR EARP: You have two minutes, Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Let -- let me just say to my friend the Vice Chair, I realize that the time in August that we were working to try to reach some sort of consensus. Like I said at our last meeting where we did not talk about the contractor's report because it was still in draft form at that time; that there was a total misunderstanding as to what would happen when the Call Center was shut down. And it's my recollection from our last meeting that you and my friend, the Chair, were continuing to say the Call Center is good and should continue when that issue was closed in the summer in July when we voted not to continue with the Call Center.
And there was a misunderstanding that I think came from not having a meeting in August that there was somehow a way to continue the Call Center past December 19th and I think that misunderstanding would not have happened if we would have had a meeting in August, where we would have made very clear on the record that the transition was supposed to happen and the consultant was not supposed to come back and say, “We can't do this by December.” The consultant would’ve come back and said, “Here's how we do it by December.
So, now we're in a position of having to hire temporary employees and putting an IVR in place for three months which, given the circumstances, is a good idea, I believe, but it's certainly no panacea, and there's some question as to whether we're paying a premium by not acting earlier.
I yield back, Madam Chair.
CHAIR EARP: We've had three rounds of questions, comments, statements.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: I don't think I got that third round.
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Griffin.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: I really don't want to rehash the past. I’m actually delighted that we have, you know, a solution in short term or otherwise and I am looking forward to hearing what the next step is because, frankly, I'm kind of anxious about it myself. I do want to go back to the Schedule A issue. My comments were not an attempt to establish a quota of any kind, but I would like to remind everyone that it is perfectly legal to establish a quota when it comes to the employment of people with severe disabilities in the federal government. You can establish one, you can implement it, and you can hire them. And so I personally don't think it would be a bad thing for this agency and many others to correct some, you know, gross under-employment of people with severe disabilities in the federal government to establish a quota in their MD-715 report and actually do it.
So, I just want to go on the record in saying that if anyone thinks that that's not a good thing, a legal thing to do, they are misinformed. It truly is. Affirmative action is alive and well for people with disabilities and yet no one seems to hire them.
CHAIR EARP: Are there additional questions, comments, statements?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I have a number of questions, Madam Chair for the Panel.
CHAIR EARP: Five minutes, final round.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, Madam Chair, it seems to me arbitrary and capricious that we now put on a time limit. I would ask that a reasonable amount of time be given to ask the panel of experts a few questions, and a five-minute round is hardly enough given the time to ask a question and to get an answer back to have a reasonable discussion. Now, if, you know, it was my understanding when you became the Chair you wanted to have a more open way of operating.
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Ishimaru, do you have a question --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I do have a --
CHAIR EARP: -- for the five minutes?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Madam Chair, I'm just trying to get the ground rules in place so I can ask -
CHAIR EARP: It's a five minute round.
Can you start with that as the ground rule?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But is it -- is it the last round, Madam Chair?
CHAIR EARP: Perhaps.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: What will --
CHAIR EARP: Maybe all of your questions will be answered.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, if they aren't, will I have more time?
CHAIR EARP: Could you use your time please?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, will you give me an answer?
CHAIR EARP: Would you just use your time.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: All right.
Let me ask this about the upcoming -- assuming that the contract is put in place. People will be hired on a temporary basis to answer the phones or to do something within the offices. Do you anticipate that the next round, whatever it may be, whenever it might be revealed to us, do you anticipate that that will be in place by the end of this contract that we have in front of us by the 20th of March?
MR. INZEO: Commissioner, I think we will have to come back with, as the Chair said earlier, we're working in phases. This phase -- the phase that you're voting on now ends March 20th, so we're going to have to figure out what we're going to do after that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right. Right, but just as a practical matter, we have to go through some sort of procurement process to do whatever the next step is that we do not know yet?
MR. INZEO: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: That procurement process I was told yesterday could be anywhere between four and six months to go through, is that correct, the request for proposal process?
MR. INZEO: If there is a request for proposal through full and open competition or through -- working through a GSA schedule it would involve that much time, yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Are there other options?
MR. INZEO: There may be other options and --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And would those be say the sole source option that's the option that's in front of us now. But are there others beyond that?
MR. INZEO: There's possible interagency agreements. There may be -- there may be other options for sole source procurements also.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But the time frame that I laid out that it would go -- that would be --that the typical RFP process would go between four and six months, is that a reasonable belief?
MR. INZEO: That's what we've been told by the procurement people, yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So -- so, we're looking at some time to get a contract in place for a next step, assuming that it's done now as was in the Day recommendation. We're looking at between what, the end of April and the middle of June until we have a contract in place and then it will take time to implement whatever that plan is?
CHAIR EARP: I think the questions are beyond the scope of what we have before us on the agenda to vote on today.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But, Madam Chair, the question started off being... This is for a contract that will continue IVR through March.
CHAIR EARP: Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And the question is...In March, will there be a system in place to provide our new employees that we plan to hire the technology that they need to do the job that they have to do?
CHAIR EARP: And I've indicated that over the next few days, my staff or I would be in touch with you to share ideas about the next phase.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right, but, Madam Chair, the problem is, if it takes, in fact, four to six months to contract this or to get contracts in for us to consider, it takes an additional period for the contract to be implemented. And I'm trying to figure out if we have people here who will have limited information in front of them, how are we going to do this for the short term? And how are we going to do it for some indeterminate period?
And so I think it is tied in, Madam Chair.
CHAIR EARP: The staff is prepared to discuss strategies, steps regarding this short-term project that we have before us to vote on today.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, Madam Chair, there is material in the background material that was provided by your office that talks about this to a certain degree. I would think that if it's in the background memo, it would be fair game for the course of a meeting.
CHAIR EARP: If it's in the background material I don't understand what the questions are.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, it started to talk about it, it did not fully address it, that's why.
CHAIR EARP: Because we're not there yet.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, but what I'm trying to do is to get enough information so I can vote with as much -- as much reason as possible so we can make a reasonable decision here.
And I can appreciate the fact that you would not want us to go into a discussion because you have not come to a decision point on what the future is going to be. I appreciate that and I'm looking forward to receiving your plan sometime in the next three or four days. I think that's great. But I would have thought now here we are a week before the phones being turned off and I would think you, as the leader of this agency would have had a plan in place months ago, or at least ideas that we could kick around.
CHAIR EARP: The Commissioner's five minutes are up, Commissioner Griffin, do you have other questions, comments, statements?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Well, I think we are anxious to know what the future holds because this is, as I think everyone understands, a short term, you know, way of fixing the problem. I'm sensitive to the fact that it, you know, that it isn't before us and that you have said in the next couple of days that you're going to talk to us. I would say that we should probably hold our discussion on that until then because I don't see really any answers forthcoming about it until then.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, we could also postpone the vote in order to have a reasonable...--
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: I think we should do that. Let's postpone the vote so that we have nothing to answer the phone on December 20th. In fact, we’ll all just stay here and answer the phone. That's a good idea.
CHAIR EARP: Madam, Vice Chair, do you have additional questions for the panel?
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: I think what's before the Commission right now is an interim solution. It's not a perfect solution, but it is a solution for the time being. It resolves 30 percent of the calls. It's 24-hour access to the Commission. It has some capabilities for Spanish language speakers that we won't have otherwise. It also is a cost savings, and I'm prepared to vote yes on that interim solution. That's all I have to say.
CHAIR EARP: I'd like to call for an up or down vote on the three-month extension, the contract that's before us today.
Is there a motion to approve the Noncompetitive Modification Extending the Contract to Provide Temporary IVR Hosting Services?
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So, moved.
CHAIR EARP: Is there a second?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Second.
CHAIR EARP: Any additional discussion?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Madam, Chair, could I take one additional minute?
CHAIR EARP: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you very much.
I was listening on the radio today to folks talking about the global warming conference in Bali, and one of the participants in that conference talked about a quote from President Lincoln.
President Lincoln said you cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today. And I believe that we need to act, we need to act soon and the delay that we've seen over this past half year has brought us to this position that we need to get out of. So, I hope and look forward to receiving your recommendations in the next few days.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you.
Is there any additional discussion?
Hearing, none, all those in favor say aye.
(CHORUS OF AYES)
CHAIR EARP: Opposed?
The item is approved unanimously.
I want to thank everyone for joining us. We appreciate you being here. There being no further business, do I hear a motion to adjourn the meeting?
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So moved.
CHAIR EARP: Is there a second?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Second.
CHAIR EARP: All in favor?
(CHORUS OF AYES)
CHAIR EARP: Opposed?
The ayes have it. The meeting is adjourned.
(Whereupon, the above matter was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)
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