Commission Meeting of July 13, 2006
The Commission was convened at 10:03 a.m in the Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., Conference Room at EEOC Headquarters, 1801 L. Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., Cari M. Dominguez, Chair, presiding.
CARI M. DOMINGUEZ, Chair
NAOMI C. EARP, Vice Chair
LESLIE E. SILVERMAN, Commissioner
STUART J. ISHIMARU, Commissioner
CHRISTINE M. GRIFFIN, Commissioner
MS. ALETHA BROWN
MR. R. EDISON ELKINS
MR. NICHOLAS INZEO
DR. CYNTHIA PIERRE
MS. BERNADETTE B. WILSON
Welcome - Chair Dominguez
Notation Votes - Ms. Wilson
History and Development of the Pilot - Dr. Pierre
Operations and Results of the Pilot - Mr. Elkins
JPS Evaluation - Ms. Brown
Final Report Recommendations - Mr. Inzeo
Questions and Answers
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: The meeting will now come to order. Good morning and welcome -- thank you for being here. It’s good to have you here, and a special welcome to all of our guests and visitors.
In accordance with the Sunshine Act, today’s meeting is open to public observation of the Commission’s deliberations and voting. And so at this time, I am going to ask Bernadette Wilson to announce any notation votes that have taken place since the last Commission meeting. Ms. Wilson.
MS. WILSON: Good morning 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.
During the period June 27, 2006, through July 11, 2006, the Commission acted on five items by notation vote: approved litigation on four cases and approved a resolution honoring Sallie T. Hsieh on her retirement.
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 DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Ms. Wilson. Do I hear a motion?
VICE CHAIR EARP: So moved.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is there a second?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Second.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Any discussion?
Hearing none. All those in favor, please say aye.
(Chorus of ayes.)
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Opposed?
All right. The ayes have it and the motion is carried.
Well good morning once again, and welcome especially to those who are watching us via closed circuit, I understand there’s a lot of television watchers this morning.
The purpose of our meeting today is to discuss and vote on the obligation of funds to extend operations of the National Contact Center for another year under the option clause, under the option years clause of the contract.
Now this seems like a very simple proposition, yet there’s nothing simple about it. My colleagues and I have spent an extraordinary time reading reports and reviewing data, meeting and discussing and relentlessly pursuing options and ideas that would help us arrive at a course of action that would best serve the interest of our nation’s workers.
Now these decisions are complex and not without risk no matter how one votes. So I want to thank my fellow Commissioners for the selfless and conscientious efforts that have guided them through this process as we now come together to deliberate and vote.
Contact centers are not a 21 st century invention. Self-service centers definitely are, but contact centers are a 20 th century product. I know of very few if any federal agencies whose mission is to serve the public that don’t have such a type of customer service center.
And so as I see it, there’s more at stake here than just an extension of the contract. As I see it, we have an opportunity to decide how to continue to best serve the public that we’re here to serve. Our Agency has a unique role in our society. Our form of government is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. And that is uniquely suited to protect the people’s civil rights in employment. And to succeed at this, we must be as close to the people, as accessible to the people and as responsive to the people, as we possibly can.
Three and a half years ago, a bi-partisan panel of experts at the National Academy for Public Administration issued a report which identified the need for the EEOC to improve its services and its access to the public. The emergence of these issues and the recommendations as to how best to address them, led to the establishment of the National Contact Center on a pilot basis. Like any program that has a pilot phase, NCC has been an evolving process, and certainly has had its share of start-up challenges, some of which pertain through restrictions that were imposed on the Contact Center when it was first approved on a pilot basis. In fact, some of the limitations, which will be critically discussed here this morning, were limitations or strings that were attached to the pilot by members of the Commission at the time.
But we’re now at a different stage of the process. We’ve seen positive results in some areas, and need to improve in others. For example, we’re now seeing demonstrable improvement and significant gains in customer service and quality control. This is reflected in the high marks that the NCC received in a recent Customer Satisfaction Survey.
With further adjustments, I believe that we can build on these successes. Between March of 2005 and March of 2006, the Contact Center received over 400,000 inquiries. The Contact Center’s handling of those inquiries freed up Commission employees to focus on what they do best - investigate, mediate, litigate and train.
But there’s no argument that the Center can and should and must do better and do more. There have been areas that have fallen short of expectations. We will hear about them this morning, and we’re fully aware of them.
It has been our intention and in fact our practice to constantly evaluate the performance of the NCC to insure that it is accomplishing its stated objectives and to make necessary changes when needed. In all we do, there’s always room for improvement. Unfortunately some of these changes have not occurred as quickly as we would have liked them to have occurred for lots of reasons.
On the other hand, I firmly believe that the quality of our service would be once again rendered unacceptable and seriously compromised if we were to return to the days when calls went unanswered; we had no record of the calls made to the Commission; no idea as to what prompted the calls or where they came from; no consistency in our responses; and no means to insure follow through and accountability on the calls received.
The Contact Center for the first time introduced a new ingredient into the mix; an ingredient that had been missing for all these years, accountability - accountability and the timeliness and the quality of interactions with the public, accountability of our performance as agents of the people.
I have reviewed both the evaluation contracted for by the IG, and the recent Customer Satisfaction Survey. Both of these reports will be posted on the EEOC’s website following this meeting.
I’ve also heard the concerns being raised in some quarters about the NCC. I think it’s important that we listen to and consider all of the available information, concerns, and options. Today we’ll be hearing from a panel of senior EEOC officials, who will address its history, operation, and evaluation of the NCC to date. The panel will discuss a number of recommendations to improve the operations of the NCC. During this meeting I will endorse some of the recommendations and direct that they be implemented.
Just a couple of days ago, I met with Chairman Wolf and ranking member Mollohan of the House Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, and Commerce which is one of our Appropriations Committees. And just yesterday afternoon we received a letter from them. They have requested that the NCC be extended for a year and that during that period, an evaluation of the NCC be conducted by the National Academy for Public Administration, NAPA.
I am very appreciative of this bi-partisan expression of support for the continuance of the NCC, and at the conclusion of today’s meeting, I will call for a vote that the NCC contract be funded at this time for one additional option year as an extension of the pilot phase and in support of the Appropriators’ request. This will provide time for the NAPA evaluation and for further refinements to the NCC as necessary, and will certainly allow the NCC to continue the work that is so important to those we serve.
At this time I will ask our panel members to please come forward. We have with us this morning, Dr. Cynthia Pierre, Director of Field Management Services; Ed Elkins, who has been primarily responsible for the EEOC management of the Contact Center; our Inspector General, Aletha Brown; and the Director of the Office of Field Programs, Nick Inzeo.
Following their statements, we will, following their presentations we will then get to the statements and questions from my fellow Commissioners.
MS. PIERRE: Thank you, good morning Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioners Silverman, Ishimaru and Griffin. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission this morning.
My task on this panel is to review the history of the development of the EEOC National Contact Center Pilot and the expected purpose of the pilot as well as the intended results.
In February 2003, a distinguished non-partisan National Academy of Public Administration Panel made a series of recommendations for improving EEOC’s operational efficiencies and program effectiveness. The panel’s highest priority recommendation in the area of aligning mission and function was that the EEOC establish a toll-free National Call Center.
The report also noted, and I quote, “Certainly it will take longer to train an EEOC Call Center staff member to answer questions and take charges for the many laws EEOC enforces, than it would take to train a Customer Service agent for a mail-order firm to process orders. However, it could take almost as long to train a State Call Center employee to provide information on the State Income Tax System as it would take to train an EEOC call recipient. Thus, there are public sector organizations to which EEOC can look as examples of communicating complex information over the phone.”
Consistent with that recommendation, the Chair formed an internal work group of Field and Headquarters’ staff to explore the feasibility of establishing such a Center. And among the actions that work group took was to visit and research information from various Call Centers in the federal government, in-house as well as outsourced Contact/Call Centers. The work group issued its report in September 2003, and recommended -- they made six recommendations.
The first was that EEOC establish a National Contact Center to serve as a central point of access to handle all unsolicited public inquiries that currently are received by the 51 Field Offices.
The second recommendation was that the National Contact Center should be competitively outsourced to allow maximum opportunity to get the best value pricing for the Call Center start-up and operations.
The third recommendation was that EEOC should start operations with a pilot phase for at least two years to allow for the collection of refined baseline data on performance, metrics and costs during the first twelve months, and on vendor performance during the second twelve months. The pilot phase would allow pilot costs to be lower by being spread over two years. Also it would allow time for sufficient information to be gathered before committing to a multi-year contract, at a cost that would be higher than necessary. The pilot should be national in scope. It was recommended that the pilot should be national in scope in order to gather accurate and reliable base line data on service demands and to evaluate the vendor performance.
The fourth recommendation was that the services handled by the Contact Center during the pilot phase should cover the spectrum of basic inquiries, frequently asked questions, information on laws and procedures, the EEO report series, office hours, locations, staff directories, and case status information, as long as we had caller authentication procedures. The EEOC National Contact Center was recommended should respond to inquiries from potential charging parties and assist in the completion of online charge questionnaires if appropriate.
Other services that were to be phased, it was recommended to be phased into the Contact Center, included handling email, facsimiles, postal mail and fulfillment of requests for publications and printed materials.
The fifth recommendation was that the EEOC Order 150, which is on protection of privacy, and it prohibited the use of electronic or mechanical devices to intercept or record telephone conversations with EEOC employees and members of the public, should be modified to allow for monitoring and or recording of calls of Contact Center employees for quality assurance purposes.
The sixth recommendation was that EEOC should develop internal and external marketing strategies to communicate the compelling business case for a National Contact Center to its staff, its customers and its stakeholders in order to solidify support for this initiative.
The task force made these recommendations based on the following key findings. There was a survey on telephone volume which indicated that EEOC was receiving an estimated one million or more unsolicited calls annually from the public. Approximately 61 percent were general inquiries and not about filing a charge. Rather these calls sought general information about EEOC and the laws enforced by the EEOC or other federal agencies. The remaining 39 percent were seeking to file a charge of employment discrimination.
Another finding was that there were disparate and highly ineffective and inefficient systems for handling customer calls in the field which were the result of inadequate telecommunications infrastructure and uneven staffing. We had many complaints that were documented of unanswered calls or long delays in service response at various offices.
The volume of calls and inquiries received by EEOC couldn’t be effectively or efficiently handled with the agency’s current infrastructure and technology. And a return on investment in a Contact Center would allow the EEOC to realize a tremendous improvement in our service capacity and effectiveness.
The final key finding, based on preliminary market research that the work group conducted, we estimated that the cost of a contractor-operated center would be between two to three million dollars annually after a transition or implementation phase. By comparison we found an in-house Contact Center for a similar sized federal agency had cost twelve million dollars for infrastructure alone, that it was the technology and equipment and telecommunications required to set up this center and that did not include cost for staffing, space or maintenance of the system. The September 2003 report estimated that the value of internal staff time for answering unsolicited public calls was about 1.4 million dollars in salary cost in 2003.
It was expected that a fully operational Contact Center would not only offer substantially improved customer access and service delivery, but also as an additional benefit, free up EEOC staff to focus on mission critical activities such as charge intake and investigation, counseling of charging parties and outreach to employers and employees.
In November 2003, the four sitting EEOC Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the report and recommendations of the work group. On September 17, 2005, after the, I’m sorry 4, after the completion of an extensive performance based acquisition process, the Commission voted to approve the issuance of a contract to Pierson Government Solutions to implement the two-year National Contact Center Pilot.
Ed Elkins, the EEOC Project Manager for the EEOC, will now review the operations and results of the Pilot Program. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much. Mr. Elkins.
MR. ELKINS: Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioners Silverman, Ishimaru and Griffin, I too want to thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
The National Contact Center opened to receive calls nationwide on March 21, 2005. Since that time it has handled over 500,000 inquiries from the public. In addition, the web based Frequently Asked Questions have been viewed on average more than 10,000 times a month. The Contact Center staff has consistently handled more than 60 percent of the inquiries without involving the field offices which is consistent with the work group’s finding that 61 percent of the calls to EEOC were for general information.
We have learned a lot about who calls a 1-800 number and the types of information they want. Sixty percent of the callers are women. Most calls, more calls come from whites than any other ethnic group. The largest single group of callers is composed of white females between forty-one and fifty years of age, followed by black females thirty-one to forty years of age.
As was expected during the pilot, we have developed and revised business rules. We have developed new scripts and revised others to better answer the queries received from the public. For the record, the Contact Center uses 119 internal scripts in both English and Spanish, a hundred and sixty three, Frequently Asked Questions, and 121 referenced data based tabs on their desktop.
The reference database has contact and coverage information for EEOC Field Offices and Fair Employment Practices Agencies. In addition the CSRs have internal web access to information about other federal agencies, their programs and EEO counselor contact information. This is a very manageable volume of reference materials, given the mechanisms in place to facilitate quick access and retrieval.
There have been problems. One has been the accuracy of the caller information. Some callers are unable to spell the names of their city or county which determines field jurisdiction. And CSRs unfamiliar with the names may also not know the spelling.
We expect to go a long way towards solving this problem when later this month a new computer telephone integration system for capturing caller identification becomes operational. In addition to capturing the name and the address associated with the number from which the caller is calling, the system will allow the caller to provide other demographic information before talking to a CSR.
In February of this year the Claes Fornell International, CFI Group, conducted a Contact Center Customer Satisfaction Survey. The overall customer satisfaction score for EEOC was 77 which is six points higher than the federal government average. This is considered a very strong score particularly for a federal government -- federal program in it’s first year of operation. The overall CSI score of 77 is a weighted average for phone, email and web inquiries.
The Center’s customer service representatives received a customer satisfaction rating of 84. And I quote from the Final Report of the survey, “A score of 84 for customer service representatives along with verbatim comments suggest that customers are receiving a high level of service via phone. Representatives are courteous and knowledgeable and customers are receiving satisfactory answers to their questions. Customer service via the phone is clearly a core strength of the EEOC Call Center.”
Staff members at Headquarters monitor and score 15 to 20 live calls a week. These monitoring records are forwarded to the NC Managers and Supervisors for feedback to the CSRs and corrective action where appropriate. Based on the monitoring, we discuss with the NC Managers when there appears to be a need to revise or develop new scripts or provide additional training. When we learned that some callers thought they had filed charges as a result of completing EAS questionnaires or talking with CSRs, we revised the closing scripts to reemphasize that a charge could not be filed over the phone; that a charge had to be signed and submitted to a field office. Monitoring has helped assure that the CSRs consistently use these revised scripts.
In addition to live monitoring, each week NCC and EEOC Managers participate in a calibration meeting at which recorded calls are reviewed and scored. The calls are reviewed for the substance of the responses and the soft skills demonstrated by the NCC customer service representatives. The results of these calibration sessions are discussed with the CSRs and serve as an indicator of when additional training is needed. They also are indicative when someone just is not doing their job properly and it’s time to make a decision that they do not appropriately fit in the Contact Center. And we have had a number of CSRs that couldn’t stick to scripts and they are no longer at the Contact Center.
The training of the CS, the four, excuse me, the four EEOC staff members involved in the monitoring of calls and the calibration meetings together have more than 50 years of combined EEOC field office experience as investigators or investigative supervisors. The training of the CSRs was conducted by field and Headquarters’ employees with investigative experience.
The contract with Pierson Government Solutions specified metrics which would be used in measuring performance such as accuracy of information provided, accuracy of information captured and average speed of answer for telephone, email, written, and fax correspondence.
The NCC has met on a monthly basis all the performance metrics except for the average speed of answers for phone which it met from September 2005 through April 2006. As call volume grew, new CSRs had to be hired and trained, and there were technology issues related to the growth and volume which increased the wait time for callers. These problems have been solved – resolved - and we expect the average speed of answer to return to 30 seconds -- or less.
In 2004, OMB conducted a survey of agencies to collect data on the activities that provide information to the public. Those agencies responding to the request, and not all agencies did, identified more than 500 Federal Contact Centers. Many cabinet level agencies have multiple centers. Clearly many other agencies have found that Contact Centers are a cost effective way of providing information to the public and allow them to be more customer focused and customer friendly. Establishing the EEOC Contact Center has made the Commission dramatically more accessible to the public. Through the NCC, constituents can communicate with the agency by telephone in more than 150 languages, TTY, fax, written correspondence, email and web inquiries. The Center provides quick, accurate information from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central Time, Monday through Friday. Callers can speak with a knowledgeable EEOC trained NCC staff member usually within 30 seconds. Frequently Asked Questions maintained by the Center and an Interactive Voice Response System provide information to the public 24 hours a day. Members of the deaf and hard of hearing community have immediate 12 hour a day access to the Commission through the use of TTY phones staffed by trained NCC customer service representatives.
Extending the pilot for another year will allow the Commission to take advantage of and build on the investment it has made in establishing the Contact Center; and to take advantage of new technologies, continue to refine procedures, resolve any problems and make the Center an integral and effective part of the Commission’s operations.
I thank you for your time.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much. Ms. Brown.
MS. BROWN: Good morning Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioners Silverman, Ishimaru and Griffin. Thank you for the opportunity to speak this morning.
Last year the Office of Inspector General met with agency principals and stakeholders, congressional staff and industry experts to determine the scope of an independent evaluation of EEOC’s National Contact Center Pilot. In September 2005, we hired Job Performance Systems of Alexandria, Virginia or JPS to evaluate the NCC impact on customers, operations and staff of the EEOC.
JPS reviewed and analyzed Call Center performance data for a one year period from April 2005 to April 2006; reviewed background documents and conducted interviews at EEOC Headquarters, field offices and the NCC; documented NCC work processes and the technology used to support them. The team reviewed a variety of metrics including call volume and call duration. In addition, remote call monitoring and side-by-side observations of customer service representatives was conducted. Training and feedback and other support provided to CSRs was reviewed. And the JPS team facilitated focus groups at seven field offices and the NCC and administered surveys to field personnel.
The team utilized baseline data, however some baseline data had been destroyed and some had major data entry errors or were affected by factors such as staff attrition or changes in intake processes, rendering some of the data not reliable for this evaluation. Therefore JPS developed many findings and conclusions from subject matter experts in Headquarters and the field. The team gathered information through interviews, focus groups, and surveys.
The work was conducted in accordance with quality standards for inspections dated January 2005 issued by the President’s Counsel on Integrity and Efficiency and the Executive Counsel on Integrity and Efficiency.
As a result of this evaluation, JPS found that the recommendations contained in the 2003 assessment of the National Contact Center Solution for EEOC were implemented. Launching the NCC has significantly improved access to EEOC.
Pierson has met most of the contractual performance measures, as mentioned earlier, except for average speed of answer which they met five of eight months. During the first year of operations, the CSRs handled 269,693 calls, far lower than the 1.2 million calls projected in the 2003 Assessment Report. JPS estimates that the NCC presently saves the NCC, the EEOC, excuse me, approximately 13,964 field staff hours or the equivalent of 6.71 full time equivalent or FTE employees. Before the decision to limit call volume, the Assessment Report projected that the NCC would save 43,224 field staff hours or 21 FTE.
NCC has had minimal impact on Headquarters which was expected. There was an increase in control - I’m sorry, there was a decrease in controlled correspondence and an increase in other communications such as web hits which could be partially attributable to NCC. Field employees indicate that they have experienced some call volume reduction. Most offices are beginning to redirect callers to the NCC after business hours. However, the number of calls that customer service representatives are handling has not significantly increased. Some offices have experienced savings in investigator and/or support staff time because of the NCC, but many investigators commented that the forms they received from NCC often contain inaccuracies and incomplete information. Some portions of the information that is provided can be used and others have to be duplicated causing more work.
Communication between NCC and the EEOC is not efficient. There is no established process to communicate feedback and share knowledge and information. Employees at the NCC also do not share a common understanding of their role or the work of the EEOC which limits their effectiveness in supporting the EEOC. The technologies across EEOC and NCC are not well integrated preventing a seamless operation and causing duplication of work at EEOC offices and the NCC.
EEOC offices have modified procedures to reflect NCC activities driving an increased focus on customer service. Offices appear to continue to provide timely customer service for walk-ins and first time callers. CSRs generally provide accurate information and handle calls on a consistent basis. More training however is needed professionally handling transactions, controlling call flow, taking ownership of a call and accurately and consistently handling unique inquiries. The CFI Group found that the NCC rated average, above average, I’m sorry, in customer satisfaction scoring 77 in comparison to other federal agencies and service industries in the private sector.
Bottom line, the JPS team believes that the NCC has the potential to make a significant contribution to EEOC. However, as it presently is operated it is not effective. And it should continue only if significant changes are made to improve call volume, optimize customer satisfaction and operational efficiencies, measure ongoing performance, and insure readiness for the future.
The report recommendations are as follows: Increase call volume by increasing customer awareness in routing all initial calls through the NCC. Increase the number of calls that are resolved at the NCC and not forwarded to EEOC offices by clearly defining the NCC’s role. The NCC and EEOC should better define their respective roles and responsibilities as they relate to the intake process. At a high level, the NCC should act as the primary customer contact until an investigator is assigned to the case. Once an investigator is assigned, the EEOC should be the primary contact. Improve the number of non-charge related calls resolved at the NCC by integrating processes and technology across the EEOC and NCC. The two organizations should use the same integrated technologies to capture and maintain customer information. This would promote communication between the two organizations and enable a better seamless customer experience. The JPS team also recommends establishing a process for EEOC and NCC staff to communicate directly with one another, allowing staff to share knowledge and information and providing a vehicle to regularly ask questions and provide feedback. This recommendation has the potential to increase efficiency and reduce duplication of work. The EEOC should institute significant changes to the operating model. Standardizing the citizen contact process across the EEOC and NCC will aid in the development of a single intake process flow that begins with initial contact at NCC and moves on to EEOC after meeting certain criteria.
To investigate, evaluate and implement this and other recommendations, the EEOC should establish an EEOC NCC Steering Committee with representation from all stakeholders including managers and union employees in the field, at Headquarters and at the NCC. The purpose is to establish procedures that integrate the EEOC and NCC, and maximize operational effectiveness across the two organizations, increasing end-to-end customer satisfaction. They estimate, in terms of quantifiable benefits for these recommendations, an annual savings could result from eleven FTE or $833,000.00 to a high of 27 FTE or 1.9 million dollars. That would be with implementation of the recommendations that I just read.
Other recommendations include providing training and feedback to CSRs on technical and soft skills and improve the quality of information sent to EEOC offices; standardize and automate NCC processes so that it is ready to handle increased call volume; reducing errors and insuring that all CSRs follow the same processes. Also it’s recommended that a search engine be implemented that reliably and quickly identifies scripts for CSRs to follow as well as a significant reduction in the required number of scripts; to create and implement reporting processes to identify trends pro-actively; create and implement a process to regularly monitor and measure customer satisfaction; establish metrics to measure the NCC’s future impact on EEOC operations staff and customers.
It’s currently difficult to identify reliable metrics to evaluate the NCC’s impact. In order to develop the metrics, the Steering Committee should be responsible for enumerating important goals related to the NCC. Examples of areas to consider include customer service, operations and business processes. Metrics can be developed once the EEOC has identified goals in the form of desired outcomes.
The EEOC should implement change management procedures. This involves articulating the vision for NCC, the business proposition and urgency of implementation as well as removing obstacles. It includes establishing methods to communicate the EEOC and NCC roles to managers and staff and to celebrate and build on short term wins. Both organizations should provide training on operational procedures. Employees need to be involved in improving the process to become vested in the NCC.
This concludes my comments. Thank you for the time. Appreciate it.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Ms. Brown, for your remarks as well as for the valuable recommendations that you presented to the Commission.
MR. INZEO: Good morning Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioners Silverman, Ishimaru and Griffin.
We have presented for your consideration, our recommendation to extend the pilot period of the NCC for an additional year. One of the values of a report is the opportunity to review why a project was started, how it has worked and how professional analysts assess that work.
As you know, I sent lengthy comments to the Inspector General about the draft report. But I would like to spend most of my time today discussing and endorsing many of the recommendations made in the Final Report. The Inspector General has presented ten recommendations, some of which have sub-parts. My review of those recommendations suggests that there are at least eight recommendations or sub-parts that have been or can be implemented.
The first recommendation relates to increasing the call volume. As indicated in the IG Report, we’ve worked on a customer awareness plan with the joint Headquarters/Field Group, and would agree that those efforts should be undertaken.
The report also indicates that all initial calls should be routed to the NCC. Again, we agree, and we’ll work with the Office of Information Technology to make sure that all calls are routed to the NCC and also that parties have telephone access to all EEOC field offices.
The third recommendation calls for the integration of processes and technology between EEOC and the NCC. We agree that integrating the technologies is important and will make it easier for those calls answered by the NCC that are then forwarded to field offices. Again, we will work with OIT to make this a priority.
The fourth recommendation calls for standardizing the citizen contact process. To the extent that this recommendation means that we should develop a single intake questionnaire that the NCC can send to any person who wants to initiate the process for filing of a charge, we agree.
More than a year ago, we decided to give the work group of -- comprised of Deputy Directors and Enforcement Managers, the task of looking at the various intake procedures used by offices in making recommendations of best practices. The work group was formed last Fall, and our initial discussions with the leader of the work group led us to conclude that we should task the work group with developing a uniform intake questionnaire. With the NCC taking all initial calls and with all offices using a uniform questionnaire, we believe the process will be sufficiently standardized.
I do not read the recommendation to mean and would not support a reading, that all offices must handle intake in exactly the same way. District offices in large metropolitan areas with significant mass transportation, like New York, can operate differently than offices in smaller metropolitan areas, like Phoenix, or offices that do not have as much available mass transportation, like Los Angeles.
The seventh recommendation calls for implementation of reporting processes to identify trends. I would go further and will suggest that information relating to both operations, the number and type of calls, etcetera, and trends, be shared with Commissioners and with field staff regularly.
The eighth recommendation calls for the creation and implementation of a process to monitor and measure customer satisfaction. As Ed Elkins has explained, we’ve relied on four senior staff members with significant field experience to monitor calls and to listen to recorded calls to insure that calls are appropriately handled. The Customer Satisfaction Survey, using the ACI measurement tool, was administered in February. We will continue the monitoring and the measurement of customer satisfaction that has been created and implemented this year.
The ninth recommendation includes establishing a Steering Committee to help integrate the NCC and the EEOC, again we agree. The recommendation first suggests that there need to be metrics to evaluate the NCC. As Ed Elkins has explained, the contract establishes those metrics and informs the NCC what the EEOC expects. The Steering Committee can review those metrics and can suggest other areas where metrics would be useful. The tenth recommendation is implementation of change management procedures, again we agree. In fact, the joint Headquarters/Field Group that I mentioned in connection with recommendation one, that developed an outreach plan, also looked at and developed an in-reach plan that contains many of the elements suggested in the change management procedures.
While I agree with many of the IG’s recommendations, there are some recommendations and portions of the contractor’s report that I believe do not present a fair picture of the NCC. Let me explain a few. As Cynthia Pierre has recounted, the findings of the original task force centered around how we serve our customers. Those individuals who call each day with questions, issues and charges of discrimination. But customer service is the last section of the contractor’s report.
Establishing a National Contact Center was and should be first and foremost about customer service. Ed Elkins found a group that use the ACSI measurement which is considered in the industry as the best measurement of customer satisfaction. And that company works with the Federal Consulting Group within the Treasury Department and had pre-clearance from OMB under the Paperwork Reduction Act. We contracted with the Federal Consultant Group to provide an ACSI measure. The ACSI measurement showed that the NCC staff answering calls, received a customer satisfaction measurement of 84, which is exceptional. The contractor relied on the subjective judgments of its subcontractor to judge customer service. The ACSI measurement, in my estimation, is clearly superior. The fifth recommendation of the IG, if phrased that we should continue to provide the training that has been provided would be one that I could, in that circumstance, join.
As Ed Elkins has indicated, the resolution rate of calls has been above 60 percent each month. In fact, he provided the contractor data for the one year period which showed a 70 percent resolution rate for that period.
Calls are not resolved if the -- calls are not resolved by the NCC if any of four situations is present: if the NCC administers the EAS; if the NCC sends a field office an email with the contact information for a caller; if the NCC makes a hotline transfer; or, if the NCC provides the contact information, most often the local phone number for a field office to the caller, then the call is not resolved by the NCC.
The contractor calculated a different resolution rate by having its subcontractor listen to 411 calls and make a judgment as to whether they considered the calls to be resolved. In my judgment, the hard data from the NCC is better data. For that reason, I would not join the second recommendation made by the IG. The analysis and methodologies of the contractor fell short of the mark in these areas and it affected the report in a number of areas.
There was an extensive discussion of the impact of the NCC on the field. The contractor used a survey of field staff to determine whether they were answering more calls or fewer calls as a result of the implementation of the NCC, and results are shown in Table 12 on page 28 of the report. In that table, over 250 field employees at the GS-12 level responded. And on average, they reported that they were answering 11.5 fewer calls each week. In January of 2006, EEOC had approximately 694 investigators at the GS-12 level. Considering the impact only on field investigators, 694 investigators receiving 11.5 fewer calls each week for 52 weeks would account for 414,000 fewer calls handled by field investigators in a twelve-month period.
The discussion in the report relied instead on anecdotal comments that the contractor didn’t verify and left out these calculations that may have led to or bolstered other discussions or other conclusions.
There was considerable discussion of average time saved and cost saved as a result of the NCC. For example, Table 18 on page 33, claims that only 6.71 FTE are saved by the NCC. The first line projects annual calls to the NCC, but only includes calls answered by the NCC staff. It should also include calls handled by the IVR and those calls handled through other modes, TTY, fax, email, and postal mail.
The second line gives the percentage of calls resolved. And rather than using the hard data of the NCC, uses the subcontractor’s calculation of 51 percent. The data from the first year showed a resolution rate of 70 percent and even the latest month showed a resolution rate of 63 percent. The call duration on line four, is listed as six minutes. Since November, the call duration has been over seven minutes and averages more than 7.25 minutes. Calls handled by the IVR average two minutes. Using that actual data, I would calculate that 21.75 total FTE were saved, 17.4 investigator FTE and 4.35 support staff FTE.
A variant of that analysis is repeated on Table 35 on page 72, showing current cost savings of 490,000 and possible cost savings up to 980,000. Footnote 33 on page 69, indicates that cost savings include only salary costs and not benefit costs. Benefits add 26 percent to the salary cost, so the average investigator with a salary of $73,000.00 actually costs $91,980.00. Using the corrected FTE calculation from Table 18, with this salary and benefits information, current data from the NCC would show an annual savings of nearly 1.8 million dollars.
I would like to conclude though where I started. The IG has presented a number of recommendations for improving the way in which we manage the NCC. As I have indicated, I think we have or should implement many of them to make the NCC an even better customer service vehicle. I recommend extension of the NCC Pilot for a one year period.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Mr. Inzeo, and thank all of you for your very informative presentations.
Before we get to the statements and the questions from my fellow Commissioners, I just wanted to address some of the recommendations that were made by both the IG report and Mr. Inzeo. As I said at the opening, there’s always room for improvement. And I think that the items suggested will go a long ways toward our delivery of an even better NCC. It is for this reason that my direction to OFP with the involvement of any other necessary offices and particularly OIT, the Office of Information Technology, that they act to implement those recommendations.
Specifically I’m referring to efforts to increase the call volume through enhanced customer awareness; routing of all initial calls to the NCC; integration of processes and technology between EEOC and the NCC; creation of a uniform intake questionnaire; implementation of reporting processes to provide information on the identification of trends and on operational data, and the data should certainly include comments or concerns expressed through the lines that we have available to listen to as NCC complaints of any sort; continuation of monitoring and measurement of customer satisfaction; creation of a Steering Committee to help integrate the NCC and the EEOC, and to review the metrics as established by the contract; and the implementation of change management procedures.
In addition, I want to make sure that a Cost Benefit Analysis be part of any external evaluation that will be conducted during this extended phase of the pilot. The analysis should assess whether the Contact Center has in fact diminished the workload of each office and will compare costs associated with the staffing and the equipment needed internally to provide the same level of service at each EEOC office and Headquarters that we provide externally.
We will now have statements, comments and/or questions from my fellow Commissioners. Madam Vice Chair.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you to the panelists. Appreciate your information and your willingness to come before us to further explain the NCC.
Two years ago, as it has been indicated, almost two years ago, I voted to approve the authorization of funds for the National Contact Center Pilot. I prefaced my vote at that time with remarks on the need to look for ways to improve our past success, ways to take advantage of technological progress and to not fear change.
I also said at that time that I wanted to emphasize that what we were voting on was approval of a two-year Pilot Program. A pilot by definition is a tentative model for future experiment or development. Pilots are often changed once developers see what works and what does not work. The time has passed and during that time I heard a lot about how the NCC was working and about how it was not working.
Two weeks ago, the Commissioners received a formal evaluation of the pilot as well as the detailed Customer Satisfaction Report that has been mentioned. Although many might view the vote today before us as just a reaffirmation of the earlier vote, I don’t see it that way at all.
I believe that we have before us today at least three options. One, we can abandon the NCC. Two, I believe we can approve it, continue and hope for the improvements that have been discussed. And three, I believe we can and should consider a delay.
I look forward to hearing questions from my fellow Commissioners and the panel’s response. I want to start with a question that I hope will inform each of the three options at least as I see it.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Could you talk about your third option? Delay meaning continue the pilot, or I’m just a little lost as to what delay means. Meaning not to -- do we not do it or do we continue like we’re still evaluating. Is that what you --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Let me just clarify. The meeting -- the reason, the purpose of the meeting here today is to vote on the extent of a one year extension of the --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Of the pilot.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: -- of the pilot. That’s correct.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Okay.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Mr. Inzeo, let me pose the question to you, but I would say it’s appropriate for any or all members of the panel that feel you have an answer. Did you start the discussion with District Directors regarding a Standard Intake Form last Fall? Did I understand that in your comments?
MR. INZEO: It was with the -- we had a meeting of Deputy Directors and Enforcement Managers. The Directors knew about it. We had talked to them about it at our meeting last year, but then we really worked with the Deputy
Directors and the Enforcement Managers and when we met with them last year, had volunteers and set up the work group to look at the intake practices, yes.
VICE CHAIR EARP: And how close are we or how close are you to having a Standard Intake Form?
MR. INZEO: The work group is working on it. I don’t -- I would not say that we’re close, but we will certainly speed that process up.
VICE CHAIR EARP: And can you tell me at this point just how many months has it been working on that one single element?
MR. INZEO: They weren’t working on -- if I gave you the impression that they were working on a single element, I apologize. They were looking at intake practices across the board.
VICE CHAIR EARP: In general.
MR. INZEO: In general, of all offices, and, as you know, a group representing various offices trying to sort through the various practices and decide which ones they thought were good practices and which ones maybe didn’t make that mark. They took a lot of time.
VICE CHAIR EARP: And that’s a healthy, that’s a healthy exercise.
MR. INZEO: Yes, it is.
VICE CHAIR EARP: To take a lot of time.
MR. INZEO: Yes.
VICE CHAIR EARP: So here’s my question, if I think I understand what the IG’s Report recommendations are and what the Chair has indicated she’s willing to support and what OFP has indicated it would also endorse, over the next year, here’s what I come up with. Polish and roll out a PR campaign, implement the recommendations, resolve issues of role identification between NCC and EEOC, conduct perhaps a pilot within a pilot at NCC to see if CSRs can be trained to ask effective initial questions so that they can better screen out those calls that are not directly related to discrimination, integrate processes and technology between NCC and EEOC, standardize citizen contact once we define exactly what that is going to mean, staff or continue with the Steering Committee, expand the intake work group, review, rewrite scripts and perhaps develop a search engine to make using those scripts easier, develop and implement a change management strategy, reach consensus on baseline matrix and operational outcomes, and a Cost Benefit Analysis within the time that we are approving, one year. Do I understand that that is what is on the table?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: A correction on the Cost Benefit Analysis. That has to be conducted by an external consultant. Not --
VICE CHAIR EARP: But within the scope of this one year that we are approving?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Right. In tandem, yes.
MR. INZEO: Yes.
VICE CHAIR EARP: And you’re committing today that you can do this in twelve months?
MR. INZEO: We will -- we think that we can implement most of those changes and we would. Some of them will require technology assists and we would need the -- we need to work closely with OIT on those. But we think that, those, I think, will be very time consuming, but I think that they can be done.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Okay. Thank you. I have nothing else.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Okay. Commissioner Silverman.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Two of the recommendations, increasing volume by having the initial calls directed to the NCC and standardizing intake or making a uniform questionnaire, seem to me after four years at the Commission to run sort of counter to our culture of letting the districts decide on their own how to best operate within a realm. And yet it strikes me as necessary to really make the Contact Center effective. I just wanted to hear your thoughts on that since part, it seems to me that part of, Nick, part of our problem here in the Contact Center is appealing to our internal customers, and I imagine that you are going to get some push back.
MR. INZEO: One, you know, I think with the work that the contractor did in the surveys with the Commission staff in the field, we saw somewhat of a change in opinions and perceptions. Whereas two years ago, a very cautious approach was devised, that only the 1-800 calls go to the Contact Center. There seems to be much greater acceptance that perhaps all calls should go. And that’s one reason I would, I would join that recommendation.
The field staff who do the work, in response to the survey that the IG contractor sent out, indicated that they wanted more calls handled by the Contact Center. And I think while it will require, I think, extensive work on our part with change management procedures and with the Steering Committee, I, you know, I think it can be accepted.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Okay. I’m sorry, I didn’t thank all our speakers. First I was just thinking of that question and I just blurted it out. Thank you all for your testimony today.
There’s been some discrepancy between -- with the numbers here and it’s an important number. As we talked about JPS monitored around 400 calls and determined from that, that the NCC resolves about 51 percent of the calls it receives, but it also estimated that with an additional improvements, the NCC could resolve as many as 58 percent of the calls. I understand that OFP says that the Contact Center already resolved 60 percent of the calls, although an earlier number given to me was 70 percent. And I understand that was from looking at your own figures.
Ms. Brown, why didn’t JPS use, use that other number? I was sort of curious.
MS. BROWN: I’m sorry.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: The number that OFP used. Well, maybe let me take a step back. Mr. Elkins, how did you come up with, or can you explain again, I think you did earlier, or perhaps Nick did, on the discrepancy and how you came up with your figure.
MR. ELKINS: We looked at the data from the beginning of the Contact Center, March 21, 2005, through the end of March of this year; and looked at all the calls and emails and faxes that the CSRs handled, and subtracted from that number the ones that went to the field either via an EAS questionnaire, referring the caller to call or contact the office, or taking the caller’s information and putting it in an email and sending it to the office and the hotline calls. And we subtracted those out and the rest we considered resolved by the Contact Center. And for that one year period, the number was 70 percent. And as Nick mentioned, for June it was 63 percent.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Because I thought I heard in your testimony, 60 percent.
MR. ELKINS: Well I said we have consistently month by month --
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Okay. Okay.
MR. ELKINS: -- resolved more than 60 percent.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: And you provided that information to the IG?
MR. ELKINS: I did. It was in the OFP response to the initial draft of the report.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Okay. I was just wondering why you didn’t go with that methodology as opposed to monitoring 400 calls and coming up with a number.
MS. BROWN: One, well, one point, probably the primary point is that we wanted to provide an independent assessment, taking a look at it ourselves.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Okay.
MS. BROWN: As opposed to relying on, on what was provided to us.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Yes.
MS. BROWN: It’s called a customer focused approach. Now I can’t explain that fully. I’ll be honest. But it was the methodology of choice.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Yes.
MS. BROWN: One of the things that we asked that they do, is to use the same benchmarks and the industry standards in, to doing the work.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Yes.
MS. BROWN: So it was the contractors’ choice in identifying, based on the way this work is done, in industry according to industry practices. So, that’s why they used the numbers that they used. And we got, we got information from OFP, and then they took independent evaluation of the information that they got. And they selected their own methodology. And again, I didn’t select the methodology. It was based on their --
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Okay. I was just trying to understand the discrepancy and why.
MS. BROWN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: I thought I heard, Nick, when you were talking, you were saying that with regard to JPS’s second recommendation about improving call resolution, that you thought that we already had sort of maximized that. When I’ve been out to the field, you know, I get different responses. They felt like a lot of the things that they’re handling could have been handled by the Contact Center, which generally has had me embrace that we could raise call resolutions. So I guess, I am asking you, do you think there are still additional opportunities for further increasing the resolution rate?
MR. INZEO: I think there are Commissioner. The point I tried to make was, `I think that, the resolution rate at the NCC is about what was projected. And so I -- in terms of a major recommendation as to whether we thought we really needed to ramp up resolution rates, I wouldn’t think so. Now, as -- I think as we know, field employees who get calls that had initially been answered by the NCC, don’t know which ones they’re not getting.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Right.
MR. INZEO: So, you know, I think that the change management procedures and other things will help inform them so that they know that there are a good percentage of the calls that they’re not seeing because they are, they can be handled by the NCC. And then with better technology and other methodologies, I think we can then improve what is referred from the NCC to field offices, which I think will also help improve the acceptance of it by field employees.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Okay. Thank you. I have a statement, but I would love to hear before we vote, I would love to hear the other, the questions of my fellow Commissioners, but I didn’t know what order we were doing this. Okay. That’s terrific.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair. I’m sort of like Commissioner Silverman, I had a statement too, but given how fluid this has been, I think I’ll read something much shorter and maybe save it for wrap up.
But I do have a couple questions for you, Madam Chair, that, because when we originally got the vote package, it appeared to me that we were just voting on a one year extension period. And you mentioned in your statement, a number of things you would direct to the Office of Field Programs and other appropriate offices to do.
And I -- hearing, I guess, I have problems just hearing it and not seeing it. But I guess, it boils down to, for me, are you -- is the nub of your recommendation to adopt the IG’s recommendations given the caveats you laid out within, within your statement?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: My recommendations are -- we’re here today to vote on a one year extension of the optional phase, of the option clause of the contract. And once that’s voted upon, if it succeeds and we continue with the Contact Center, then I’d like to adopt the recommendations that, that have been identified in the report of the IG as supported. I have worked with the staff and looking at what’s doable, what’s reasonable, what’s attainable within the one year pilot. And those are the recommendations that I believe we -- it’s going to be a stretch.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Sure, it will definitely be a stretch.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes. But I believe that we can meet those metrics.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But it sounded like from hearing Mr. Inzeo’s statement, which again I did not see until I heard it, or did not see when I heard it. But my point being, my point being is that Mr. Inzeo had a very detailed statement that he presented and we did not see that before hand, so I am trying to soak it all in now. But if there is, if there are differences between what Mr. Inzeo presented to us today and your direction to OFP, I assume you win, right? As Chair.
MR. INZEO: I can answer that.
MR. INZEO: It’s yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: All right.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Good answer, Nick.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: That is a good answer.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: In fact thank you for this opportunity. One of the things that I did want to add to my comments is I just want to make sure that all of my fellow Commissioners get copies of the monthly reports in terms of the progress that we’re making toward implementation. So.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And from your, from your earlier statement, will there be an also another independent evaluation besides the Cost Benefit Analysis that was mentioned?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: The letter that came signed both by ranking member Mollohan and Chairman Wolf of the Appropriations Committee, has directed and asked the National Academy for Public Administration to do this evaluation, this external evaluation. I believe that their evaluation will include Cost Benefit Analysis. There’s a lot of -- obviously concern about the data that we use versus the data that an outside consultant, I think to make sure that there’s independent, objectivity, we want to keep it the external evaluation, external, independent.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But, are we looking at two separate evaluations or just one evaluation? I guess that’s what I’m not clear on.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I’m looking at one. But I’m also looking at a recommendation to this evaluation that includes a Cost Benefit Analysis. This, this study is being directed by the subcommittee.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Oh, no, no, no. That I realize.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But, but as far as the independent recommendation for a cost benefit evaluation, do you anticipate that as being subsumed by NAPA or as a separate report to us? Or is that -
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Right. NAPA originally made the recommendation to establish a Contact Center, that was three and half years ago. They haven’t been involved in any of this. I think it’s appropriate for them now to come as they’ve been asked to do and to do a Cost Benefit Analysis, not just from a customer service perspective, which is the crux of the recommendation and continues to be our key area of interest, as related to the Contact Center. But I don’t have, I don’t have any concerns as to, this is -- you know, the Academy is made up of bipartisan experts, people that have the capability and the knowledge and do it in fact extensively throughout the government, to do these types of Cost Benefit Analysis, so I don’t have a concern at all. I do question the efficiency, the economic efficiency of having, of having that study and then having another study.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Having another Cost Benefit Analysis. So you would envision having that as part of the NAPA study?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: All right. Thank you very much.
I, like my friend the Vice Chair, go back to our meeting two years ago, almost two years ago, and as many of you in this room know; I had serious concerns at the time and voted against going forward on this. And I said at the end of the meeting to the Chair, I said, you know, I voted against this; we had a very long and sometimes heated discussion. But I hoped at the end that, that it would work and that we would see during the pilot phase whether a Call Center for the EEOC would in fact work.
I think the study that the IG presented today has shown us that there is both good and bad that came out of the Call Center as you might expect and should expect, I think, during a pilot study. As far as what the JPS Report indicates, there are good recommendations, and I think, less helpful recommendations. And today, we could make the decision to take what is helpful and leave out what is not.
For example, I have been very impressed with the Call Center, with various pieces of it. I think the IVR piece has been a success. I think using the language line has been a success. And I understand from a conversation with Mr. Inzeo that the language line has been extended beyond just the Call Center and that our field offices now have the opportunity to use this valuable tool as well. I think having email access to the Agency is a positive. I think the change in our management approach where calls get returned, the customer service gets returned from our offices, as well as the Call Center, is a positive as well.
And I think that if we are going to extend it, a review is warranted. And I have some reservations, I must say, with all due respect to the Chair and the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee; I have some reservations about having NAPA perform this work. It’s not, and it is not a slight on NAPA’s part, but the perception that because NAPA made the recommendation that we go forward with the Call Center as a key part of our future plans, I find the perception perhaps of having them do an evaluation at this point to be somewhat troubling. And that to preclude other people from possibly looking at this work, I wish it was that way. But it will be what it is and we should move forward with that.
I also agree with the recommendations from the JPS Report that we should standardize the intake procedures to represent the very best practices of our various offices around the country. I think that will be very helpful to us.
I am troubled by some of the other recommendations that are in the JPS Report. And it troubles me that if we send more calls, including possibly charge intake, to a Call Center where the Call Center has, the CSRs at the Call Center have some difficulty getting the names and the addresses of callers correctly, does not make sense to me.
I understand that the answer is there will be more CSR training. I am -- I wonder whether it’s the right approach, whether we should be spending training dollars or spending resources that could be used elsewhere. And frankly resources that could be training our employees more, would those funds be better suited.
But since it looks like we’re going on the path here with my colleagues of adopting many of the JPS recommendations, I have a number of questions that I would like to ask the panel.
Ms. Brown, the JPS recommendation cost approximately $250,000.00, is that, is that correct?
MS. BROWN: I’m sorry, sir, which recommendation?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: The, the, no, no, the cost for the --
MS. BROWN: For the study.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- for the study. Yes. Right. It was roughly $250,000.00.
MS. BROWN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Do you have an idea if we were to do an independent evaluation not by NAPA, how much an independent evaluation would cost? Would it be in the same range as, as what the JPS study was?
MS. BROWN: It could be. You know, this was competitively bid. It depends on what the scope is of another independent review, so I can only speak to what happened in this particular instance and it cost about $250,000.00.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Yes. Yes. And would you have any feel if there was a separate Cost Benefit Analysis done, even though that may not happen if because of my clarification earlier with what the Chair’s intent was, a separate Cost Benefit Analysis, do you have an idea how much something like that would cost?
MS. BROWN: Our original intent in looking at the NCC of two years or so ago, when we went through our functional review, was to do a Cost Benefit Analysis only. That was what our intent was to do. We’ve estimated $50,000.00 to do that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Okay. Great. Thank you very much.
I’ve a number of questions for Mr. Elkins, who’s the manager of the project, and wanted to really sort of walk through what the recommendations of the IG’s report are and how it might impact. The first recommendation is that we should route all the calls through the NCC. Do you have a feel for what the field thinks of this? Would they be for it?
MR. ELKINS: Well I think it would be a mixed reaction. I think some people would be for it and some people would not.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: All calls.
MS. BROWN: He said all calls. This recommendation is not for all calls, all initial calls.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well all initial calls. Right. Right.
MR. ELKINS: First time callers.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: First time callers. Right.
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So some are for it and --
MR. ELKINS: I think it would be hard to get unanimous opinion within the Commission on any one issue.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Do you have an idea of how we would pay for additional call volume if this was adopted?
MR. ELKINS: We would, you mean, would it be --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Would it be covered by the 2.5 million dollars that is my understanding that we are voting to authorize today?
MR. ELKINS: Probably yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well if the volume goes up, which it no doubt will if we reroute all calls -- would the cost per call be negotiated downward? I know, it’s my understanding that during the course of the pilot based on volume -- the cost per call, the cost per unit was increased. It was a negotiated increase.
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Does it work the other way if the volume goes up?
MR. ELKINS: When we negotiated the increase, we said that we would review it, and if the time of calls went down, and what we specifically said that if the EAS questionnaire were made public, went online so that people could access it themselves, then we would take another look because that’s one of the most time consuming parts of taking the calls. And if people can do it themselves and the call, length of calls might go down, and we would go back and revisit the issue.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But if the number of calls actually went up, would that, would that be a point of renegotiation as well?
MR. ELKINS: If the number of calls went up and the length of calls stayed the same, it would be difficult for them to negotiate down unless we could show there was sort of economy of scales involved.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And, and would you recommend that we reroute all calls before or after the various other fixes get done?
MR. ELKINS: We had conversations about that, and I’ve recommended that we do it sort of incrementally because if we -- we don’t have any idea of the total volume of calls that would be coming back through. And we would like to be able to staff up so that we can handle the calls. And if we did it over the course of several months, we would be able to assess the increase in volume and staff up for it.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I received a chart earlier that actually talked about who was sending, which offices were sending --
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- calls to the Call Center, and it appears from the chart that I received that was dated May 15 th of this year, that most of our offices aren’t directing calls at all, that 21 of our offices are not.
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right. And that 17 of our offices are directing first time callers.
MR. ELKINS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Nine offices are directing calls after hours. And that four of our offices are only directing foreign language calls. Calls for --
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- for language assistance.
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Are those numbers correct?
MR. ELKINS: That survey was done by Cynthia’s staff.
MS. PIERRE: They were correct as of May 15 th.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right. So, if the recommendation is adopted from the IG’s report, the 21 offices that are not redirecting calls will be required to direct calls, first time callers, to the Call Center.
MS. PIERRE: Correct.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right. And the four or the nine offices that are sending calls only after hours, again will be directed to send all first time callers as --
MS. PIERRE: Yes, if the recommendation is adopted.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right. Okay.
Mr. Elkins, do you have an idea on the second recommendation that requires more training for the CSRs, do you have an idea of how much that sort of training and how extensive that training may be?
MR. ELKINS: Well, already the new CSRs receive two weeks of training, classroom training, one of which is on the use of the software; one is on substance, and they’re involved in that in role plays and hands on training. Then they’re monitored after they go out and start acting as CSRs. And that had, seems to have worked. And I think that the, the fact that we hire only people that have served as contact service center representatives and have experience, that that helps in terms of the training and the learning curve.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So you would not anticipate any further training for the CSRs?
MR. ELKINS: Oh, no, we do refresher training. We always train new CSRs, and that would continue.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right. But for the additional training, how much would that cost if we, if we adopted the recommendations in the IG’s Report? Do you have an estimate of that?
MR. ELKINS: I don’t know that we need to do more training than what we currently do. The Customer Satisfaction Report gave our customer, customer representatives very high marks for soft skills, and they do get that training now.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well then how would you address the IG’s recommendation or that’s in the IG’s Report that that the CSRs need more training in soft skills and that there was a significant number of CSRs that they encountered who did not have the appropriate soft skills?
MR. ELKINS: I disagreed with the finding.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Can I just actually jump in here a little bit just because when I read the contract, the contract calls for ongoing training.
MR. ELKINS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: That’s part of the price.
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: So I, I’m assuming --
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: -- that any training that goes on is part of the whole -- what we already contracted for. Is that right?
MR. ELKINS: That’s right.
VICE CHAIR EARP: If I could jump in, but I would suggest that to Mr. Elkins that something about the training needs to change. Because the problem identified in the Evaluation Report, and no one has taken issue with this, is part of the problem is the CSRs don’t take ownership of a call. So we could get positive customer satisfaction indexes that say, “Oh, they had such a nice sounding voice,” but the information that the caller is receiving could be erroneous. So I think that something does need to happen in terms of the training that we’re providing.
MR. ELKINS: Well we’ll certainly take a look at that. But I, but I do think that they get very good EEOC developed training. And our monitoring of live calls and our calibration sessions identify when people are not acting according to the scripts. And we take immediate action.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Then how do we explain that even though callers are satisfied with the person they speak to on the phone --
MR. ELKINS: Yes, yes.
VICE CHAIR EARP: -- but a quarter of them still want to talk to EEOC, even when there is no discernable reason for why they want to talk to EEOC?
MR. ELKINS: Well, no, the people that are referred to the EEOC field offices are people that either have a question that can not be answered by the CSRs or are intent on filing a charge and they want to go to the office and talk to an investigator. And there are circumstances when someone calls to get an update on the status of their case, and the information, either they cannot identify, properly identify themselves, they don’t have the charge number or they don’t have other information that would be a positive ID, or the information is not in the IMS.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Let me return the --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Okay.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Are we going to have a number of chances to ask questions? I don’t want to hog all the time or take --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I thought we had, but if there are any other questions that would be --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Let me ask a few more questions. And then --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Feel free.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- I may have some other questions before the wrap up statements if that would be okay.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Okay.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And I know, I know Commissioner Silverman may have, said she might have some more too, so.
But Mr. Elkins, are you, just from your answers to the last questions, do you believe then that the IG’s Report where it says that 22 percent of the calls they sampled, CSRs made errors in the law or in other substantive matters. And that 11 percent of the calls that CSRs created unnecessary barriers to the callers in asserting their rights such as telling the caller that he or she could not get an attorney until the charge is filed or that the EEOC needed the employer’s exact address for the call to continue. And 17 percent of the calls that the CSRs didn’t follow the scripts that were prepared for them. And in another 17 percent of the calls, the CSRs were judged to be rude. Do you believe that those findings of the IG’s Report are just flat out wrong?
MR. ELKINS: I did not listen in on the calls that they monitored. I would -- for the calls that JPS monitored, I would say that our people that monitored calls are better qualified to judge whether the information was accurate or not.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So but, but are you disputing what they found or?
MR. ELKINS: I’m just saying that, I don’t know how qualified the people were that monitored the calls were to evaluate whether the information was correct or not.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: What about on rudeness? Would you, would you take exception to the rudeness finding that they found?
MR. ELKINS: Well we have had instances of people being rude, and those people are not working at the Commission, I mean at the Contact Center any more.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: If they, if they were caught.
MR. ELKINS: Right. Right. And that’s why we monitor. And not only do we monitor, but the Contact Center has a Quality Control Manager that monitors.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And how does the Quality Control Manager work?
MR. ELKINS: He is not within the, within the structure of the Contact Center. He works separately and apart. He is not under the supervision of the Contact Center manager--
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But how does he work? Do you know how he works? Does he spend his whole day listening to calls?
MR. ELKINS: He has a staff that listens to calls. And there is also, you know, side-by-side monitoring. They record a certain percentage of calls at random and those are listened to. And those recorded calls are used in the calibration sessions.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: One of the recommendations of the IG’s Report was that we integrate the technology between the National Call Center and EEOC. Do you have an idea of how much that might cost?
MR. ELKINS: I don’t, but I think it’s essential that we do so.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: That’s one of the Chair’s directions to OIT to try and find out.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And I guess, one of my concerns is that whether there is a question of the use of proprietary software by the, by Pierson which would not be unusual. But if you integrate proprietary software that one company owns, does that limit our options in the future? That may be a contracting question, it may be a technical question, but again something that hopefully if we do adopt a one year extension, then that we won’t lock ourselves into somewhere we may not want to be in another year or two years out. I think that’s one thing that we need to be very careful on, with how we integrate.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner, maybe one more question and then --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Why don’t I pass for now, and then if I have any burning questions at the end, I can ask.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner Griffin.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay. Just to let people know that under the contract, it says, “Pierson understands that policies, procedures and processes governing the EEOC are ever changing. The contract will provide NCC staff with refresher training to insure their skills and knowledge remain current. Training will focus on customer service skills and EEOC content.” So I’m assuming that we are not paying anything extra for --
MR. ELKINS: No.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: -- enhanced. Okay. I want to clarify something because actually I think I was told, I actually had this question, that when the price, when we negotiated the increase in prices for everything, it said that the contract wouldn’t change because the call volume was low. And that, I assume that’s why they were renegotiating the price because it wasn’t what they thought it would be initially. But I ask this question because I thought; well now we are going to increase the volume. We are going to make a huge effort to increase the volume. Does that increase the price of the contract? And I was told that as the price, as the volume went up, we would be able to renegotiate the price of the call.
MR. ELKINS: Right. The reason the price was negotiated up was not due to call volume. It was due to the fact that the calls were taking longer than they had projected. We had said that the average, based on the survey that Cynthia’s work group did, the average length of calls was three minutes, and the contract based their pricing on that. When in reality, calls were taking seven minutes or longer. And they asked for an equitable adjustment, and that was made.
MS. PIERRE: Could I add something to that? The March survey he’s referring to that we did, the estimated length of those calls was three minutes on average. But that was all calls coming in to the public numbers. When we looked at calls under the contract, some calls go to the IVR, those are priced differently than the calls handled by the CSRs. The calls handled by the CSRs, the time length doubled. It was more than six minutes. And that was at the point that the price for the CSR calls were renegotiated, the price for the IVR calls stayed the same.
MR. ELKINS: Which are only a couple of pennies on the call.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay, but still it says “No, no expected increase in cost of contract because the increase in cost per unit is offset by lower volume then projected.”
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Now, let’s speed ahead to six months from now. The volumes doubled.
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: What does that do to the contract?
MR. ELKINS: Then we would, if volume doubled, it would have to make adjustments.
MS. PIERRE: I would expect that if volume doubled, the duration of the call would go down.
MR. ELKINS: Would go down. Right.
MS. PIERRE: Because they’d be getting a lot more calls then they’re getting now.
MR. ELKINS: And they’d be getting some of the thirty second calls that the field get now.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Isn’t some of the time that’s been added just because we are getting demographics or is that going to change with the recording at the beginning? And how will that affect the amount of time of the call? Because just getting out those questions takes thirty seconds, a minute.
MR. ELKINS: Right. Right. And that would be -- no, you are absolutely right. If call the call, the length of calls goes down, then we have a basis for renegotiating.
MS. PIERRE: The new technology you are talking about, the CTI, the Computer Telephony Integration, which is supposed to enable automatically when the call comes in to show the callers name, number, that information will no longer have to be asked and recorded of the CSR. And the additional demographic information will automatically obtain, would reduce the time that’s now being taken to gather this information.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Could you talk about the, that system, the name, and the address and the phone number of the caller will pop up similar to caller ID in the civilian sector?
MR. ELKINS: Yes, if it’s a listed number. COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But that’s, but that’s for the person who has the phone.
MR. ELKINS: Has the phone. Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So if I’m, if I’m at my friend the Vice Chair’s house and make a call --
MR. ELKINS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- it says Naomi Earp. And I say, “Well I’m an Asian man calling about my problem.” And the typed -- the computer would capture Naomi Earp.
MR. ELKINS: The CSR, when that information pops up on the CSR’s desk, that the person who is answering the phone, they would say are you Ms. Naomi Earp?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And they would do that as a regular course.
MR. ELKINS: Right. And you would say no, I am . . .
MS. PIERRE: So then a certain percentage of calls, they still could save time.
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner Griffin.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay. Well I guess we have to monitor what happens with this. I mean, it can’t be, this isn’t an open ended contract right?
MR. ELKINS: No.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Right.
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: At what point --
MR. ELKINS: And at any point, either of the two parties could ask to renegotiate.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay.
MR. INZEO: We receive that information monthly.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Monthly.
MR. INZEO: And if the call length --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Right.
MR. INZEO: -- dropped, then we would work with our permanent staff to --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Right.
MR. INZEO: -- do an equitable adjustment, with the price.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Could I follow up with the question though, if there were a number of calls and if the call volume went up or down, or the length of the call went up or down appropriately, but you still had double or triple the calls, at some point we are going to run out of money --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: We’re going to run out of money.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- right? So what happens then?
MR. ELKINS: We would come back to the Commission and ask for more.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I see. But, but it could only go to that to the pot that we have allocated for this. It could not go up.
MS. PIERRE: Right. It can only go to the max. And even with the adjusted increase in price, we still did not use --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right.
MS. PIERRE: -- all the money that was allocated. So that’s why we believe we could raise it in volume and still not exceed the maximum.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay. Besides the live monitoring we do of the phone calls, what else do we do to validate the accuracy of the contractor’s reports?
MR. ELKINS: In terms of accuracy or --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Yes.
MR. ELKINS: Most of the report is generated by the software that’s used in terms of the length of calls, the number of calls. And with emails, it’s somewhat different because, I mean they discount -- most significant number of transactions are phone calls and that’s done pretty much automatically.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Do we do any, I mean, they give us some sort of a report, I’m assuming.
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: With all their numbers and everything.
MR. ELKINS: Right. Right.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Is there any other way to validate about what they have given us is true or --
MR. ELKINS: Well we look at, we look at --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: How would we know?
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: I guess what I am asking is how would we know if it wasn’t?
MR. ELKINS: Right. I --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: We trust Elizabeth.
MR. ELKINS: I compare the reports that are generated by the software with the invoices every month.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay. So we’re able to actually do that ourselves.
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay.
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: All right. That’s good. I know that we have the capability of -- or we have some sort of a system where the people from the field can actually report to us discrepancies, errors, stuff like that.
MR. ELKINS: And they’re quick to do that.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: That’s actually what I was going to ask you.
MR. ELKINS: Yes. And I always, I always send an email back saying, “Thank you very much.”
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: And then we follow up with --
MR. ELKINS: And we’ll follow up and we find out --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay.
MR. ELKINS: -- who, what, which CSR made the error. The supervisor talks to the CSR and it works well. And plus when the, when the NCC sends an email to the field office, they are supposed to respond back with what action they’ve taken. And sometimes those responses say, “You shouldn’t have sent me this.” Or --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Really?
MR. ELKINS: Yes. And, or, you know, I called the person and it really wasn’t something that, they weren’t interested in filing a charge, or they decided they would wait, or, so they write back and say what action they have taken. And if there’s anything wrong with the information, they say that too.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: But the field knows, people in the field know they have a mechanism by which to, you know --
MR. ELKINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: -- let us know when there’s errors, stuff like that and --
MR. ELKINS: I had an email waiting for me this morning from the Intake Supervisor in Philadelphia saying that she had gotten an EAS questionnaire that should have gone to Pittsburgh, and what was the --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay.
MR. ELKINS: -- but the EAS system has an automatic built-in decision maker. And if you, if the caller doesn’t have the zip code, which determines jurisdiction, the default is to send it to the District Office, which in this case was Philadelphia.
MS. PIERRE: Can I add? Ed has made presentations to every MDI, every management class in the last two and a half years that’s come in to Headquarters. So they all know that Ed is the person to contact if there is an issue or question or discrepancy with the Contact Center as well as he’s in touch with all the Intake Supervisors and all the offices. So they know who to address any concerns or questions about the Contact Center to in Headquarters.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: All right. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Commissioner. Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: No, I have no other questions.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Madam Vice Chair.
VICE CHAIR EARP: No, I have some final comments, but no questions.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Can I ask just a few other questions before we do wrap up statements. Quickly. Quickly. Quickly. Quickly. No, right, right. No, no, no, no.
I wanted just to thank the IG for having this report done. I thought it was helpful to get an independent look-see at the Call Center. I know there was some controversy over the report itself and it engendered a lot of discussion within the Agency, but I wanted to thank you for doing that. I thought it was a useful report. I assume it’s going to be publicly posted on --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I did say that in my remarks.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Oh, okay. Excellent. So because since we are talking about it today, I think the fact that the public can --
MS BROWN: Thank you, Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you. And Madam Vice Chair, could I go back to your third option again of what delay would mean?
VICE CHAIR EARP: It’s not on the table for a vote --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No, no, no.
VICE CHAIR EARP: I hope in my wrap up to address that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: To talk about it. Okay. Thank you, Madam Chair.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Commissioner. I just wanted to wrap up, you know, if you take all of this information, if you could share with me just a couple of sentences as, what do you think were the key lessons learned during this pilot phase of the process?
MR. ELKINS: I’ll say one. Employers are not nearly as sophisticated as we thought they were. There is a lot of outright plain old garden variety discrimination out there. And I think that surprised us, that people were doing, employers were doing such things as enquiring about daycare and childcare arrangements, and age of employee applicants. So, we’ve revised the scripts to include more stuff about pre-employment inquiries, but I’m still astounded by some of the horror tales that we get, of what’s going on in the workplace.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you. Any others?
MS. PIERRE: I think one of the key lessons learned for us in OFP was the necessity to share as much information as possible, as early as possible. And I think we didn’t do that often enough throughout the process. And that would be one of the things that we would want to improve on in the future. By bringing more people into the process and sharing more information in terms of improvements that are needed, any concerns that are identified, listening and acting on them more quickly.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
MS. BROWN: I think I agree. Wanted to just agree with Cynthia on that. This points to the recommendation of change management and getting everybody on the same page, so to speak, and having the input from the people who are actually supposed to be represented by the NCC, the field staff. And to get their comments, and their feelings about it, and get their buy in, and their support for making any corrections that need to be made. With that, I think, it would lend more success to the project.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
MR. INZEO: I would agree with the IG, in terms of working with the field staff, more. I think a lot of the comments that we saw came from field staff. We need, we need to work with staff members more closely so that we all have a better understanding of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how it’s working. And I would think that we should do that as we extend it.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you. You know as I listen to the level of scrutiny and evaluation and assessment, and questions posed by my fellow Commissioners, I just yearned for the same and hungered for that same level of scrutiny to the calls that we get within the Commission. And that’s, that’s the part that we don’t have. But boy do I wish we had that that type of information. With that I will turn it over to Madam Vice Chair for final comments.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Madam Chair. I have no regrets about having voted for the NCC Pilot last time. I would do it again today if, I were given the same information today that I had last time and if the circumstances were the same. However, the issue before us today is not, in my view, the same as the one before us nearly two years ago. Back then I was very concerned about EEOC’s ability to technologically keep up, and what I perceived as a fear of change. I was willing two years ago to take a chance.
Today, because of the concerns I heard for two years, because of the reports that I’ve read in the last few days and because of the testimony that I’ve heard today, even though it’s not on the agenda for vote, I want the record to show that I think it’s time for us to push the pause button on the NCC.
Let me take just a couple of minutes to share how I got here. When considering the pilot, I understood that EEOC was handling nearly one million calls a year. I was persuaded that a technologically sophisticated strategy to effectively respond to and manage such a large call volume was worthy of my support. I hoped that the customer service representatives would fall in love with our mission and become almost as dedicated to it as we are. I believed the CSRs would develop a passion for the work that we do, and that passion would generally negate any concern about the level of turnover that generally affects Call Center employees.
Instead, I learned that the CSRs don’t even take ownership of many of our calls. While I still believe in the technological sophistication of the NCC, my belief in the human component is shaken. And I fear this is not the right time to move forward with another expenditure of our limited funds.
The conventional wisdom is that we should continue to fund this effort because we’ve already made a substantial investment, but conventional wisdom is conventional for a reason. It tends to be the easiest thing to do. It’s easy to believe that in the next twelve months, we can make all the corrections necessary that we were unable to discern, as the NCC was being designed, and that we were unable to correct as the problems presented themselves over the last 22 months. It’s easy to believe that we should continue along this path because we’ve already started the journey. We should not be seduced into extending this pilot simply because it’s easy.
Because as the Chair alluded to, there is much more at stake than just our vote today. The NCC Pilot did not handle anything close to the number of calls projected. I am aware of the explanations and the justifications for why the numbers do not match expectation. But frankly, to be honest, I question whether some of the explanations are merely self-serving or if the explanations evidence broader our deficiencies in our vision, our planning, leadership, and management.
With the two year pilot, we have squandered to some extent a golden opportunity to get positioned for the 21 st century. But something good has come out of it, in my estimation. A pilot by definition is designed to serve as a testing ground to bring weaknesses to light. In many ways, the NCC Pilot did just that. The idea of a National Contact Center is still one that I embrace. Many agencies, as we’ve discussed today, have shown it to be a workable solution. However, our pilot has proven to me that our version of a Contact Center is not quite ready for prime time.
As an agency, we appear to have never fully committed ourselves to the idea of NCC. Some offices continue to have the public call their offices directly by-passing the Contact Center entirely. There was a need for coordination between EEOC and the NCC that should have been built into the very foundation of the NCC. Rather than work closely as partners, many of our employees seem to just take a step back and just watch to see how things were going. A few, and this is sad for me to say, but a few of our employees, I believe, actually engaged in a subversive campaign to derail the process. But we’re talking culture change, and culture change takes a long time. With what we know now that we did not know then, I believe we can still make a silk purse from this sow’s ear. Recommendations for improving the NCC seem sound, at least to me they do. However, in my estimation, the problem is not the recommendations, but how we got to the point of needing to make these major changes at this late stage. Many of the issues identified by the IG should have been worked out during the two year pilot. In the briefings that I had during the pilot, I heard of very few problems. Either the people briefing me didn’t know that there were problems or they didn’t want me to know that there were problems. Either way, I will not reward that approach.
Our agency is facing increasing pressures. Our budget is growing slower than our increasing cost. We have yet to properly harness technology to help us leverage our limited precious resources. When the vote is called, today I will vote no, on the obligation of funds for the EEO Contact Center Options Years. This “no” vote will break a 95 percent record of me voting with the majority on budget, contract and policy matters. But I break this record precisely because there is so much at stake.
Some will view my vote today as a step backward. But just as it is a mistake to constantly study an issue and never act, I believe it is equally as bad to continue doing something that is not working as expected, hoping to fix it on the fly, such as developing a business case as we are trying to service the public. A business case, after the fact, is unacceptable.
I believe the EEOC should move forward with NASA as an example, as a guiding light. After the Challenger explosion, NASA quickly identified what went wrong. They knew it was the O-ring. They also knew how to fix the O-ring. NASA could have been back in space in very, very short order. Instead, they took a major step back. The stand- down lasted for several years as NASA involved not just managers, but low level employees in evaluating problems and charting their course for the future. Like the EEOC’s lack of synergy with the NCC and our own internal communications problems, NASA addressed a similar dynamic with its contractors. NASA also spent considerable time and energy on improving internal communications between its engineers, its astronauts and its managers. To me, NASA’s example is a metaphor for what we have lived the last 22 months.
I am committed to some type of Contact Center or national receptionist, as I have heard it called, or some type of standardized intake process for EEOC. Despite problems with the NCC, I don’t mean to imply that it is a disaster of the Challenger magnitude. I am simply saying, no, for now. At this time, I believe we should stand-down. And in the interim, at no cost, I believe that we should marshal all the evidence, look at the data, reconsider the lessons learned for the past 22 months, study it, involve all of our employees in helping to decide what the goal should be.
I am also grateful for bi-partisan congressional support. Like our congressional support, I also believe that the NCC should get another year, but not this year, not at this time. Thank you, Madam Chair.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Madam Vice Chair.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Thank you. When I voted to approve the initial funding of the Contact Center Pilot, I was hopeful that the Contact Center would significantly improve the level of service that we at the EEOC provide to the public. I noted at that time that many of our offices simply do not have sufficient staffing or technology to answer the phone. And as a result, in many of our offices, our phones went unanswered or callers had no option other than to leave a voicemail message, and often the voicemail box was full or callers who left a message, waited days or longer, sometimes never, for a return to be called – for a return call.
As everyone in this room is well aware, the calls we receive are often pleas for help – pleas for help from people whose rights have been violated, and I felt strongly then, as I do today, that we cannot afford to let this continue. I hoped in approving the Contact Center Pilot, it meant that all of our callers would now be able to talk to an actual person, that the Commission would have the ability to converse with the members of the public no matter what language they speak. That we would provide many of these callers with the information that they need without ever having to involve any of our own staff. And by performing some of this frontline work, investigators and other field employees would be freed up to do higher level work.
It’s been two years since we originally approved the pilot, and the Contact Center has been up and running for over fifteen months which when you consider that the Commission is in our 41 st year, or just, yes, it’s in our 41 st year, is not a very long time. So today, as we consider whether to extend the pilot, the question really is, did it work, was the pilot successful? And the answer seems to me to be mixed. It’s yes and it’s no. In some ways it worked. When the public calls, someone answers the phone, and that alone is a vast improvement. Our customer satisfaction surveys showed, have shown excellent results. The public is happy with our Contact Center, and the Contact Center is, to some extent, freeing up staff resources for other work. According to OFP, 60 or 70 percent of all calls received by the Contact Center are resolved there without any field involvement. And even using the lower estimate of resolution rate of 51 percent offered by the JPS study, this seems to me to be significant, a significant success.
Now if we were doing a perfunctory review of the terms of the contract, it would be fair to say that the Contact Center is meeting the goals of the contract in most respects. But our responsibility at the Commission is to dig deeper. And as the JPS study points out, and as we’ve heard from our own staff, there is vast room for improvement. And it seems to me that that should focus on five areas. First, we need to increase the number of calls going into the Contact Center. The call volume is vastly lower than we anticipated when we approved the contract, but it’s also partially our own fault for deciding to allow only some of the calls to go in.
Second, we need to increase the rate in which the Contact Center is resolving calls.
Third, we need to improve the accuracy of the information provided by the Contact Center to the public. And to the extent that there’s concerns about soft skills, we need to address them, too. Fourth, we need to improve the accuracy and the completeness of the information transmitted from the Contact Center to the field. We have heard over and over again from the field staff that the forms aren’t being filled out correctly or fully, and that this creates additional burdens on our employees. We need to take steps to address this problem, find out where the real problems are and where they aren’t, and correct what we need to correct.
And finally, we need to come up with ways to streamline the process between the NCC and the EEOC.
So the question is, is it worth making these improvements or should we give up on the Contact Center now. In my view, it just doesn’t make good financial sense to pull the plug at this time or as the Vice Chair just said, push the pause button. We’ve invested a lot of time, money, and resources in this Pilot Project. It’s only eighteen months old since it was first up and running. And we owe it to ourselves and most importantly the people we serve, to give it a little more time and out best effort to make this work for us.
If we stop now we are going to lose much of our investment, momentum and the opportunity. If we pause and reevaluate, that’s what’s going to happen. The start-up cost alone would be huge if we decided to do another one. And in the meanwhile, many of our phones will go unanswered, and our customer service will plummet.
I’ve told the Chair that I would be willing to support the Contact Center for this additional year as long as we put certain measures in place. In particular with a few tweaks, I would like to see us adopt the recommendations of the JPS study. I’m particularly interested in seeing us address the issues I mentioned earlier. I want to insure that we are continually notifying all the EEOC staff of the special voicemail and email accounts, which they should be using to voice their problems with the Contact Center so that we can quickly resolve any concerns and adopt new systems if necessary to avoid problems in the future. When we know that they all know about it, and they are not complaining to you, but they’re complaining to us - we can’t fix problems we don’t know about - and that will, I think, will go a long way. I want to see monthly reports showing our progress so we at the Commission know what you know. And finally by next spring, I’d like to see a full Cost Benefit Analysis of the Contact Center, the beginning of next spring, as well as an independent evaluation. I specifically ask that except for the baseline and background data, this evaluation not begin until January 2007, which will give us at the Agency the time to implement these many new changes we need to put in place.
I do not believe that the Contact Center is currently functioning at a capacity that is worthy of a long term investment. But I do think that we are on our way and I believe that with serious tinkering of the value of our Contact Center - with serious tinkering the value of our Contact Center would far outweigh our investments. So if the Commission is seriously committed to rolling up our sleeves and working with our staff and Pierson to make the necessary changes, then I am more then willing to give the pilot one more year to prove its worth.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Commissioner Silverman.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to go back in my close to talk about some of the benefits that I see with this pilot. And I think one of the benefits has been somewhat underplayed is how well our staff in fact, and our offices and our management of the district and local offices and field offices have performed. And the JPS report found that, while field office intake procedures varied, they, the field offices, provide timely customer service. The fact that 31 or 34 of our 51 offices don’t refer first time callers and are answering the calls and getting back to people in a timely fashion, I think, says something. And it shows a management change that has been positive and it shows the possibilities of how we might be able to deal with this, if we do adopt another pilot year and in another year change back, given management changes, may in fact be possible and doable.
When I was - when we voted on this two years ago or almost two years ago, my, one of my primary concerns was that I did not know whether a Call Center, where people trained for two weeks taking these calls, would be able to deal with the types of calls we received. I spent an hour and twenty minutes yesterday on the phone with Verizon, and dealing with the Call Center, and actually had a pretty good experience because that person actually walked me through and got me to the right people and solved my problem. And I was impressed, but again, it was for something, as I mentioned at the meeting two years ago, that was a more quantitative type problem. Here’s my problem, tell me how to fix it.
I must say that when Mr. Elkins gave the lesson that he learned that most employers are not sophisticated, it plays into some of my greatest fears that the Call Center is not capturing and can not capture the types of sophisticated second generation discrimination that I believe still continues to plague our nation, the types of discrimination that we have talked about at Commission meetings this past year, the types of problems that Commissioner Silverman’s Systemic Task Force was trying to get to the root of and trying to make our processes work better. I do not know and cannot estimate how many calls like this are not getting reported, are not getting through, are not getting to our people to make an evaluation, that I find very troublesome.
This is a different time than it was two years ago. We have invested, at least by contractual terms, five million dollars in this contract. Our budget for this next year, the President’s budget, proposes an unfortunate cut to our budget. And if that is enacted by the Congress, we will need to come up with an extra 4 million dollars of cuts from somewhere in our program. I’m not sure where that’s going to come from. And I’m not sure whether this is the right time to be investing yet another 2.5 million dollars in this program. I know that that covers just the contract alone and not the other associated cost of our staff to monitor and to deal with Call Center issues. I would estimate that that cost is substantial, but it is something that I’m not in a position to quantify. I must say that if this, if this experiment is a -- continues that, it be treated as an experiment. And it not be treated as implementation of a program. I was somewhat baffled when I received briefings during the course of the Pilot Program that baseline information by our offices, was not kept for, in large part. And it was not kept so that we could do an evaluation of how our offices are doing vis-à-vis the Contact Center. That to me was stunning during the course of a Pilot Project, that baseline information during this experiment was not being kept. It’s a lot of money in an Agency that doesn’t have the extra pennies, nickels and dimes to spare.
And I am, well I think there have been positives to this, I hope as we think about this, if in fact that we do vote to extend for a year, that we think about possibly peeling off the parts that we know do work and we know do bring value to us. And at the appropriate point, going forward with those pieces and looking at other pieces where it has not worked as well and seeing whether there are alternatives.
Ms. Pierre and I got into a long discussion at the meeting two years ago about how much it would have cost us to do a Call Center in-house or to use the technology to create a virtual Call Center where we could employ people perhaps working at home, perhaps retirees from the Agency, perhaps people with disabilities who were or could become experts in this, people who could work at home or who wanted flexibility, whether we could use those people on a cost effective basis. That may be something in our future, I know that Pierson, in this contract, did not have people working out of the site itself, and I appreciate that.
But I think there are good things that have come of this. I think there are a lot of things that need some improvement. So we will see where this goes, but I do hope that we treat this as an experiment that in fact it is, and not as an implementation of a program that we signed off on. I think by the comments made here today, there are serious concerns whether this is the right course the Agency should be taking. And I hope that’s taken to heart.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Commissioner. Commissioner Griffin.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Well unlike my colleagues, I wasn’t here around two years ago. So I wasn’t here for the initial vote, so I can’t tell you what I was thinking then.
But I can tell you from what I’ve read that I really do think that the original reason for having a Call Center is still sound. I think that, what we’re talking about is really providing the best customer service that we can to the people that rely on us. Having the ability to answer the phones live nationwide, rapid and accurate routing of potential charge inquiries to the appropriate field office, and the ability to spot trends and emerging issues to inform our own policy development, are still important potential benefits of having a Call Center. Are we there yet? No. Can we get there? Maybe. But we won’t know unless we spend this next year working towards that goal.
I believe that this type of a Call Center is inherently more complex than a traditional Call Center is. And that possibly, you know, hindsight’s 20/20, maybe we should have actually planned a longer pilot period to begin with. This has only been really operational, taking calls, for 18 months. It was six months ago when evaluation really began of this or even longer, I think when it actually began. So I really, I’m not sure that we really gave it enough time when it was fully operational to be able to evaluate it. So I wish we had contemplated a longer a longer pilot period.
The evaluation makes it clear to me that we don’t currently have all the information that we need to make the decision to really terminate it right now. I’m encouraged by the latest Customer Service Report, which indicates that the Call Center has a strong index rating as compared to other federal agency Call Centers. And I think we just need the time to make the changes that the Chair and the staff have all talked about, and that we’ve all talked to the Chair and the staff about. I’m prepared to vote for the continuation of the pilot for one more year. Again we need to have the time to make those changes, and most importantly to me, to see another evaluation; to take the baseline evaluation we now have and to have another evaluation in place in another year, and really see if we’ve made those improvements. And also the Cost Benefit Analysis is very important to me. I really do think that we need that information to make a final decision regarding the actual effectiveness of a Call Center. Some of this information will provide the basis for even exploring alternatives, should we decide not to renew the Call Center next year, so I think we need that information regardless.
I think it would be irresponsible to end the contract right now and to expect the field offices to take over this task again in September without significant investment in staffing and technology for them as well. So while it may sound tempting to end this contract today with the idea that we could reevaluate it and start anew, this, to me, doesn’t make sound fiscal sense. We can’t wait a year or two and pick up where we left off. We’d have to start all over again. The bidding process, the start-up cost alone would be an additional one and half million dollars, not to mention the additional cost of doing it all over again, having our staff train a new Contact Center staff.
So we know that we’re going to be facing additional budget cuts in the next fiscal year. I really believe the prudent thing to do right now, given the sizable investment that we’ve already made, is to make a final attempt to accomplish the benefits originally envisioned in the 2003 Assessment Report.
I intend, and I think as you heard from my fellow Commissioners, to monitor this pilot, this last pilot year very closely to insure that all the improvements we talked today, about today, are made to the Call Center so that we are delivering the quality of services to the general public and to our field offices, the type of quality of services that they both expect and deserve.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Commissioner Griffin. And thank you to all my fellow Commissioners and panel members for their contributions here this morning.
Last evening I was reflecting on the words of former Chief Justice, Warren Burger, who also chaired the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, that little book that many of us carry around. And he noted that the Constitution was not perfect when it was first written, and it’s not perfect even today with all of its Amendments. But the reason why our system of governance endures and is in fact the most enduring system of governance in the world, is because we don’t give up, we keep on trying.
And I believe this year will give us an opportunity to keep on trying and to give our customers the best possible service that we can give them. I am on the record as saying I don’t have the same level of confidence that we are providing that type of service without the Contact Center.
So thank you all very much. And without further ado, I move that we approve the one year option for the obligation of funds for EEOC’s National Contact Center. Is there a second?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Second.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is there any further discussion?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Madam Chair, could you reiterate the direction you’re going to give to OFP that you said in your opening statement, just so we can hear it one more --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: It’s in the record. I mean, what we’re voting up and down now is the extension with or without the directions. But what we are voting up and down is the extension of the contract.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Are you --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I guess because none of this was presented to me in writing --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Well Commissioner, it has nothing to do with the vote today. What we are voting on today --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But it does, Madam Chair, because it goes to, it goes to how it will be carried out because you are in fact directing the offices to do certain things.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Right. What I’ve heard the Commissioners, those who favor the one year option, is that, in addition to the recommendations that have been made in the directives, that everyone will monitor. Now what we are here to do now is to vote on that extension. I understand that you are voting against it. You are on the record as saying that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well no, you never asked me how I was voting. I haven’t been on the record. And I’ve given no indication to you how I’m going to vote today. So you really don’t know.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I misunderstood. I thought you were.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No, no, no. Let me ask one clarifying question because this is, this is something that permeated our debate two years ago, and that’s the whole notion of whether the Call Center should be taking charges. And I know one of the recommendations --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner, I really consider this out of order. At this point we have to discuss the motion before us. You know, we’ve had ample time to talk about the operational issues.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: If you want to censor me during the debate, that’s okay.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I don’t want to censor you.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I just want to get clear that one of the recommendations in the IG’s Report is that the Steering Committee should consider whether the Call Center itself should be taking charges, taking more of a role. And it was my recollection, and my belief, that EEOC employees should be the ones doing that. And well, I don’t, I am uncomfortable about going down this road of having the Call Center possibly taking charges.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: That’s not what’s before the Commissioners for vote today. What’s before the Commissioners for vote is extending another option year, the obligation of funds. That’s all we’re doing, in addition to, what we’ve talked about operationally, ways to improve the services offered by the Contact Center. Which unfortunate --
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: The Steering Committee, in the report it said, that the Steering Committee should consider that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: I don’t think that’s part of the contract, Stuart. And I would imagine that we wouldn’t do that without a vote of the Commission.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I just wanted some discussion to make sure that whatever we would do regarding that issue would be fully debated before anything like that was implemented. That’s basically what I’m looking --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: That’s a policy issue. That’s not part of the contract discussion.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, Madam Chair, you and I have had a lot of discussions --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes, we have.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- on and off the record --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- about policy versus implementation.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: But. All right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But I understand what you are telling me. So I will yield back.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Okay. Thank you.
Any further discussion?
Hearing none, all those in favor, and let’s do this via role call.
Madam Vice Chair.
VICE CHAIR EARP: No.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner Silverman.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Yes.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner Griffin.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Yes.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: And I vote yes.
The result of the vote is three for and two against. Therefore the motion carries.
Again, thank you, Commissioners, very much. I know this is a very difficult situation as we try to figure out how to best invest our resources. I appreciate this opportunity and look forward to continued progress reports on this.
There being no further business, do I hear a motion to adjourn the meeting?
VICE CHAIR: So moved.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: All in favor.
(Chorus of ayes.)
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Opposed?
The ayes have it, and the meeting is adjourned.
(Whereupon, the above entitled matter was concluded at 12:24 p.m.)
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