Meeting of September 17, 2004 to Vote on Authorization of Funds for Pilot National Contact Center
The session convened at 10:02 a.m., Cari M. Dominguez, Chair, presiding.
CARI M. DOMINGUEZ Chair
NAOMI C. EARP Vice Chair
LESLIE E. SILVERMAN Commissioner
STUART J. ISHIMARU Commissioner
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: The meeting will now come to order. Good morning and welcome. We very much appreciate your presence here today.
The purpose of this meeting is to openly discuss and vote on the proposal to obligate funds for the pilot National Contact Center. By way of background, this action follows a prior vote of the Commission. In November of 2003, the Commission unanimously approved its internal workgroup's proposal to solicit bids for a two-year pilot National Contact Center. Pursuant to that November, 2003 vote of approval by the Commissioners, EEOC issued a pre-solicitation notice on December 5th, 2003, requesting public comment on a proposed Statement of Objectives for the National Contact Center.
After modifying the proposed Statement of Objectives in response to the public comments, we issued a formal request for proposals on March 8th, 2004. EEOC received numerous proposals, evaluated them, and EEOC's source selection authority selected a vendor for award of the contract.
Under EEOC's internal procedures, the Commissioners must approve the obligation of funds for any contract that exceeds $100,000. Again, let me repeat; in November of 2003, we voted to approve the solicitation of proposals from potential contractors to conduct the pilot program. Today we're voting to approve or disapprove the obligation of funds for the resulting National Contact Center contract.
We appreciate Commissioner Ishimaru's request that this item be placed on the agenda, which allows for the public to observe today's deliberations. Let me also mention that we recognize that we are in the Rosh Hashanah period. This is a public meeting, but only to observe, and so we're videotaping the event. We'll also have a transcript for those who wish to watch it later on after the observances. But again, this only will apply for today's purposes. It only would apply to the Commissioners here, and we will have a tape available for those who wish to see it after their observances.
Having said that, let me also remind the Commissioners that the Procurement Integrity Act protects certain procurement information from public disclosure. For example, we cannot publicly discuss in any way the individual bidders, or pricing information, or cost proposals that we have received for the National Contact Center.
The purpose of these restrictions is to ensure fair bidding on this contract, and future contracts. All the Commissioners have been fully briefed and given detailed information, and their requests for data have received responses.
I have also asked the Associate Legal Counsel to advise us immediately if any discussion today starts to veer off into these prohibited areas. At this time, I'm going to ask Bernadette Wilson to announce any notation votes that have taken place since the last Commission meeting, as well as to tell us again the rules for public observation of our meeting. Ms. Wilson.
MS. WILSON: Good morning, Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioners. I'm Bernadette Wilson from the Executive Secretariat. During the period April 21st, 2004 through September 16th, 2004, the Commission acted on 32 items by notation vote. Approved litigation on 19 cases; approved resolutions honoring Cecilia Sanchez, Marie Bellinger and Katherine Bissell; approved the renewal of a maintenance contract for Cisco Routers and Network Switches; approved the Spring, 2004 regulatory agenda; approved TAPS training facilities for Chicago, Illinois, and Atlanta, Georgia; approved the Publications Distribution Center contract; approved an Office of Federal Operations decision in James E. Lewis v. DLA; approved the purchase of backup software and equipment; approved software development support for the integrated mission system; approved the procurement of desktop network and e-Government-related services; approved the information technology contractor services; and approved the Microsoft Office Suite software licenses.
Madam Chair, in order to ensure that the Commission's deliberations are not disrupted or impeded, we appreciate your cooperation in complying with the guidelines governing the public's conduct which are posted outside of this room. As indicated there, questions and comments from the audience are not permitted during the meeting. We ask that you carry on any conversations outside the meeting room, and if you need to depart and re-enter, that you do so as quietly as possible. Also, please take this opportunity to turn your cell phones off or to vibrate mode.
The meeting is being videotaped by EEOC for the purpose of providing a transcript of today's proceedings, which will be posted on the Commission's website at www.EEOC.gov.
Madam Chair, it's appropriate at this time to have a motion to close a portion of the next Commission meeting in case any items on that agenda relate to the issuance or revocation of subpoenas, or the Commission's possible participation in litigation.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: 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 say aye.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: The ayes have it and the motion is carried. Thank you very much, Ms. Wilson.
We will proceed as follows this morning. First, Cynthia Pierre, Director of Field Management Programs in the Office of Field Programs will provide a report on today's agenda item. Then individual Commissioners may present statements for the record before we begin our discussion.
Accompanying Ms. Pierre at the table is Jeffrey Smith, Chief Financial Officer who is with Ms. Pierre, and will be available to answer questions from the Commissioners as part of our deliberations. Welcome, Ms. Pierre.
MS. PIERRE: Good morning, Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioner Silverman and Commissioner Ishimaru. My name is Cynthia Pierre. I am the Director of Field Management Programs in the Office of Field Programs at EEOC Headquarters. Beside me is Jeffrey Smith, Chief Financial Officer.
Before proceeding though, I would like to also acknowledge the members of the National Contact Center Contract Technical Evaluation Panel who are also present in the audience, and that would include Edward R. Edison-Elkins, Director of Field Coordination Programs, Katherine Kores, Regional Attorney from Memphis, Reuben Daniels, District Director in Charlotte, and Ralph Suris, Acting Attorney Advisor in the Office of Field Programs. They're all in the front row. Welcome.
Just over one year ago, on September 8th, 2003, I had the honor of presenting to the Commission the report of the EEOC National Contact Center work group. The work group recommended that EEOC go forward with a time limited pilot program using a private sector vendor to help in establishing a National Customer Service Center.
I come before you today to report on the activity since that time connected with the solicitation for a National Contact Center vendor. First, I will give you a little background to our situation, to our report, then I will talk a bit about the solicitation process, and then I will end with some of the issues that have come up or arisen during the course of our solicitation process.
In February, 2003, the National Academy of Public Administration panel made a series of recommendations for improving EEOC's operational efficiencies and program effectiveness. The most urgent of their recommendations involved the establishment of a National Contact Center as a way to improve the quality, timeliness, and consistency and accessibility of services to EEOC's customers.
Consistent with that recommendation, the Chair formed an internal workgroup of field and Headquarters staff to explore the feasibility of establishing such a center. The workgroup found that EEOC currently receives an estimated 1 million or more unsolicited calls annually from the public. It also found that of these calls, approximately 61 percent were general inquiries or were not about filing a charge; rather, these 61 percent of calls sought general information about EEOC and the laws it enforced, or laws that were enforced by other federal agencies. The remaining 39 percent were seeking to file a charge of employment discrimination.
Regarding the EEOC's service delivery performance, the workgroup found highly inefficient systems with a wide variety of practices hampered by inadequate telecommunications infrastructure, and uneven staffing, leading to numerous complaints of unanswered calls or long delays in service response. And I would just like to say while this was a finding of the workgroup, I worked for 20 years in the field, and this was not a situation that was new to us, and it was basically a confirmation of what had been existing for quite a long time.
The workgroup concluded that the volume of calls and inquiries currently received by EEOC could not be effectively or efficiently handled with the agency's current infrastructure and technology, and that the return on investment in a contact center would allow the EEOC to realize tremendous improvement in our service capacity, and effectiveness.
The workgroup recommended that the contact center not handle actual charge filing, but focus on responding to general and routine inquiries from the public and gathering information to improve our service delivery.
The primary benefit of the contact center would be to free-up the EEOC staff to focus on mission critical activities such as charge intake and investigation, counseling of potential charging parties, outreach to employers and employees.
On September 5th, 2003 we provided the Commission a copy of the workgroup's full report on contact center feasibility. As mentioned earlier, the key recommendation of the workgroup was to initiate a solicitation for a contractor to conduct a two-year pilot of a National Contact Center in order to achieve significant improvements in the agency's ability to respond to public inquiries.
The Commission subsequently discussed the workgroup's report and recommendations at a public meeting on September 8th, 2003. Stakeholder groups, the National Union and employees also commented on the recommendation for a National Contact Center at this meeting. The meeting record and the executive summary of the workgroup report remain available on the Commission's website. In November, 2003, the four sitting Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the report and recommendations of the workgroup.
Now I'll talk a little bit about the solicitation process that we've gone through. On December 5th, 2003, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a pre-solicitation notice for a National Contact Center requesting comments on the sufficiency of the proposed statement of objectives from interested vendors. The contracting officer received approximately 200 responses with suggestions which were used to improve the quality of the solicitation package.
After incorporating changes to the solicitation based on the industry response, the contracting officer issued a request for proposal 0410 as an open competition on March 8th, 2004. Technical and cost proposals were received on April 12th, 2004.
During this same period, an EEOC technical evaluation panel was established with the aim of completing this proposal review process and submitting a recommendation to the source selection authority for approval by August, 2004.
Additionally, during the period December, 2003 through April, 2004, to ensure the successful transition of a National Contact Center, several agency workgroups developed a number of useful documents to facilitate the process. For example, the knowledge-based content that the customer service representatives will use when responding to inquiries has been developed and approved by the EEOC's Office of Legal Counsel. Another workgroup made up of the very best training designers and presenters put together a comprehensive training program with instructor and training materials concerning all the laws the EEOC enforces, as well as the processes it is responsible for implementing.
This training will be conducted by senior EEOC Staff to ensure that the customer service representatives receive superior training on all EEOC procedural and substantive issues. Because of their high quality and utility, these materials are being used to assist EEOC staff in responding to public inquiries and in the training of the new employees we have brought on board. In addition, the training package developed for customer service representatives has been used by internal EEOC staff in the development of its new EEOC website aimed at teens in the workplace.
The American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE, filed a bid protest with the General Accounting Office on March 29th, 2004, challenging the Commission's decision to seek proposals for a contact center, and alleging that the Commission had not complied with OMB Circular A-76. Among other things, AFGE argued that the agency must conduct a public private price competition before deciding to contract work out unless a waiver is secured from OMB.
The GAO dismissed the Union's bid protest on April 19th, 2004, stating that federal unions lack standing to file since they are not interested parties within the meaning of GAO's bid protest jurisdiction.
In any event, EEOC in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and Administrative Services has taken the position that a waiver from OMB for this procurement was not required because the circular does not require a public/private price competition if the services involved constitute new work or a segregable expansion of existing work. Since the proposed procurement creates a centralized dedicated contact center with many technological and communication capacities not now possessed by EEOC, the services being procured constitute either new work or segregable expansion of existing work.
From April, 2004 through July, 2004, the Technical Evaluation Panel undertook the required steps in the solicitation process to assess the proposals of the various offerors. In August, 2004, the Chair of the Technical Evaluation Panel and the contracting officer for the solicitation submitted a joint memorandum to the source selection authority identifying a recommended vendor for selection. The source selection authority met with members of the technical evaluation panel and the contracting officer to discuss their positions and draft recommendations, and to seek clarification on various issues.
After an independent review, the source selection authority selected a contractor, and on August 26th, 2004 a contract approval package was forwarded to the Commission.
Now as I said, a number of issues have arose during this process, and I will discuss a few of them. The first one is on the cost of the National Contact Center. Based on preliminary market research, the EEOC workgroup estimated the cost of a contract to operate a center to be between two to three million dollars annually after an initial transition phase. Estimates were subsequently obtained showing that an in-house contact center could cost $12 million for infrastructure alone; that is, the technology, equipment and telecommunications required to set up a contact center. Cost of staffing, space rental, and maintenance would be additional. The September, 2003 report estimated that internal staff time for answering calls on an intermittent basis as is done now were projected to equal about $1.4 million in salary cost in 2003.
Another issue that has arisen, as I mentioned, touched on a bit earlier is the applicability of OMB Circular A-76. The EEOC has taken the position that the National Contact Center constitutes a new requirement or a segregable expansion to an existing commercial activity performed by EEOC employees, because the center will provide EEOC with capacities that are not currently available; such as, 24-hour access, including 12 hours per day immediate access to customer service representatives. Multiple language capacity for all offices up to 150 languages; centralized logging and tracking of data on the nature, volume, duration, and resolution of inquiries. It will also track demographics relating to public contacts for analysis of workplace trends and customer requirements.
It will provide real-time monitoring of calls for quality assurance. It will provide a central point of contact through multiple channels, not just the telephone, but e-mail, fax, postal mail, and the web. And finally, it will include a complete and searchable integration of management data and contact center information that could be used to help assist callers.
A third issue that has arisen has been on the displacement of EEOC employees - will EEOC employees' jobs be lost as a result of this contact center. The National Contact Center will not displace any EEOC employees. Rather, EEOC employees will be relieved of collateral phone duties, and able to devote more time to core job functions; such as, intake, investigation, mediation, litigation, outreach, management, and staff support.
The EEOC has carefully considered a range of options. Based on available data, the workgroup calculated and anticipates that taxpayers will be better served by exploring the economies of scale that can be achieved by a contractor operated contact center, with contractor-owned technology. A two-year pilot program will allow collection of precise and reliable data on performance, customer satisfaction and cost to serve as a basis for decisions on whether to extend the program beyond the pilot period.
A fourth issue has been the ability of contact center employees to answer EEOC inquiries. The EEOC's National Contact Center will be capable of answering the most frequently asked questions posed to the EEOC. In addition, many quality assurance measures will be taken. For example, most calls are basic in nature. As mentioned earlier, 61 percent cover topics other than potential charge filing. Besides general information, there are requests for case status, file disclosure, customer service complaints, other employment issues not related to employment discrimination. A comprehensive searchable database with content provided by EEOC will be used to answer these routine inquiries.
EEOC has developed and approved a web-based inquiry assessment tool, and on-line questionnaire that will be posted on our public website. Customer service representatives will provide access to this site for callers without computers by administering these web-based tools over the telephone.
Customer service representatives will be trained, tested and certified on hard and soft skills; that is, on EEOC content knowledge and handling of sensitive situations before taking calls. Calls will be monitored in real-time for quality assurance, for accuracy and courtesy by EEOC staff and contact center supervisors. EEOC staff will be able to do live remote monitoring of the contact center staff.
The performance of customer service representatives will be measured in terms of accuracy of data captured, and accuracy of responses given. The center will have an electronic record of questions asked and answers given in order to review the accuracy.
Customer service representatives will not take charges, but will collect information from potential charge filers, and forward the information to EEOC offices for assessment and follow-up. Complex inquiries will be directly referred to appropriate EEOC staff for response.
The EEOC contact center will operate under business rules that emphasize customer satisfaction and quality assurance, rather than duration of the call. EEOC staff will be solicited for input regarding the operation of the center throughout the pilot period.
And lastly, although this may not be the last of the issues, but the last I'll discuss today, is inherently governmental functions; whether or not what the contact center staff will be performing are inherently governmental functions.
In fact, the contact center employees will not counsel or screen out potential charge filers regarding whether or not they have a charge of discrimination. They will be screening in inquirers in respect to providing them access to the Commission. Neither will they be expected to answer questions related to complex issues of employment discrimination.
Customer service representatives will be trained to recognize more complex factual inquiries, and refer those, seeking an interpretation of the law or a set of facts to our field offices. The customer service representatives will describe the laws the EEOC enforces, serve as a clearinghouse for information on employee rights and employer responsibilities, provide information on how the investigative process and mediation work, give the location and telephone numbers of our field offices and the hours of operation, provide case status information, and file disclosure information, provide referral information for other agencies, and provide responses to requests for training and education.
Most calls to the EEOC cover these subjects. However, if a caller wants to discuss a potential charge of discrimination, the customer service representative will collect the information, record the pertinent information using a web-based inquiry assessment tool, and forward the information to the appropriate EEOC office for follow-up.
We also note that our determination that contact center representatives will not be performing inherently governmental work is shared by many other agencies with public information centers who have contact centers staffed or operated by contractors. Therefore, we are not the first to consider this issue. In fact, the Government General Services Administration recently awarded contracts to five vendors to handle contact centers for government agencies.
In conclusion, we have been very cognizant of the concerns and issues raised by our stakeholders and employees. Many constructive suggestions were made to us throughout the process which were used to improve the quality of the program design. We appreciate that there are some employees, though, who do not fully embrace this proposal. However, we are confident that when the evaluation results are in, the appropriateness and effectiveness of this effort will be fully evident. Our research has shown that investing in a National Contact Center can help to make us a better agency.
When I was a District Director, it hurt me every time I received a letter from someone saying that they called the office to file a charge and got a constant busy signal each time, and finally did not get a call through until it was too late to meet the statutory time limits. In these cases, rights were lost that we could not give back.
This will be a big step forward for us in finally providing immediate access and responsiveness to our callers. Our main purpose always is to enhance customer service and to ensure consistency and accuracy of information provided to callers wherever they are located, and to do this in a manner that brings EEOC into the 21st Century. Thank you for this time. Jeff and I will be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Ms. Pierre, for your very informative report. And thank you very much, Mr. Smith. You've been quiet this morning, but we know you haven't been so quiet in the last year and a half when we were working this project, so thank you very much.
We have before us today a proposal that represents the culmination of many months of hard work, thoughtful study, and critical evaluation by many EEOC staffmembers, both in headquarters and the field. And I am glad that many of the workgroup members and others involved in this effort are present here today.
On behalf of the Commission, let me extend our thanks and appreciation for your excellent, excellent work. This has been other duties as assigned. You've had to work in this project as an effort to continually improve the operations and efficiencies of the Commission. We're very grateful for your contributions to furthering the mission of the Commission. But I would like to particularly recognize and thank Cynthia Pierre for her extraordinary leadership in this effort. She has been just so dedicated, so tireless, so involved and committed that all of us really owe you a great debt of appreciation and gratitude, so thank you very much.
The proposal that we consider today gives EEOC the opportunity to make a quantum leap forward in the level of our service to the public. Now why have we undertaken this project? Why should customer service and communication with members of the public be such a high priority for a law enforcement agency? The answer is very simple. Public access to EEOC is essential to our mission of ensuring equal employment opportunity for all of America's workers. People first, back, and center is our mission, to try to get them to reach us, that we can be accessible to them whenever there is an issue that affects them in the workplace. That is crucial to the enforcement of the nation's laws against discrimination.
In our vision statement we say that EEOC seeks to build a "strong and prosperous nation secured by a fair and inclusive workplace." To achieve these goals, to protect the American workplace, the Commission must have in place the best system possible for gathering and securing meaningful intelligence, EEO intelligence, national EEO intelligence about equal employment opportunity issues and trends.
As we strive to safeguard civil rights in the new millennium, our front lines continue to be besieged with challenges. Even as we upgrade the delivery of services in all other areas, our first lines of communications are rooted in the 60s. The infrastructure put in place when EEOC was created 40 years ago in terms of technology, staffing structure, hours of operation, language support, et cetera, simply cannot support and respond to the demands of our changing times. We are stuck in the 60s, ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to customer service.
For the Commission to successfully monitor and advance the security of every worker's civil employment rights, we have to break out of that system, a system that is fragmented, that is bureaucratic, parochial, and unwieldy.
Most of the one million individuals who contact EEOC annually do so for the first time. Those initial contacts are the agency's face to the public, and it is vital that we live up to the standard of professionalism that our customers expect and deserve. Our President expects and demands us to deliver no less than the best public service that we can provide our citizens. That is why the President in his very first point in his management agenda has to ensure that we put in place programs and efforts that are first and foremost citizen centric.
He has asked us to put the interests of our customers before the interests of any other self-serving component. However, a lengthy and careful evaluation has shown without a shadow of a doubt that our system is worse than inadequate, and not meeting the public's expectations. That's why the study done by the National Academy of Public Administration, a highly respected independent bipartisan organization, the only Congressionally chartered organization in its field, urged the Commission in its most urgent recommendation to establish a National Contact Center.
When individuals call our field offices, they get voicemail instead of people. Their messages sometimes go on for hours, weeks, months, without a reply, sometimes even unheeded. My personal email boxes and phone lines are flooded daily with pleas from members of the public, not to mention members from the Hill, who are desperate to find someone at this agency who can provide them with information.
In the end, we still don't know how many people we touch because we have no way of counting them or tracking their correspondence, or determining if, in fact, we were of any help to them. A National Contact Center is urgently needed to give the public what we do not and cannot provide as we labor under inherent limitations of our technology and staffing structure. We need to provide them with an open door to the EEOC.
With a National Contact Center, the Commission will be able to offer for the very first time a wide, welcoming and well publicized gateway to our services. You will be able to reach us immediately. Your messages won't be lost or unheeded. You won't be put through frustrating delays, busy signals, and endless computer menus.
With a contact center, the public will, for the very first time, enjoy multiple choices for communicating with EEOC, as have been mentioned by Ms. Pierre. A centralized contact center gives everyone throughout the country the benefit of these expanded channels of communication, and they won't be hard to find. Communications will be consistent, informed, uniform, and tracked to ensure follow-up.
I think it's high time for the EEOC to join the technology revolution and offer the same 24/7 access to the public that the public enjoys in other kinds of services, both commercially, as well as in government.
For people who come to EEOC seeking relief from workplace discrimination, a contact center will get those people into our system and in touch with our professional EEOC staff much more quickly than possible now. If you're trying to file a charge, you shouldn't have to wait for days for a return phone call, as we do now. A contact center will let potential charge filers communicate basic information quickly, and our staff will take over from there with counseling, guidance, and action. For all of these reasons, the contact center moves us in the right direction.
Now let me once again address for a moment the concerns that have been expressed about staff attrition and job loss. As I have repeatedly, repeatedly stated and testified in Congress, there will be no loss of jobs for EEOC staff as a result of the National Contact Center.
Let me also note, incidentally, that we have worked very, very closely with Congress throughout this process. In addition to my testimony up on the Hill, we have had extensive meetings, and we have provided full briefings to the committees and all who have been interested. We have complied with all notification requirements at every step of the way. We have received support and acknowledgement of our efforts from the Hill. And we will, of course, continue to comply with all legislative requirements and to work with them as we move forward.
On the question of other options, I am persuaded by the work of the work group, their careful research and considerations, that we would not be able to achieve through an in-house center for reasons of costs, the high quality of service that would be available through a contractor operated contact center. Also compelling are numerous examples of similar centers contracted by sister agencies across the federal government.
What makes this option even more ideal is that we will begin with a two-year pilot. Let me repeat, this is a two-year pilot. This trial run allows us to implement quickly a full service center that can be improved, replaced, or discontinued if it fails to deliver what the taxpayers deserve, but try we must. Our commitment to continuous improvement demands it, and our customers deserve no less.
A contact center dedicated solely to responding to unsolicited calls will ensure immediate service to customers from all the United States time zones. Like I said, we'll be able to support a variety of languages, as I reported. The cutting-edge technology will be used to respond to individuals in every city, town, and country post through whatever channel they choose to contact us. It's about access.
Most importantly, most importantly, we will be, for the first time in the history of the Commission, we will be able to gather complete, comprehensive, unadulterated EEO intelligence that will enable us to enhance an inclusive and accessible workplace for all Americans. We will use this intelligence to implement more effective interventionary programs. We will be able to address issues in a much more customized manner. The more information we have, the better we can be in designing good programs and effective law enforcement strategies.
Without a private sector contract, the Commission will be unable to provide for these needs in a cost-effective manner. Trying to patch up an antiquated faulty system, not only faulty but faltering, might mask some of these problems, but it's not going to fix them. We have been doing this for the last 40 years. We have to start anew by tapping into an existing infrastructure that is fully equipped to handle our front lines.
As for the contract before us today, I fully support the proposed obligation of funds, because I am confident that the recommended vendor will provide an outstanding level of service to the public in the most cost-effective manner possible. So at this point, I invite my fellow Commissioners to present opening statements before we can discuss the item on our agenda. Madam Vice Chair.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Madam Chair. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for being here. Thank you for your continued interest in the work of the Commission.
I look forward to the dialogue the Commission will have today about the proposed National Contact Center pilot program. In my view, the importance of this dialogue spans far broader than just the call center. To me, it is the beginning of a discussion about the Commission and how the Commission will respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by the 21st Century workplace. We are at a crossroads, and we must make a choice about how EEOC will proceed.
We can either continue to do business the same way we always have, or we can look for ways to improve on our past successes. We can hide behind the mantra that we never tried that before, or we can take advantage of technological progress. We could continue to study the viability of a call center, or we can act.
Progress often involves change. In some cases, the change may be small, such as a move to a newer, faster computer so we can do our work more efficiently. In other instances, the change is larger, such as the proposed National Contact Center that we are discussing today.
Every change undertaken or suggested in my 17 months as a Commissioner has been met with opposition from some interest or another. Not some change, but in my 17 months, every change has been met with opposition.
Organizational changes like these, especially major ones, are very, very difficult, and often scary for employees and stakeholders, as well. Changes such as these are particularly difficult in organizations like our's where employees and stakeholders are passionate about the work that we do.
Understandably there are concerns that change might make us weaker, not stronger, or that change may move us further away from and not closer to our goal of eradicating workplace discrimination. However, it is my view that not, not piloting a National Contact Center also presents challenges. Our field offices are already overworked and overburdened at a time when the 21st Century workplace has presented, and continues to present us with new challenges that we must address.
For example, did you know we are one of only a very few, you can count them on one hand, government agencies that does not have a national email address that the public can use to obtain answers to basic questions about our laws, rules, and regulations. We have a fabulous website, but that site does not allow you to send an email to someone and get an answer back.
I've been told the reason why is resources. Who has the time to answer thousands of emails that we may get? In 2004, however, not having a general email address is like not having a main telephone number. A National Contact Center, in my view, allows us to some extent to customize our contact with the public. As I do my work with youth, I am learning that today's Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers are less likely to use the telephone than they are to use email. A National Contact Center would allow us now to have someone answer calls, but in the future perhaps allow us to have someone answer letters, as well as emails, faxes, and present us with a multimedia front.
Charles F. Kettering, the famous American inventor responsible for introducing the world to the battery-powered electric starter which replaced cranking the automobile, may have put it best. He said, "The world hates change; yet, it is the only thing that has brought progress."
I am supportive of the Chair's efforts to look at fresh and innovative ways for the Commission to accomplish its work. I am supportive of efforts to make the job of our field office staff easier. And I am supportive of cost-efficient measures that will improve the Commission's customer service.
Regarding the question before us today, I want to emphasize that what we are voting on is the 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 contact center pilot is no different to me than any other pilot. In fact, the proposal calls for an extensive technical evaluation of the success of the pilot before the Commission moves forward. That information will have to be shared with the Commissioners, and each Commissioner will have an opportunity to evaluate it before we vote to make this program permanent.
As I think about the 9/11 Report, one of the things that sticks in my mind most is something called a failure of imagination. Sure, we had the CIA, the FBI, and other intelligence agencies that simply did not talk to each other, but they also could not imagine some forms of terrorism. Our business eradicating discrimination may not rise to that level, but I don't want to be a party to the EEOC having a failure of creativity, and a failure of imagination.
I encourage each of you who are interested in this issue today to share your feedback with us about the pilot program, if it is approved today, and working together, not against each other, we can evaluate this pilot together, and perhaps provide better customer service now and into the future. Thank you for your interest. I look forward to the discussion.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Madam Vice Chair. Commissioner Silverman.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Thank you, Madam Chair, for convening this meeting to talk about this important topic. I'm still adjusting to my new seat here. I can't promise that I'll be as loquacious as its previous occupant, but --
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: And thank you, Cynthia, for your informative and helpful presentation.
I must admit that when we started this process, I was somewhat skeptical, and I think I told you that. I did not know a lot about contact centers and how they work, and I really wasn't sure that this was the right approach for the Commission. But I did realize and recognize that we have some serious problems that need to be addressed.
First and foremost, we are understaffed in our field. We receive over one million unsolicited calls per year, and many of our offices do not have sufficient staff to answer them. As a result, the phones go unanswered, our callers have no option other than to leave a voicemail message. And oftentimes, the voicemail box is full, or callers who have left a message with us wait days, or longer for a return call. This is simply unacceptable. We are a civil rights enforcement agency. An unanswered call may very well be a one-time plea for help, a missed opportunity for us to fulfill our mission, and we cannot afford to let this continue.
Second, beyond our staffing shortfall, there is another issue at play. Our offices do not have adequate technology to assist us in answering the calls that we receive. Only some of our offices have phone systems that allow callers to choose various options to get pre-recorded information. And none of our offices has an interactive phone recognition system.
Third, we need to ensure that our highly skilled resources are able to devote their time and attention to investigating charges of discrimination. GS-12 investigators should not be spending a good deal of their time answering the phone, but a study of this issue and anecdotal evidence showed that in many of our offices, they do.
Financial constraints have prevented us from hiring as many investigators in the field as we would like. Our investigators and investigative support assistants should be conducting intake, investigating charges, and resolving cases, not spending their days answering routine phone calls.
From the research that our folks have done, it seems that more than half of the calls we receive could be answered by people who have just basic knowledge or basic information at their fingertips.
Now as I stated earlier, when I first heard about the National Contact Center proposal, I had some hesitation. And I know that many others did, as well. For example, one particular concern of some EEOC staff has been that establishment of a National Contact Center would have a negative impact on the number of jobs in the field, but we have been repeatedly assured that it will not. Personally, I have a question about whether a private contact center would hire the right kind of people for the customer service representative positions, people who are compassionate and have the appropriate skills.
I was also concerned about the level of training that our contact center employees would receive, or that the contact center employees would receive. I had questions about the extent to which the Commission would maintain oversight of the program and ensure that high quality work was being performed. And I was concerned about whether the National Contact Center would be taking charges. But I must say that through the extensive work performed by our Commission and staff on this project, I am satisfied that all of my concerns have been addressed. I've been incredibly impressed by the thought and effort that Cynthia Pierre and the other EEOC staff have put into this project.
Through working groups and committees, the Commission has learned about contact centers from top to bottom, evaluated contract proposals, consulted with other agencies who have already ventured down this path, and ultimately determined what would work best for our agency. So I am in favor of giving this National Contact Center a chance. For as my colleagues have pointed out, this is, after all, a pilot project.
I believe that my vote to obligate funds for the National Contact Center is a vote to raise the level of customer service that the Commission is providing. And I also believe that a National Contact Center will free-up critical staff resources. The net result is that our people will be able to spend more time on higher level work that furthers the Commission's goals of identifying, investigating, and eliminating discrimination from our workplaces. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Commissioner Silverman. Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair. I want to thank you for your courtesies, as always, in calling this meeting, and my colleagues, as well, as we've talked about this matter informally. I also want to thank the staff for all their hard work. Cynthia and her workgroup have put in thousands of hours working on this, and the total staff time must come to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I'll have questions about that, too, later; but some are here today. They've flown in from various offices, and I welcome you. It's good to have you here.
I would ask unanimous consent that my written statement be made part of the record, and that the record remain open for 10 days, as it was at the hearing on the 8th of September of last year. And that we post all of the information that's made part of the record on our website.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Let me defer to Legal Counsel. I believe that the motion may be out of order.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I didn't make a motion.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I mean, the --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I asked consent that we do this.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Okay. You have to put it in a motion.
MS. MASTROIANNI: Why don't you make a motion.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Okay.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So I would make a motion that could be splitable into its various component parts.
MS. MASTROIANNI: That's true. Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: One, that the record remain open for 10 days as it was during the hearing on the 8th of September of last year; that we post all of the information received for the record on our website; and that my written statement that's separate from what I'm about to say, be made part of the record. So those, I think, are three separate issues, and I so move. I hope I get a second.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: As a point of order, we may want to take them one at a time.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Okay. That would be fine. Could we go with the record remaining open for 10 days?
MS. MASTROIANNI: Yes.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: All right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I so move, and I hope I get a second for discussion purposes. I get no second, so --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: You get no second.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: All right.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: So that motion fails. And I think as a matter of procedure, because -- and let me defer to Legal Counsel. This meeting is a meeting because of the agenda, was convened in order to vote on the decision to obligate the funds. This is not a Commission meeting in terms of opening -- this is pretty much a public meeting to review our deliberation, so let me defer to Legal Counsel, because I don't think that would be appropriate in the context of what we're doing here today.
MS. MASTROIANNI: It would be appropriate in the context of what we're doing today to post the statements of all of the members of the Commission. With respect to keeping the record open for 10 days for the purpose of voting on this particular project, that does not seem appropriate.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Okay. That's --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: It doesn't seem appropriate under what legal basis, because it was done as a matter of course for the meeting on September 8th of last year without a motion. It was on the Chair's keeping it open, so I'm asking for the legal basis on which it was done.
MS. MASTROIANNI: You're absolutely correct that we had a meeting in which we sought input last September. That was then, this is now. And now we are at the conclusion of this process in which we are finally making the determination whether to authorize funds for this purpose.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So is there a legal basis for doing this? That's my question. Can you point me to a piece of law that would do it?
MS. MASTROIANNI: Let me consult one second. Commissioner Ishimaru, I think I may be repeating myself, but the purpose of this meeting is to reach a final vote on this issue. The purpose last September was still to get information. The information-gathering period is over at this point.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, let me note for the record that my statement was not distributed to my colleagues until this morning. I received Cynthia's statement this morning. I did not receive any statements from my other colleagues this morning. I respect that. I would say that it's hard to respond in a written piece that would normally under purposes of comity be keeping the record open for a period of time would seem to be in order. But if it's not in order, I don't want to dwell on that because we have a lot of substance we need to do.
What about the question of whether -- the other hard question here is whether the information received for the record will be posted on the website, because let me note for the record that at our last meeting that we had to vote on a policy issue, after the meeting had adjourned and the vote was taken, there were items posted on our website that in the discretion of the Chair were put on. When I asked to put on similar items on the website, I was denied that. And I appreciate the prerogatives of the Chair, and I appreciate her role as the Chief Executive of the agency. I don't challenge that.
What I'm asking for today is fundamental fairness that other members of the Commission be allowed to post items on the website. And I guess I can make that motion and see if I get a second, so I so move.
MS. MASTROIANNI: Is there a second? No.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: There being no second, the motion fails. Let me just make an observation, if I may.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I would raise a point of order. I don't think we can talk about this as a matter of procedure unless there is a second. Is that correct?
MS. MASTROIANNI: That's correct, Commissioner. I would add that it has been our practice to post the statements of the Commissioners, all of the Commissioners on the website. I defer to the Chair on this issue, but this has been our practice in the past, to post all of those statements, obviously including yours.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So my third issue, do I need to raise a motion to make my written statement part of the record?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Would you repeat it?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I would move that my written statement, my written prepared statement be made part of the record. But I'm not sure if I need a motion because Peggy just told me that our practice is to post everybody's written statement as a part of the record.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Point of clarification; is it everyone's written statements, or is it the transcript from the proceedings of the meeting?
MS. MASTROIANNI: Madam Chair, we have in the past posted both the transcript and the written statements. As to the written statements, we can defer to you on this issue for this particular meeting, or we can do it by motion.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I was asking here that my written statement be made part of the record. If our practice is also to post it on the web, I would ask that we follow regular order, as well.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I would make his written statement be with the record, be included with the record.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And that we follow our regular procedure of posting on our website when we put the transcript of the meeting, the verbatim transcript up, that we also have put in in the past, we've put in people's prepared remarks, as well, as well as the verbatim transcript.
MS. MASTROIANNI: That has been our practice at times in the past, Madam Chair.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes, that varies. That has been -- that varies. Let me just make a point. I think it's important that once the Commission takes a vote and makes a decision on any matter, that the Commission speak with one voice, and that the message that comes out of the Commission be in unison. And so the tool that we have, the website, and the tool that we have is intended to do just that; it's intended to provide the appropriate message as to the voting decision and to the action that was taken. And so with that, I will preserve my discretion as Chair of the Commission, to take a look at the proposal and make the appropriate determination at the right time. I have not had the time to review all the statements, like you. I think we're all in the same situation, so we will follow Commission procedures in ensuring that the transcripts be posted, as they always have been, and will make sure that if there's anything you'd like to be included with the record, that we make that part of the record, included with the record. And then I will exercise my discretion as Chair to make any further decisions with respect to further postings.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So do I need to make a motion then that my written statement be made part of the record and be posted on the website as has been our typical practice? I'm just trying to clarify whether my prepared typewritten statement, not my cryptic notes here that I'm going to speak from, whether that will be posted on the website. That's all that I'm asking here.
MS. MASTROIANNI: I believe that the Chair said that she was going to reserve that for her --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, she said she was going to reserve that right. I'm just trying to get clarification whether, in fact, my written statement will be made part of the record and be posted on the website. All I'm trying to do is get that assurance before I go further.
MS. MASTROIANNI: Your written statement will be part of the record. It will be with the record. As for posting on the website, the Chair indicated that she wants to assess whether the statements of all the Commissioners, it's all or nothing, will go on the website, as well.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: That's right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I understand that, and what I was asking for was some assurance that our written statements be posted on the website.
MS. MASTROIANNI: I understand.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And if I can't get that assurance, I'll move on. I just want to make clear as to what we're doing here, that's all.
MS. MASTROIANNI: Right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So I cannot get that assurance from you, that our written statement will be posted on the website.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: At this point, not.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: All right. Thank you very much. Well, I regret the fact that my written statement - there's no guarantee that it will be posted. I don't want to read from it because I have cryptic notes here that I'll read from.
I would also make a motion that we add letters to the record and posted on the website that we received at the Commission this week from the AFGE Union, from the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, from the National Employment Lawyers Association, from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which represents nearly 200 civil rights organizations, a letter from Senator Kennedy who is the ranking member of the Labor Committee, who attached an earlier letter to the Chair signed by 28 other colleagues of the Senate, that earlier Congressional correspondence from Congresswoman Tubbs-Jones, who is a former EEOC attorney with over 100 of her colleagues in the House, Senators Graham and Nelson of Florida, and Senator Sarbanes be made part of the record and posted on the website. And I would ask that my colleagues, in the interest of disclosure, that there is opposition to this plan by a number of our constituencies and friends on Capitol Hill, as well as from people who use this agency. I would ask for a second so we could have some discussion whether this is appropriate to lay out in public.
Now if we don't want to do that, I understand that, and I think the record should be clear what we're doing here. But I would make that motion, that we post these pieces of information on our website as a matter of the record for this meeting.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is there a second?
VICE CHAIR EARP: Can I ask for a point of clarification? The motion being made, does the second open the discussion of the motion --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: You wouldn't have to vote for me.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Can we not just stipulate that there is substantial opposition to this proposal.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: ... and support.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I think there is power of the written word, and people have taken the time to send to the Chair, and to share with us letters that raise serious concerns whether implementation of a contract center proposal would be in the best interest of people who use this agency, people who depend on this agency. And I, frankly, am puzzled by the fact that my colleagues will not allow a full discussion of this. As one of my colleagues pointed out in an earlier email when we talked about scheduling this meeting, one of my colleagues says there's been a full and open discussion of this. And I regret the fact that I can't even get a second to discuss about talking about whether to put letters we've already received into the record.
MS. MASTROIANNI: Commissioner Ishimaru, respectfully, we seem to be discussing the motion without its having been seconded, so we need to do one thing or the other.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: If I could have the floor, a second --
MS. MASTROIANNI: The second provides for discussion, permits you to discuss the motion.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: That's okay, we can move on. We've got --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
MS. MASTROIANNI: So the motion --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: The motion fails.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you very much. I would note that none of the letters received this week were circulated to the Commissioners, nor when I asked the Office of Congressional Affairs to see any letters that we would have gotten from Congress, the letter from Senator Kennedy was not provided to my office. I had to call Senator Kennedy's office directly to get it.
I am disappointed that we won't have the opportunity to put it in the record, but as the Vice Chair notes, let us stipulate that there is opposition to this. As the Chair says, she says there is some support. That's an issue that I'll raise a bit later in my statement.
I thank again the Chair for calling the meeting. I regret that it's being held on part of a major Jewish holiday, but we have work to do, and this is where we are.
This, frankly, is the first and only public meeting on the issue of whether we should create a call center. I know that there was a meeting before I got here last year on September 8th of last year. I reviewed last night the transcript again, having read it many months ago when I first got here. Most of the discussion at that meeting was on the much larger issue of restructuring in the NAPA report. It was on whether we should keep offices open, whether we should close offices, whether we should have telecommuting, very little time at the September 8th meeting was spent on the issue of the call center.
The call center report that Cynthia and her group created, which is an excellent report, was issued on the 5th of September. By the time of the meeting on the 8th, a number of members, I believe from reading the transcript, did not have a chance to review the transcript or review the report and were briefed by Cynthia at the meeting. Very little discussion went on about the call center at this meeting. That meeting and its record is posted on our website.
The vote we took, which was unanimous according to the press release, was taken in a notational vote, which by its nature is a non-public vote. There was no meeting held before that vote. There was a vote that was circulated among Commissioners before I got here. I want to make clear for the record that I was not here at the time. I did not vote to do that. I was not part of the unanimous group that voted for this.
This year, the year 2004 is a very special year. It marks the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the Act that created the EEOC and created Title VII, which started the civil rights legal revolution in having the government play a role in civil rights enforcement.
The Office of Legal Counsel, under Peggy's leadership, had a wonderful series of events that commemorated our 40th anniversary. I was really thrilled by those. They were really well thought-out. And for those of you who were there, I hope you took away as much as I did, hearing about the history, hearing about the work we've done over these years.
Congress created the EEOC as the primary agency for enforcing the laws banning employment discrimination. And they created us very carefully. They created us really to be a one-stop shop. I know that term came into being much later, but it was meant to be the place you go to deal with employment discrimination. It was meant to be the place where one could go to, give their complaint, have it resolved, and later on we obtained litigation authority.
In my view, the overall package of what the EEOC does is a fundamental and inherently governmental function, and I think it should be done by government employees who have the skill and the expertise, and the resources to do the work, and not be contracted out to a private agency, or private entity.
I would like to clarify a few things before I get started reading my cryptic notes. I, too, I join my colleagues in wanting to find ways to improve customer service. I think it's very important that the members of the public, when they reach the EEOC, are treated with the level of respect and professionalism that all of us want, so I don't want to be seen as I oppose this center to be against finding ways to improve customer service. I join my colleagues in wanting to do that.
Second point is that I really am not a technophobe. In fact, I'm sort of just the opposite, I'm a gadget hound. And I think that technology has wonderful potentials, and we've seen that over the past few years of how our lives have changed for many of us. But there's also a recognized digital divide in this country that affects many of the constituencies we deal with, people of color, older people, women. We need to recognize that, that that's out there, as well.
And we also need to recognize the limits of technology. Technology can do a lot, and they can do much of our work. And we have found in this agency, having gotten modern computers over the last few years, that much of our work can be improved, and made easier by having modern technology. But law enforcement and civil rights enforcement is very fact-intensive. It's time-intensive, it's people-intensive. And there's no substitute for having that people-to-people contact with EEOC employees. It really can't be like Joe Friday on the old "Dragnet" show where he said, "Just the facts, ma'am." Shortcuts really can create worse results. I think we need to be very, very careful in using technology.
And finally, let me say that in my short tenure here, being the junior member of this panel, I've met many of our employees both here in the Headquarters and out in the field, and I've been very impressed. They do a great job. They do a job with less and less every year. I am for empowering our employees, listening to those in the front lines and trying to figure out ways how we can give them the tools to do a better job.
I believe the National Contact Center is ill-advised. The alternatives to a contact center were never adequately considered. The Contact Center working group was given the charge to try to implement one of NAPA's key findings. I would ask where's the problem? As was said once in a political campaign, "Where's the beef"? According to what I've read, and according to the materials with the contact center report, three-quarters of our District Directors said they handle calls from the field, from the public appropriately. They mentioned inadequate telephone technology, which this proposal does not address. And they also mention the problems by the hiring freeze that has been imposed.
Many of our professionals in our offices are spending inordinate amount of time doing clerical work, and I know that in the past few months, part of that freeze has been eased a bit, and some people have been hired, and I'm glad to see that. But the hiring freeze has been a real problem.
I'd like to turn to the call center itself, and having a privatized call center. Who's going to be at the call center? And if you look in the paper and if you look in the want ads, and if you go to Monster.com, and you type in call center customer service representative, and I even did this myself. I didn't have staff do it, I typed it in myself like I was looking for a job. What are they looking for?
They're looking for someone with some work experience, good people skills, usually a high school graduate, get paid what...? nine, ten, eleven bucks an hour, something that's slightly better than minimum wage, but in these days it's at the low end of the pay scale. At nine to eleven dollars an hour, it translates the lowest levels of the federal pay scale, and then there's a question of benefits, whether the people will or will not get benefits. I guess it depends on where you're working and the types of hours you're working, things like that.
In our case, the question also comes up whether the person would have civil rights or equal employment opportunity experience. When I talked to corporate people in my rounds of visits on various items, I would always ask about the call center. And a number of corporate colleagues of our's told me that call centers, in their experience, could work, and have worked. And I said well, how did that happen? Tell me what made it work. And they said if you pay the people enough money, you can get people with experience and skills who can deal with these issues that come in to them.
I would suggest to my colleagues that paying people in the range that is usual of call centers that have people with limited backgrounds or no backgrounds and limited educational backgrounds of nine, to ten, to eleven dollars an hour will not yield the types of people we're looking for, and the types of people Leslie mentioned at last year's hearing that she was concerned about getting.
We told the appropriators that we would not be asking for this as part of our solicitation. When Cynthia was at the meeting last September, she indicated that this might be a requirement, but apparently it was not made a requirement.
The call centers work on a model of to move as many calls as possible in as little time as possible. And again, I think that this is a dangerous model to work on. For all of us who have called call centers in the past, and I know virtually all of us had to deal with credit card problems or to get information. And frankly, I've even called various field offices when I wasn't here trying to get information, and I understand the frustrations that people have. But for a person calling in who have serious problems, and had serious problems happen to them, and sometimes problems of the most personal nature, the last thing you want to do is to rush that person along so you can meet the quota of the clock.
I think if we rely on industry experience, that this is an entry-level job with high turnover. And Cynthia mentioned at last year's meeting that it was as high as 30 percent in the industry. I don't see people making this job their careers. And the Vice Chair and I have talked about this, and we had differing views on call center employees; whether after doing this for a while, they will embrace the job and love the job. I see this more as an entry-level job that people do and move on from. And that's -- I hope the Vice Chair is right, if this passes, that people embrace the job and love the job.
I have a question for Peggy before I make my next point. There was a question -- there's a point that I want to make about the type of -- the length of training that the customer service representatives will receive. I would note that in pieces of correspondence that I have received from outside parties, it mentions a day period for days of training.
MS. MASTROIANNI: If we go into -- if we try to quantify things like training, we're moving squarely into the area of the Procurement Integrity Act.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, I'm not trying to quantify. I'm trying to point out what our requirement for the numbers of days or weeks of training is.
MS. MASTROIANNI: That is -- we have provided you with a little list of areas that are covered, that would require us to close the meeting because they deal with the specific requirements that we made in the procurement process. In other words, we can talk generally about the fact that we require training, but more specifically, we would have to close the meeting.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: All right. Well, I will pass on that point, even though it's in one of the letters that I tried to make part of the record. But I will pass on the point of the numbers of days of training then the representatives will receive.
So first we deal with the issue of who's going to be at the center, who's going to be taking these calls from the public? The second question then really is what will the customer service representatives do at the call center. The basic information, as I understand it, will be on interactive voice response system, the IVR that we've all gotten to know and love when you press 1 for this, 2 for that, 3 for this, always with the option - I don't know if I can mention this or not - what some of the options are?
MS. MASTROIANNI: Excuse me. Can you repeat?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I'm trying to give an example of how the IVR works.
MS. MASTROIANNI: Okay.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I believe this is in the public statement of objectives. I'm not going into detail of what ours will do.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Okay. Well, let me just - a point of order here. At this point, we're all making opening statements, and once you complete your statement, then we can open up the floor for discussion. And the conversation is going more into the discussion, so if you can just summarize your opening statements, then I can open up the floor for discussion.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Sure. Well, I wasn't asking that the floor be open for discussion. I was trying to get a clarification from Peggy whether I could --
MS. MASTROIANNI: Commissioner Ishimaru, anything that we have said in our solicitation, which was a public document --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right.
MS. MASTROIANNI: -- you can discuss here without running into the Procurement Integrity Act problem. But if you're talking about responses to that solicitation, we cannot --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. MS. MASTROIANNI: Okay.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: But the point I'm trying to make, Commissioner Ishimaru, is that at this point I have invited you to make opening statements. And followed by that, we will have an opportunity to get into a lot of the details that you're bringing up.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I appreciate that. I'm still in my opening statement, I have plenty of questions for discussion and look forward to the back and forth that we're going to have.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: All right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I hope that this IVR system can work. I think that it probably can. I think the basic information that people call about - where are you located, what are your hours, what are the basic types of laws you enforce - that that can be done on an IVR system, and probably done very well.
I hope it does not turn into, as "The Wall Street Journal" called call centers in an article this summer, into a 1-800 Useless number, that people will call and be totally frustrated. I think from getting the briefing, I don't think that's going to be the case. I must say that the briefing was very informative, and obviously reflected the large detail of work that has gone into it.
The customer service representatives will not take charges, as I understand it. They will not give advice or counsel, and they will not make jurisdictional determination. And that comports with the various recommendations that we received from a number of constituency groups.
My fear, though, is that the National Contact Center, despite not doing the above, will turn people away, whether it's intentionally or inadvertently; that the wrong script will be pulled up to talk from, that the jurisdictional issues that we have as fundamental matters will be misinterpreted and transmitted to the caller, such as the number of employees at the agency, when the event happened.
I'm afraid that customer service representatives who will receive a limited amount of training will not be able to spot issues. One issue might come up, whether a caller calls and the caller says I have a problem under the Family Medical Leave Act, and the CSR will hear those key words, or the software will hear the key words and say well, that's not our issue. That's the Department of Labor issue. You need to call the Department of Labor. If somebody raised that, I would hope at an EEOC office, the EEOC employee would listen to what the basic problem is, and to see whether we have some jurisdictional hook before they're turned away.
Another example might be a person calls and says I'm a gay man or a lesbian, and the call center looks down at the script and says we don't have jurisdiction over that, you've got the wrong agency. Your state and local agency might be able to help you.
We deal with complicated stories, sensitive stories, some of the stories and some of the issues we deal with; sexual harassment cases are some of the most personal issues that one could bring to the table. And to call a number of a government agency and get an agent of a government agency is a very, very scary issue.
One of our roles, obviously, is to listen, but it's also to identify possible violations of the law. And I am not sure, and I did not see in any of the materials that I got regarding the call center, a discussion about how we deal with these types of issues.
I fear, too, that dealing with customer service representatives will turn into a bad game of telephone, the game we all played as kids. That somebody tells somebody one thing, that person tells another, that person tells another, and by the end of the telephone chain the message gets totally garbled. I understand that customer service representatives will be taking down basic information, and they will take down, as I understand it, a summary of the issue to pass on to our employees to get back to them. What I'm afraid of is that these people will not be taking it, as I understand it, verbatim from the person, that they will massage whatever information is, and to put it in the form. But we can come back to this. If I'm wrong, you can correct me. I'm worried that nuances of conversation will get lost, as this information is taken.
People from the outside, and this has been laid out as a positive, but people calling the EEOC once the call center is in place, is thinking they're talking to an employee from the federal government, from the EEOC, with training and expertise. And they won't have that experience. We're not going to disclose that to them. People will be spilling their deepest darkest secrets in many cases to a call center employee, employees who may be no older than them if they're a teenage worker at a fast food restaurant. That, I find, very, very troubling.
I also worry that people will call into the call center, give the statement to the customer service representative, and later when the EEOC employee calls them back to find out more, that much of the time will be spent dealing with inconsistencies from the earlier statements, and that much time will be lost.
I would think, having had my own frustrations with call centers, that this process can't help but be very discouraging to callers as another layer. Call centers work on a model that are very different from our model, both as a government agency and as a civil rights law enforcement agency. Call centers are profit-making institutions. That's their business. And the way you make a profit in this business is you want to take as many calls as possible, in as short a time as possible, resolve problems as quickly as you can, and whatever resolve means, so you can close it off of your books. And so the company can make as much money as possible.
It's my understanding from standard practice in the industry that there are quotas that are set up for call center representatives to meet, and that there are incentives paid, and I find a system like that to be troubling if that were to happen here. I think our role is to listen to the callers respectfully and carefully, and find out whether they have a problem we can help them with.
Frankly, these call centers for the type of work we do may not work. There are a number of call centers, as Cynthia has pointed out, from a number of different agencies. Many of these call centers deal with very different types of issues, issues that are much more quantifiable. They're Jeff Smith-type issues dealing with money, how to repay loans, things that are very cut and dry, things you can pull up from a database, figure out the answer, figure out how much someone owes on their loan, figures out whether you can give a better interest rate on a loan. And for those types of things, call centers may work.
There are two call centers that I know about from scanning the literature, that are similar to the work we do of taking calls from the public on issues that are complicated and sort of soft and squishy. One is the Medicare Call Center. In a 2004 study that the GAO did in September, 2004, or July, 2004 study, the Government Accountability Office found that only 4 percent of the responses GAO received in 300 test calls, to 34 call centers were correct and complete. Four percent were correct and complete. That means, according to my math, 96 percent were wrong or incomplete.
The yellow on this chart shows you the correct and complete answers that the Government Accountability Office, an office of the federal government, found correct and complete answers at the top. This is partially correct and complete, I believe. And the green is incorrect response. And this one case it's as high as 50 percent.
I find this stunning, frankly. GAO posts four policy-oriented questions 75 times each to the Carrier Call Centers. The level of correct and complete responses to each individual's billing question ranged from 1 to 5 percent. The majority of remaining responses were incorrect or partially correct, or incomplete. Several factors - this is quoting from the GAO report - "Several factors, including fragmented sources of information, confusing policy information, and difficulties in retaining the customer service representatives responding to calls appear to account for the lack of correct and complete answers."
We will face the same challenges that the Medicare Call Center faces; fragmented sources of information, confusing policy information, difficulties in retaining customer service representatives. I would ask that this be made part of the record, but I know that I'm not going to get a second. I would just note to the public that this is a report that's available at www.gao.gov. It's on Medicare, and it's entitled "Call Centers Need to Improve Responses to Policy-Oriented Questions from Providers."
There's also a call center that's even more similar to the work we do, that is in place at the old Immigration and Naturalization Service, now called BCIS, which stands for Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Office of Homeland Security. According to an American Immigration Law Association survey of over 500 respondents, they found that 79 percent of respondents were unhappy with the experiences of the BCIS Call Center. More than 60 percent gave it a rating of 1 on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the highest.
Now I recognize that the BCIS Call Center is different from the proposal that's in front of us. BCIS cut off telephone access to the local BCIS offices and made all callers go through the call center. It's my understanding that EEOC will not cut off telephone access to the call center, at least for the period of the pilot project.
BCIS also could not check on the status of cases, and I understand that that will be a fundamental part of our system, as well. But there were substantive complaints about the BCIS Call Center that I think we should keep in mind, that came from this study. And although many respondents in this American Immigration Lawyer study found that the customer service representatives were generally quick and friendly, a good number of respondents found that the operators were rude, that the customer service representative simply reported what was on the BCIS website, and did not meaningfully explore the problem. The customer service representative gave the wrong or incorrect information and advice, and were not knowledgeable about even basic immigration matters.
One survey responder put it, "The call receivers are basically similar to the folks who get your order at McDonald's and give change." Nothing I saw was beneficial or reassuring. This was done a couple of years ago, so yesterday we called the Immigration Lawyers Association to see if they had any more feedback on the BCIS Center, and they told us yesterday that the problems at the call center had worsened; that originally the call center at the BCIS had 660 pages of material for customer service representatives to use. Based on operational needs and the needs to answer more questions, the number of pages of script has ballooned up to 2,200 pages.
As a result, the customer service representatives are overwhelmed by the complexity of the information. And according to the person from AILA, the customer service representatives now "shoot from the hip", because they want to help people, but they're unable to deal with this overload of information. While these customer service representatives are attempting to be helpful and reassuring, they're providing critical information that is flat-out wrong.
We also talk about how the call center will not lead to job loss, and I think we need to be very careful about this. I know the intent of my colleagues is not to bring about job loss, and I appreciate that. What worries me is that BCIS has tried to privatize 1,200 jobs recently of immigration information officers, contact representatives, and investigative assistants. The Senate last week joined the House in blocking this effort to privatize jobs.
I would urge my colleagues to keep this as a matter under consideration, that despite our hope that jobs will not be lost, at BCIS the inevitable result was that the department tried to privatize 1,200 jobs in the agency.
Finally, Commissioner Miller and I had many talks on this before he left the agency, and he was very proud that he was able to put in the proposal that was voted on by my colleagues last year, a provision that we will have outside review of the call center pilot. And I would hope that we pick the reviewer very carefully, and I would hope that we get a true outside contractor, and not someone who has any ties to call centers, or to any of the contractors who deal with call centers. It would be great if the Government Accountability Office could do this review.
What I'm afraid of is that when we come to the review stages of this, that a reviewer will be chosen who's totally familiar with call centers and how efficiencies work, but not familiar at all with the work we do.
So these two evaluations of call centers that I came across in the last couple of days, frankly, they work on similar issues, the ones we deal with, at least in complexity and type. They deal with the same types of clients, and I think that they should, at a minimum, make us stop and think. And if we go forward with this at all, I believe we should have made this a true pilot dealing with that portion of our office population according to the District Directors, the 25 percent who could not address these calls adequately.
I think that's the way we should have done a pilot, limited in time and limited in scope, instead of trying on a nationwide basis to see whether this process will work for us.
I also am very concerned, and I'm almost done, Madam Chair, I'm also very concerned that there was no real consideration given to an in-house call center alternatives using federal employees. I saw the figure of $12 million that it would cost just for infrastructure alone, not including staff and space. I asked for the analysis on this. I was given something that frankly would have fit on this napkin. There wasn't much there. There was no in-depth analysis, and it frankly does not pass the laugh test.
I again put on my technological hat and went to one of my favorite sites, Google.com, and looked up how much customer relationship management software would be, something that I was told was very expensive. I got a number of hits on the first page. One offered a $13,000 complete system for customer relationship management software. Another vendor, another site offered a program where you would go on a three-year lease and pay $65 per month per user, and after three years own the software.
This would be appreciably lower than $12 million, even if you added all the telephones and other bells and whistles that we would want to add. But frankly, I did not see that in any analysis that was provided to me.
I would urge my colleagues that if we do go forward with this, that we find a way to invest in training and maintaining our employees, and to provide the resources, like Commissioner Silverman said earlier, such as upgraded telephone technology and access to translators and offices to allow the agency to do the important work we do.
On the cost issue, I note for the record that the estimates of our current staff cost of answering phones is $1.4 million. At the hearing last year, Cynthia mentioned that the low end of going to a contracted-out call center would be $1.1 million. The cost now is in the range of two to three million dollars, so let the record be very clear that we're not saving any money here, despite these tight budgetary times.
I regret that this process has turned out this way. I regret that the process was not more transparent. I regret that there was not a meeting on the call center, because I think it's a very important issue.
At last year's meeting, Commissioner Miller had an exchange with Max Stier, the President and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, where Mr. Stier, a noted expert in his field, made clear that you need buy-in from constituencies and employees in order to make something happen. And you need to get this early-on.
I regret that there has not been buy-in from employees at large as evidenced by the opposition from the Union. I regret that there's opposition from civil rights groups. I would note for the record that our friend, Jeff Norris, at the EEAC was in agreement according to the transcript with Wade Henderson, who's the Head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, in raising serious questions about whether a call center made sense for us.
I also regret that there is opposition from our friends in Congress, members of Congress who truly want to see us do well, and who have pushed for years to give us more resources. I was told earlier this week that the leadership on both sides of the Senate Appropriations Committee had told us explicitly not to hold the meeting today, and I do not know whether that has been resolved. And as we move into discussion, we could talk about that, whether we have appropriate approval from both the House and the Senate. And there's been no real push from the outside, as far as I know, for a call center.
I know that at last year's hearing, the Society for Human Resource Management told us that their call center for their members works really well. And that was good to hear, that a call center dealing with these issues can work well. But it was my understanding from reading the transcript last night that the SHRM call center is an internal call center, run by their employees, answering their questions about the variety of issues they deal with. I am interested in finding out who of our outside constituency groups supports the call center.
Finally, and this is truly at the end, it is not hard to see that the combination of creating the call center, closing field offices, using the Internet to fill in charge assessment forms, hiring EEOC employees for term positions, and demanding that employees telecommute regularly will move us closer to an agency that has only a virtual and insubstantial presence in the communities we're bound to serve.
I hope there is not a willingness to abandon civil rights enforcement to a computer terminal and a faceless call center. And I think it's the wrong way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title VII, and it appears to me that it would be one way that will cause us to be less efficient, less capable, and less able to enforce the laws we're charged to defend. I would urge a no vote on the proposal.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Commissioner Ishimaru.
At this point we can open up the floor for discussion.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Can I ask a question of Cynthia for discussion?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Sure. Go ahead.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Did the working group or in any part of the discussion was there any extended debate on what the impact is of changing Order 150.005 on the protection of privacy that prohibits us from recording information which I understand will be part of the Call Center package? Was there any analysis done of this, of what it means?
MS. PIERRE: The recommendations of the work group report did recommend that the Order 501 I believe is on privacy be modified to allow for monitoring of telephone conversations that Contact Center operators would be able to be monitored as they provided information to the public, and that was the rationale for asking for that modification.
The order right now prohibits any recording or monitoring of telephone conversations with members of the public.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And was that changed by an earlier vote, the vote that was taken in November of last year, or is the current order still in effect?
MS. PIERRE: My understanding is that that was a recommendation, and that has not been resolved yet.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I see. Thank you very much.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: That is correct.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Jeff might have an answer for this. Do you have an estimate for how much it costs in both staff time and in travel and other costs to produce and to consider this call center proposal?
I know that tremendous amounts of time have been put in developing these scripts. Many are very well done. Do you have an estimate of any quantifiable figure?
MR. SMITH: No, I don't.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Do you have an estimate on travel and other expenses that you have to expend and cut --
MR. SMITH: Incidental expenses for travel and the initial survey data collection in the month of March were under 50,000.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Cynthia, could you address the question of who will do both the training and the monitoring of customer service representatives?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is that something we can discuss?
MS. MASTROIANNI: To the extent that it's in the solicitation, absolutely.
MS. PIERRE: The solicitation said that the EEOC would provide content and would provide trainers for Contact Center staff.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Would it be fair to ask how many people would be providing information or the training and how many people would be monitoring and where they would be?
MS. PIERRE: We did not specify numbers in the solicitation. We just said there would be staff to do both.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Is it outside the scope of the Procurement Act to ask what we would do in our response to the Procurement Act? I would think it would be a different matter that would not be procurement sensitive because these are activities that the agency would be engaging in as agency activities. It would not be of import to the procurement process.
MS. MASTROIANNI: That aside, I think the bottom line here is that we don't yet know.
MS. PIERRE: I'm not sure what the question is.
MS. MASTROIANNI: It's not clear to me that these figures even exist. I may be wrong about that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, that would be a reasonable answer, but I'm not sure. It sounds like Cynthia did not understand my question. I'm trying to get a feel for how many people would be doing the training.
MS. PIERRE: Oh, right. I cannot say that because that would be getting into the response to the solicitation.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Even though they are EEOC employees working on government time. This isn't procurement related, I wouldn't think, because it's how many of our people would be doing the training and how many of our people would be doing the monitoring to insure that?
MS. MASTROIANNI: All of that is very interrelated with whatever the proposals are.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: All right. Perhaps that could be provided to me in some sort of closed forum, if there is an answer. There may not be, and I can appreciate that as well.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner, you may have some other questions, but let me provide some additional opportunities for my other fellow Commissioners.
I just wanted to, first of all, make a couple of observations regarding your very passionate statement, particularly in light of the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. I think all of us here in this room and certainly all who are connected with the Commission share in that passion, and we all believe in a final destination to be equal employment opportunity for all. That's the purpose; that's the mission that we're here to uphold and advance.
I think the issue is one of manner of traveling and how do we get there, and, yes, there were places to go 40 years ago. I remember growing up, and I had to go to a phone booth to make a phone call 40 years ago. That was the place to go if you wanted to make a phone call. You had to go to a phone booth.
If you wanted to make a deposit in a bank, you had to go see a branch teller. You didn't have ATMs. You didn't have the technology.
We have to appreciate and respect the history and preserve it, but at the same time look for opportunities that will enable us to be responsive to the multi-generations that are in the work place and the issues that relate to each one of those.
If my little world is any indication, I'm getting a lot more E-mails than I am phone calls these days because it's much easier for a lot of us to transact business via E-mail, and I get a lot more E-mails from complainants, individuals who feel extremely frustrated because they're not getting the service, the level of service that they believe they deserve.
Getting lots of inquiries from Congress representing constituents for the same thing. The issue here has nothing to do with the concerns that the Commissioner has expressed about job losses, about anything. The issue here has to do with how do we improve the quality of the service that we provide our customers.
And yes, Commissioner Ishimaru, you have mentioned a number of studies, and unfortunately we have very few comparators because I wish those same organizations would have studied the way that we deliver service and respond to inquiries at this point. I would shudder to think that we would have that information public.
If my world is any indication, we are not providing not because our employees don't want to, but because we're hindered on so many fronts providing the responsiveness to the calls. My office, the office of other fellow Commissioners are constantly being besieged with phone calls and inquiries, people who are not getting the response.
We commissioned NAPA. They did a study, and, Cynthia, you may want to talk a little bit about that, but certainly even among our field members and even those who may not be supportive of the concept of the Contact Center, and I know there are some who are very much in favor and others who are not.
NAPA, which is the only nonpartisan congressional approved organization, congressionally chartered organization, did a study that said this was the most urgent issue facing the Commission right now. We are not...we are not, providing the service and the quality of service and attention that our public needs, and if we can't serve the public, how can we enforce the laws that we are here to uphold?
And I would like for you to talk a little bit, Cynthia, if you may, about that because I think it's important. I can't speak for BCIS, but I can certainly speak for the Commission in terms of what our day-to-day issues are, not only as found by NAPA, but as importantly, the comments and the issues that we get daily from our own employees, from our own District Directors, from our own management team.
So if you would just address that for a bit, I would appreciate it.
MS. PIERRE: Some of the findings of the NAPA report?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes.
MS. PIERRE: I do recall that in one instance they reported a field office where there were 900 unanswered calls that were found, and yes, there were staff in the office - but these calls had not gotten around to being answered, and a Contact Center he believed would at least have given these people immediate access and the ability to get through to the agency.
Other practices they found where people were taking calls, and the only information was being recorded just on note pads. There was no formal record of information that was coming into the agency. So no tracking could be done in terms of follow-up and so forth, and this was repeated in a number of offices in terms of the information they found.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: And if I may add on a personal anecdotal experience, I received a letter from a member of Congress some time ago expressing his frustration, his anger about the fact that they had called one of our district offices, had not received a response. Many, many calls were made, went into voice mail; did not receive a call. Finally got a person, made an appointment to speak to an individual the next day, 3:00 p.m. For some reason that message was not conveyed to the investigator responsible for this matter, and this representative and his chief of staff and others waited and waited and never heard back.
This was after multiple efforts to try to get a matter resolved for his constituent and finally got to me, and you know, many, many levels and many, many weeks and months later.
I wish I could say this is the exception to the rule. This is not. This is a reflection of the very inadequate systems that we currently have today. Every one of us deals with these very difficult technological resources impediments, and if we put aside concerns that are not founded at all, concerns about job losses, concerns about the things that have been expressed here today that have nothing to do with customer service, and we really put the interest of the customer first.
I think that a two-year pilot looking at these opportunities will allow us to get the type of intelligence and the type of service inadequacies that we need in order to correct the problem.
I think it is very courageous of the Commission to come here today and to say we have a problem. I think it's very courageous, and I want to commend the Commission because most people hide their problems, and I'm not surprised that a number of district directors said, you know, "We're doing fine," because there's a certain reluctance; human nature is such, a certain reluctance to acknowledge that there are problems.
But until we deal, until we come up with a problem and say we have a problem, we're not able to collectively deal with it, are there numerous solutions to the problems? There are always many ways to approach a problem.
Having worked with various work groups, having researched this matter extensively, ad nauseam, I believe that this is one of the best alternatives that we have to look at the issue, to collect information, and then make a decision two years from now.
But to leave things as they are for fear, unfounded fears, I think it really is a travesty of our responsibilities as the agency that upholds and advances the mission of equal opportunity. And the people that we are harming, the individuals that we're harming are the people that need us the most, and that's where I want all of us to think about.
Put our focus on the individual attempting to call, attempting to reach a live person. If 40 years of experience is any indication, we have not yet mastered this process, and this is an effort to advance that.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: May I say something?
Commissioner Ishimaru, your statement reminded me with the parade of horribles of something that I might have read in one of my children's books to my children one evening. You know, what if?
What if the nuances slip through and we miss calls? What if the people that are hired by the contact center are not committed? What if it turns out that our contact center is not successful like you've said exists from these other reports?
And the fact is, as Madam Chair just said, those things are happening now, and unfortunately employees who are hired by the government are not always necessarily any more committed to our mission, at least at the beginning. I just interviewed many people from the outside that came to the top of the cert list for my only administrative position, and almost none of them really knew what our agency did, and this is a higher level job.
Can I finish?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Sure, absolutely.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: But just as you've talked about with INS, that doesn't mean that once that person got here or was hired by a Contact Center that they couldn't become committed to our mission.
And you know, I mean, with regard to the other things that you had mentioned, you know, we are doing everything in our power to come up with the best scope of work for our Contact Center to perform. That will assist us in completing our mission and fulfilling our mission, and to monitor on our own as well what they're doing to insure that this doesn't happen and to provide a consistent message, and that's never going to happen under our current system. So - but I wanted to take this opportunity to ask Cynthia a question. Commissioner Ishimaru did talk about the technical costs and I too had a question about the CRM software. You know, can you explain to me where you came up with those figures because I think I would feel more comfortable knowing that as well.
(End of Video 1; start of Video 2.)
MS. PIERRE: The information was provided from a government agency who set up its own in-house contact center, and the level of technology that was needed was similar. They did a similar number of calls per year as we are estimating, and there's a great bit of technology that goes into building a customer relations management system specifically for a government agency.
And this type of information would not be available in a CRM, customer relations management machine that you could look at on the Internet and see they're not the same things at all actually.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Should we take a ten-minute recess?
or you feel like you could proceed? It's two hours into the meeting. Do you want to do that? Is that okay?
All right. We'll recess for ten minutes and take a break.
(Whereupon, a short recess was taken.)
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is there any further discussion? Yes.
VICE CHAIR EARP: I want to thank Commissioner Ishimaru for his comments, and I appreciate the last minute Googling that you've been doing.
I want it noted for the record that failure to second my colleague's emotion -- I mean his motion --
VICE CHAIR EARP: -- is in no way a plan to cut off discussion or to avoid transparency. The Commission is very well aware of both support for and opposition to this experiment.
We have read the letters. We have had conversations with the principals of the various advocacy groups, and Commissioner Ishimaru and I and Commissioner Silverman have talked extensively at various times about the Call Center.
I want it to be perfectly clear though listening to some of his comments that I think the Commissioner has in some respects compared apples and oranges. The experiment that we are attempting to vote authorization for today is not to hire charge processing specialists who are going to perform some triage on charging parties who call and then recommend whether or not litigation is an appropriate step.
On the contrary, we're just trying to find competent staff who are trained, well trained, to handle simple and routine calls.
Given the hours of operation that the Contact Center is expected to be open, and given the nine to ten to $11 to $12 an hour in pay, we expect that we will have some low wage earners that are employed, but we also expect that there will be some college kids, some well educated spouses of military personnel who will be a part of this grand experiment.
The Contact Center may not work, and the sky might fall, and this might be the end of civil rights as we know it or at least as is perceived by some who oppose this experiment.
On the other hand, it just might work, and it might work very, very well. This experiment can set EEOC on its way to a level of sophistication and preparation for 21st century work force that we have not known before.
One important aspect of what the Contact Center can do is the ability to track demographics, information about the people who call us. In my own work with the Youth Initiative, I've found that this is becoming increasingly, increasingly important.
District offices have been litigating charges for a couple of years, maybe even longer, that involve kids, but we didn't know it because we didn't have a way to identify those charging parties by their age. If they didn't come to us complaining about age discrimination, we didn't have a way to collect and to analyze that data.
A Contact Center will allow us to do that, and I think that's just one example of how a Contact Center will prepare us for the challenges that we could not have imagined in 1964 when Title VII was first passed, but most importantly, I just want to remind Commissioner Ishimaru and my fellow Commissioners that this is not an attempt to avoid transparency in any way.
We have been talking about this for two years.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Madam Vice Chair.
Any further comments?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Could I be recognized as a point of personal privilege?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I appreciate the intent of the non-makers of a second not to second it so we could at least have a discussion and then get to the question of whether to include records or letters that express an opinion into the record and post it on our Web site.
But, frankly, the fact that we couldn't even talk about it, we could not get a second to talk about it I find very shocking and very disappointing because I understand the merits of this issue, and I understand the work and the good thoughts that have gone into establishing a Call Center.
I am not opposed to a Call Center necessarily. The point of my statement today was to point out a number of questions that have not been answered and have not been addressed as to whether a center like this will be in the best interests of the agency and the people who use the agency.
I have a number of questions for my colleagues. Commissioner Silverman said that she has found that some people coming to this agency are not passionate about the work we do, and certainly that may be the case. But I would not want the impression to go out that many people who work in this agency come to this agency because it's a civil rights agency and they are committed to the work.
I would assume that you agree with me, and I would not want that impression to go forward.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Absolutely. I said "some," and I just said from my experience recently, and who came to the top of very long cert lists.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right. No, no, no, I just want to make that clear. I've found, and I think my colleagues would share with me that there is incredible passion and commitment by employees of this agency to the mission that we do. And people come here and stay here, many for their whole careers, because they are committed to the work we do and want to do it.
So I just want to make sure that that's clear. This is a game of strawman, and for those of my colleagues who are saying that those of us who oppose this proposal are anti-civil rights and anti-customer service is just flat out wrong.
Civil rights organizations across the board oppose this. Civil rights leadership in both houses of Congress oppose this. Our employees, in large measure, oppose this. I'm still interested in hearing who supports this besides what may be an indication of support by our friends at the Society for Human Resource Management where they said they have a Call Center, theirs works well, and a Call Center in concept could work well for us.
Who else supports this? I have not received any correspondence, and if you have, I'm interested in learning who.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is that a rhetorical or --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No. I'm truly interested.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Well, you know, I would start out by saying that the customers would support it. That would be my first point of interaction. Obviously, you know, organizations have a point of view, but when you talk to the individuals that call our offices constantly frustrated because they can't get an answer, constantly concerned because the statute of limitation is running out, I would say that if you were to survey our customer base, and not the organization, but the customer base, that you would find that there would be tremendous support for this Contact Center.
I went up to the Hill personally, and we talked about the pros and the cons of a Contact Center. Tremendous concern about job losses. That is not the issue. The issue is we have had for the last 40 years an effort, as business as usual, an effort to be responsive to our customer base. That has not succeeded. We continue to fail, and it is getting worse.
It's getting worse because we have, as many times have been noted, we have a skills gap in our society. I think it has been mentioned as the skills gap premium, and it's very, very difficult to attract individuals at those levels that we talked about that have the necessary skills, with the training and so on to be responsive to the nature of the issues that we have.
And that's why I think we're having GS-12s spend a lot of time answering 61 percent of our calls that have nothing to do with complexity, but because, you know, there's a certain reluctance because a lot, frankly, a lot of the individuals who answer the phone and certainly we have district directors here who can help us with that, but a lot of them are students. A lot of them are temporary workers that we've been able to attract on a temporary basis, not necessarily tied into the mission. I would say that they endorse and embrace the mission. I wouldn't say they necessarily came in because of the mission, but probably because of an opportunity to be employed and to gain some experience, and then hopefully as Commissioner Silverman indicated, hopefully down the road become another advocate.
But I think if you were to look at the various offices and the resources that we have and the ability that we currently have under the current infrastructure, you would find that we are not serving the public as well as we should, and the point of reference here should be the customers and not the letters that we have received.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Again, this is playing the game of strawman. I believe in customer service as well, and if GS-12s are answering these questions because that's the level of complexity, people making nine, ten, $11 an hour without any training or experience will not be able to give any meaningful help to people who call in.
I think, you know, the basic problem we have here is the failure to provide good customer service. The answer is not in a National Call Center. The answer is to invest in our work force, to give our professional employees clerical support they need to have clerical support in the office with telephone technology so people at an appropriate level in the agency can answer these calls.
I do not understand how this skills gap will be addressed by going out to a privatized Contract Center and paying people nine, ten, $11 an hour with no experience, a limited amount of training, to work on a computer. I don't see how that can happen. Maybe it can. I hope it does because it appears that there are votes here to award this contract even though many of these issues have not been addressed.
And I'm afraid that this two year experiment will bring grievous harm to the people who use our agency and see our agency as, frankly, their only way in to redress their problems of employment discrimination that all of us share that should be addressed.
My biggest fear, and let me reiterate this, that people in a Contact Center working for a private contractor will be reading off a script, and we all know from our own personal experience calling these places when you call with a real question that you need an answer to, somebody pulls up a script. I have a question about scripts in a minute, but let me finish this.
When you call with a real question that you need an answer to, when a person is reading off a script and when they read off the wrong script, you say, "No, that's not right. What about this?"
I remember once calling Dell about my hard drive that crashed, and I said, "I'm having this problem," and they asked me this question, read off of this script. I said no, and this question, no; this question, no; and finally the guy said, "Well, you've got to reformat your whole hard drive, lose everything you have," and I thought, "Well, that sounds a little crazy." So I hung up and I said, "Thank you very much."
I called a friend of mine the next day to say, "I have this problem. What do you think?" And he said, "Well, try putting the disk in and putting on the operating system again." And voila, it worked.
I'm afraid that these scripts will be used unintentionally perhaps, but will have the effect of screening out at various levels people who can use our services and should be able to use our services.
I think to try to build this wall of separation between no charge processing versus just taking basic information is a very dangerous wall to go on, and if we then flip all of these calls about charges and about charge inquiries over to our field offices to process, what's going to happen then because we haven't invested a single penny in telephone technology to deal with the district offices getting this. I don't believe that's in the proposal.
So if we're going to do this, if we're going to flip all of these calls over to investigators and others in the district offices to deal with substantive inquiries, we need to upgrade the phone system so people at the other end, our people, have the tools they need to do the job.
Let me ask Cynthia a question because I haven't been to any Call Centers, and I was told that I couldn't go until a contract was actually awarded. So I'm using you as my eyes and ears.
From reading the materials, it appears to me that the customer service representative will listen to the caller, write down the question or somehow indicate what the question is, will pull up the proper script, and will indicate what answer is given back to the person.
Will all of that be done and did you see demonstrations of that going on?
MS. PIERRE: Our work group visited several contact centers, and we also saw demonstrations in real time of calls being answered, and in fact, the Contact Center representatives use a searchable database with key word prompts that allow them to bring up appropriate topics for discussion, and they are trained so that they are actually having an intelligent conversation with someone is what we witnessed. It's not just parroting back a script, but they use the topic for discussion. It's there, but they're not reading word for word just a script over and over again to someone, but it was an actual conversation.
Okay. Now, they were not giving advice, but they were providing the information that the person was asking and asking questions to determine what else they needed information on.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Can I ask? This question may be procurement related. So I want to run it past Peggy first.
I'm curious whether in the process a prototype is developed and the bidders work up a sort of mock call center for our purposes using our stuff. Can I ask something like this or not?
MS. MASTROIANNI: If it's in the solicitation, it can be addressed. If you have a sort of general response you can do it.
MS. PIERRE: We do not require that in the solicitation.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I have one last question, and it has to do with the Senate Appropriations Committee. There were representations -- two other questions actually -- representations made that the Senate Appropriations Committee has given approval for us to go forward; is that correct?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: You said there were representations made?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: That everyone on the Hill for our appropriators --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I said we complied with every congressional requirement that we've been asked to comply with.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So have the appropriators given us approval to go forward with this? Will we be subject to some sort of de-funding proposal, which is my worry?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: No, no, no, we are on very firm grounds in terms of the approval. We have complied with everything that the Congress has..., we've met extensively, and we do have the approval to go forward, subject on the vote today, of course.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: In both the House and the Senate? I just want to be clear because I've been told that the House did do that, and I heard that the Senate was not happy, and I'm just trying to get clarification.
The Senate also has approval to come through?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Well, you know, it's hard to say the Senate. Maybe a Senator.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, no, but there's a chairman and a ranking member --
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- of the Appropriations Committee?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Have they signed off on this?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: We haven't gone forward because pending the vote, but they have been fully apprised that this meeting is taking place today.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And would it be fair to say there are indications that if we approve this, they will also?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I think you'll have to ask them that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, but don't we run the risk then if we vote on this if there hasn't been approval or an indication that there will be approval that, given the language that's in the 2005 appropriations bill, that we are running afoul of what the appropriators are intending?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: No, no, quite the contrary. We have extensively, as I mentioned in my formal remarks, we have met with the appropriators extensively. They know where we are in the process, and they are supportive of this effort so far, and there is no indication formally or informally that this effort is going to be sidetracked.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So Chairman Gregg and Senator Hollings are -- they called earlier this week I've been told to postpone the meeting -- are they concerned that we went forward today?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I'm not familiar with that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I see. Thank you very much.
I have one other question for Cynthia.
Cynthia, in the NAPA report, was one of the main purposes of the National Call Center to reduce operating costs through economies of scale?
MS. PIERRE: The recommendation went to whether or not we could improve our customer service through having a National Contact Center. I don't recall that they tied it into reducing costs -- did you say costs?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Reduce operating costs through economies of scale.
MS. PIERRE: Right. I don't personally recall that, but in terms of what we took from the NAPA report, as I understand it, they made a recommendation to look into a Contact Center.
Then we started from a blank slate then with our feasibility study as to what a Contact Center could do for us, and that's where we took it from.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: When we started on this blank slate, how much consideration was given to an in-house Contact Center besides calling another agency of like size or like volume?
MS. PIERRE: Well, we actually didn't just call an agency. We had someone from the agency participate as a member of our technical evaluation panel as an advisory member. So we had extensive consultations with that person.
We also visited and were briefed by officials from a couple of government agencies who have in-house Contact Centers and explored with them how it had worked, what worked, what didn't work, and so forth. And we considered the costs of what it would take to set up an in-house Contact Center. So we explored a range of options from in house to contractor and some hybrid version.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Was that analysis ever written up?
MS. PIERRE: That's included in the full report that was issued in 2003. We discussed five options.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: That's the extent of the analysis that's in the report.
MS. PIERRE: That's in the report, yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And are we going to be able to make that report available to the public once the procurement process is finished?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I'll have to see what the operating procedures have been. I don't know that there's any violations of the procurement once a selection is made.
MS. MASTROIANNI: Right. At that point you could give it out. There would not be a problem.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I would ask, Madam Chair, that once this procurement process is completed and it's appropriate to make that document public because it's an excellent document and a lot of work has been put into it, I think we should make it public so that people within the agency who have not had access and people on the outside can see what we were working from because it's a very good piece of work. A lot of thought went into it.
I think we should show the world what we were working with.
I would point out to Cynthia that one of the purposes of the National Call Center according to the NAPA report is reducing operating costs through economies of scale, and I would note for the record that we apparently at least for this pilot project are not reducing operating costs; that, in fact, we're doubling operating costs to deal with our contacts with the public.
Again, let me say for the nth time that I believe, too, in good customer service. I think that we should have fully explored ways to give our employees the tools they needed or tools they need to answer responsively to calls.
Can I ask one? I'm sorry. I keep dealing with -- other questions keep popping up -- and this may be procurement sensitive, too. So I'm not sure if you can answer it.
When callers are referred to district offices because they have a charge, how are they sent there? Are they transferred there? Are they I think what's called the warm transfer where somebody stays on the line with them to get them to the district office? Is an E-mail message sent?
And then is there a requirement on our offices to respond within a certain period of time or do we run into the same basic problems that led us here that investigators and others are so overworked that they're not going to be able to get back to people in a timely fashion?
I don't know if we can talk about that or not. I leave that to your judgment.
MS. PIERRE: We're going to set up rules during the transition phase. We would be setting up rules on exactly when calls would need to be transferred immediately to the district office. There would be certain circumstances that may call for that.
And we would also set up rules for when the data collected would be sent via electronic record to the field office.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But is there any rule you can come up with to require responsiveness by our employees in a certain time period?
How do you deal with that problem?
MS. PIERRE: We could establish time frames and responsible people for monitoring compliance.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And why can't we do that now, establish time frames and have people monitoring?
MS. PIERRE: Well, the question I think we're answering now is access to the office, and the question you seem to be asking is getting people to comply with returning calls and so forth. A call can't be returned that never got to us. So I think we're dealing with a little more up front in the process for the solution the Contact Center is going to give us.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: And you'll have a record of those calls.
MS. PIERRE: We'll have a record.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Of every call, unlike now where we have no record whatsoever on a national level and even sometimes at the local level in terms of calls that have been returned and how they have been dealt with.
MS. PIERRE: That's correct.
VICE CHAIR EARP: May I ask a question?
Cynthia, in your opening statement, I think you said 39 percent of the one million or so calls that we get a year are charge specific; is that right?
MS. PIERRE: They were from people calling with potential charges.
VICE CHAIR EARP: So the larger amount, 61 percent or so, are general?
MS. PIERRE: I think I gave a list: general, status of case, request for a file, copy their file, request for a training or educational information, posters, materials.
VICE CHAIR EARP: So could those kind of things, status of file, request for training, what obstacles do you see in our ability to train the contractor staff to respond to those calls?
MS. PIERRE: I don't see any obstacles. As mentioned, we prepared a training package to address all of those concerns, those issues.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Could much of that be handled on the interactive voice response network rather than with the call, the customer service representative, if they're the simple questions?
VICE CHAIR EARP: But you yourself said that person-to-person contact is important.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Person-to-person contact is very important, but there's also a value to having a menu you can choose from if you're looking for where are you located, what are your hours, what sort of laws do you enforce. Basic questions you don't necessarily need people-to-people contact.
What worries me, frankly, as I've said is that people usually call us with a problem. They're not calling us just to call us.
VICE CHAIR EARP: That apparently is the 39 percent.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, that also may be generalized questions. Those are charge inquiries versus generalized questions. What do you do? Tell me about these laws. You know, what if this happened to a friend of mine? Is this illegal?
And somebody right now at our end will say that all of these laws do X, Y, and Z, and it may or may not be, you know, your friend should come in and tell us their story.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Actually right now you don't always get to a person. In many offices you can't get to a person. I've also gone to other offices where I had the computer person in the back complain to me that the calls rolled over to her and then the people are angry by the time they got to her, and that, you know, she was of no help whatsoever.
Now, what we're doing here is trying to solve many of these problems, but not all of our problems through a Contact Center whose only job is to deal with these calls. No other job, not running the computers, not dealing with intake; just this.
And even if we were to get one person in every office, we wouldn't have consistency. You wouldn't necessarily get to a person. I mean, one solution wouldn't necessarily solve this.
All we're suggesting, Commissioner Ishimaru, is to try to be open minded, and I'm not suggesting that you're closed minded.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: I am suggesting --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: That's kind of you.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: -- that your little glass is half empty.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, but I don't -- well, perhaps, Commissioner Silverman, you point out that we're really not disagreeing on fundamental principles because I, too, agree that something should happen, and what I am concerned about, and what I am concerned about, that this is our first public discussion on this matter, that there are still a lot of issues out there that for better or worse have not been raised or certainly have not been answered to my satisfaction during this process.
And I am all for experimentation. I think you should try new things to try to come up with a solution that works. What I fear is that because we're doing this on a nationwide basis for two years is that it goes far beyond an experiment.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Unlike the INS example that you gave, it is a nationwide basis, but it is still a choice. All of our offices -- am I correct, Cynthia? -- you're still going to be able to contact them. You're still going to be able to contact investigators. This is an additional option, and you have to keep that in mind as well, and then part of this process is analyzing how do the two work.
We can study thing ad nauseam, but I don't know how we're ever going to get to change if we keep trying to -- you know, after a point you've got to fish and cut bait, and the question is when.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, I would agree you need to fish or cut bait. What concerns me is that the fishing we've been doing here has been in a lone pond out in the woods instead of bringing a number of folks to the table to hear them out, to try to deal with some of these questions, and --
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: But, again, you're suggesting that we haven't been open in this process, and I really disagree with that, but I mean, a Commission meeting isn't the only way we are open. Would you not agree?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I would agree, but what has been the other process to bring stakeholders in and to really listen to them and to address their concerns?
I don't know where that happened, and --
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: I mean, this was announced. We had a Commission meeting. It's been out there for a year. We've had a proposal out there. We all know the stakeholders, and they know us, and when they want to come to talk to us about things, they can. I have never ever -- and you know, I know that there are some out there -- said no to a meeting, and not one person has ever called me about this to talk about this issue. And everybody knew that this vote was out there.
So let's not be disingenuous and suggest that we were rejecting the outside on these issues.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, much of this was done under the requirements of the procurement laws that require a more closed process, and that information -- for example, our regional attorneys did not have access to Cynthia's full report because of the procurement laws. The regional attorneys wrote a very thoughtful response based on the executive summary, which I found very helpful, but I think that certainly if our people and if the outside people were brought in, I think we may have --
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: The directors, the RAs, and other staff were in all of these work groups. They were in the work group that studied the idea. They were in the work groups that worked on the script. They were in the work groups that went to the Call Centers, and they were in the work groups that talked to other agencies and decided which contractor.
To say that we didn't involve our employees here, I think it's unfair to the Chair and to Cynthia, and to all of the work that was done here.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I would point out the line that was in the memo from the regional attorneys as a group. It said they did not have access to the full Call Center report. I appreciate the fact that representatives from these various groups were on all of these working groups, and I think that's good.
My point is that this could have been a far more open process and we could have spent more time dealing with this. The meeting last September, the only person who addressed this in any detail was Cynthia, and she gave an excellent presentation, but it was only after members of this body had a very thick and, as someone said, dense report for three days, and as I recall, some members of this body did not have a chance to look at it.
And if that's full, fair, and open, I can appreciate that.
VICE CHAIR EARP: The fact of the matter is we got to this point today with a bipartisan, unanimous vote to move ahead with a Call Center, and our purpose for being here today is to vote on an obligation of funds for something that you weren't here, but your counterpart who is as thorough and as has already been noted, as loquacious as you are voted to move ahead.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Loquacious?
VICE CHAIR EARP: I want to just ask Jeff one final question and then hopefully, Madam Chair, you might be ready to entertain a vote, but the Commissioner mentioned we're not saving any money with this process, and I just wonder if you could talk a little bit about the cost and especially over time what the savings are expected to be.
MS MASTROIANNI: In general terms.
VICE CHAIR EARP: In general terms.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Not the cost of a particular contract, but the cost of making this change.
MS MASTROIANNI: In very general terms.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Maybe he could talk about the criminal section--
MR. SMITH: Let me first say we don't know what we're paying today for what we do in our contacts with citizens. We do not have the data collection mechanism in place. We're only beginning to look at activity tracking for employees to determine, in fact, what functions are working. So we really do not have the cost of doing business today for that function.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Would it be fair to say, Cynthia, that the estimate of how many calls we get were based on that survey that was done and one could argue it could be higher or lower than that and we costed out how much it costs us now to take these calls? Was that all based on the survey of our offices that was done?
MS. PIERRE: Yes. It was based on the one month survey in March of 2003.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Can I ask one last procurement-like question? I don't know if I can get an answer, and that is whether the contract obligation is for a set dollar amount, but can I ask whether what we pay the person is an overall amount or by the contact amount, I guess a per piece amount?
Can I ask something like that or not? I will yield to what your judgment is.
MS. MASTROIANNI: This may be answered in the solicitation, Cynthia, I'm thinking.
MS. PIERRE: The solicitation asks for bids for a transition period of six months, and for bids on a fixed price per unit basis for the rest of the contract. So it's time and materials for the first six months and the seven through 24 would be fixed price per unit.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Per unit, right. And my staff just handed me the questions and answers that the Chair sent to the appropriators that said the costs of operation and maintenance of the National Call Center are directly linked to call volume. So okay. thanks very much.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
Unless there are further comments, I'd like now to bring the discussion to a close. I believe we're now ready to vote. Is there a motion to approve the proposed obligation of funds for the National Contact Center contract?
VICE CHAIR EARP: Madam Chair, I would so move.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is there a second?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Second.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: All those in favor say aye.
(Chorus of ayes.)
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Opposed.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: The vote is three in favor and one against.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Would we have a roll call vote, Madam Chair, just so the record is clear? No?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Certainly. Go ahead. You're making a motion?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Yeah, I move that there be a roll call vote.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: All right. All in favor -- is there a second?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: In favor.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Wait. Is there a second?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Second.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Oh, okay.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: All those in favor?
(Chorus of ayes.)
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Opposed?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: All right.
VICE CHAIR EARP: How do we start?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner Silverman?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: I'm in favor.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: I'm in favor.
VICE CHAIR EARP: In favor.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I'm opposed.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Three are in favor and one is opposed. The motion carries.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Do we need to move to adjourn?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Let me just add. I know Commissioner Ishimaru particularly is very passionate about this, and I just wanted to make a point of clarification regarding the official record of this meeting.
The official record of Commission meetings consists of the transcript and any written opening statements of the Commissioners on the day of the meeting. It does not require a motion to include the full written statement in the record.
So yours, Commissioner Ishimaru, would certainly be part of the official record and will be included.
However, what is posted on the Commission's Web site is a different question than the official record. It's been our practice, and I intend to follow this same practice for today's meeting, that we post the official transcript of the meeting when it is available on the Web site and with it all of the Commissioners' written opening statements of the day of the meeting, along with the written staff presentation.
So full information is going to be available to the public on our Web site as soon as we can obtain the transcript. I just wanted to make that point of clarification as to what's going to be posted and what is not.
Okay. Well, once again, we had a long meeting today, and we're keeping you from lunch. Once again I want to thank everyone for a very robust, a very heart felt, a very caring discussion of the issue before us, and we certainly share the same interest and commitment to improving equal employment opportunity, and we very much appreciate your being here.
There being no further business, do I hear a motion to adjourn?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I so move we adjourn.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is there a second?
VICE CHAIR EARP: Second.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes.)
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Opposed?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Well, we have a unanimous vote. The motion carries. The meeting is adjourned.
(Whereupon, at 1:02 p.m., the meeting was adjourned.)
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