Commission Meeting of November 7, 2007
NAOMI C. EARP Chair
LESLIE E. SILVERMAN Vice Chair
STUART J. ISHIMARU Commissioner
CHRISTINE M. GRIFFIN Commissioner
RONALD S. COOPER, General Counsel
PEGGY R. MASTROIANNI, Associate Legal Counsel
BERNADETTE B. WILSON, Program Analyst
This transcript was produced from video tapes provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
CHAIR EARP: Good morning, everyone. The meeting will now come to order.
I want to acknowledge first off that Commissioner Griffin is with us via telephone.
Commissioner Griffin, are you there?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: I am.
CHAIR EARP: Good morning.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Good morning, everyone.
PARTICIPANTS: Good morning.
CHAIR EARP: In accordance with the Sunshine Act, today's meeting is open to public observation of the Commission's deliberations and voting.
At this time I'm going to ask Bernadette Wilson to announce any notation votes that have taken place since the last Commission meeting.
MS. WILSON: Good morning, Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioners. I'm Bernadette Wilson from the Executive Secretariat.
We'd like to remind our audience that questions and comments from the audience are not
permitted during the meeting, and we ask that you carry on any conversations outside the meeting room, departing and reentering as quietly as possible.
Also, please take this opportunity to turn your cell phones off or to vibrate mode.
I would also like to remind the audience that in addition to the elevators, in case of emergency there are stairways down the halls to the right and left as you exit this room. Additionally, the restrooms are down the hall to the right.
During the period May 22nd, 2007 through November 5th, 2007, the Commission acted on 60 items by notation vote:
Approved litigation on 36 cases;
Approved non-competitive contracts for a personnel classification expert, a purchase order with BNA and a delivery order with LRP Publications;
Approved a full service facility to host the FY 2008 EXCEL conference;
Approved federal sector decisions, Waller v. Department of Transportation and Vavrek v. Department of Justice;
Approved renewals of online backup and
recovery services for field offices, the Novell
Licensing and Maintenance Agreement, and the Microsoft Office Suite Licensing and Maintenance Agreement;
Approved the acquisition of upgraded video conferencing equipment for ten area/local offices;
Approved the Headquarters Network Telephony Services;
Approved a request to close a portion of a July 17th, 2007 Commission meeting, which was subsequently cancelled;
Approved contracts for general IT services, for IT services with White Dot Solutions, for IT services with Binary Information Technology, and a three-month extension of the National Contact Center;
Approved an Interagency Agreement for an evaluation of the priority charge handling procedures, and a contract for a National Contact Center migration functional requirements analysis;
Approved state and local expenditures for a matched pair testing project, outreach activities, and the Fair Employment Practices Agency's conference; and,
Approved a resolution honoring Stephen
Randels on his retirement.
Madam Chair, it is appropriate at this time to have a motion to close a portion of the next
Commission meeting in case there are any closed meeting agenda items.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Ms. Wilson.
Do I hear a motion?
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So moved.
CHAIR EARP: Is there a second?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Second.
CHAIR EARP: Any discussion?
CHAIR EARP: Hearing none, all those in favor?
(Chorus of ayes.)
CHAIR EARP: Opposed?
CHAIR EARP: Ayes have it, and the motion is carried.
Thank you, Ms. Wilson.
Good morning again to everyone. We are going to start with presentations by the staff who have been working diligently on the issue of the National Contact Center.
Mr. Brenner, we start with you?
MR. BRENNER: Good morning, Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioner Ishimaru and Commissioner Griffin. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission this morning.
In September 2006, I began working with a very dedicated and hard working team to carry out the action items to improve the National Contact Center, or NCC, bring it to full implementation, and to improve deficiencies in its operation and performance, as directed by a July 13th, 2006 Commission vote. Working with Awo Sarpong Ansu, Cheryl Mabry-Thomas, Silvio Fernandez, under the leadership of Cynthia Pierre, and with the support of field staff, particularly the CRTIU supervisors, we were successful in implementing the desired improvements by July 2007.
Notwithstanding the improvements to the NCC, on July 26th, 2007 the Commission voted 2-2 on a proposal to exercise option year two of the NCC contract with Vangent. This resulted in the failure of that proposal and set in motion the effort to migrate the NCC from a contractor operated function to an in-house solution staffed with EEOC employees. Subsequently, the Commission voted on August 10th, 2007 to approve two agenda items and begin the transition.
The Commission approved the authorization of funds for a consultant to both study and advise the agency on the migration of customer response
functions. We in the Office of Field Programs worked closely with all the Commissioners and Office of the Chair to craft a statement of work for the migration consultant that was acceptable to all parties. After several iterations the Statement of Work was finalized and attached to the vote memorandum which was unanimously approved by the Commission. The Statement of Work requires the contractor to provide a report on the necessary steps and timetable for the EEOC to be in a position to provide the services which are currently provided by the NCC.
The report also includes IT and equipment technical specifications and cost estimates. The consultant must also prepare a transition plan for implementing the internal customer response operation with staff located in offices within each of the 15 EEOC districts. The draft report was delivered on schedule November 5th, 2007. The final report is due by November 21st.
The Statement of Work also requires the contractor to provide consulting services to advise and assist in the transition.
The August 10th, 2007 Commission vote also
authorized the agency to seek a three month extension of the Vangent NCC contract to give the agency the time necessary to receive the analysis and plan from the consultant on the necessary requirements that the EEOC should pursue to bring the customer response function in house. While a minimum six-month option was preferred to insure an orderly and seamless migration, the Commission agreed to a three-month time frame to begin the transition to in-house operations. The agency secured the extension with Vangent on September 17th, 2007, and it will expire on December 19th, 2007.
Immediately after the August 10th, 2007 Commission vote, we began working to bring the customer response functions in house. The solicitation was posted on August 14th, 2007, beginning the procurement process. The process ended on September 20th with the award of the contract to Charles E. Day & Associates. Although the procurement process at the EEOC normally takes 60 to 90 days, we were able to complete the process for obtaining the consultant within 37 days of the solicitation notice. The consultant began work on September 21st, 2007.
To gather the information necessary to complete his work, the consultant and his staff have made visits to the National Contact Center in Lawrence, Kansas, and to EEOC offices in Kansas City as well as Seattle. Mr. Day and his staff met with EEOC office directors, staff and stakeholders, including Commissioners, District Directors, and union officials to gather relevant input on office procedures and local operations. Vangent and EEOC field and Headquarters staff have been very cooperative and provided the data and information needed for the consultant to conduct his analysis.
Several weeks into the contract, the consultant submitted an early warning letter to the EEOC. In this October 12th, 2007 letter, the consultant sets forth six preliminary recommendations that the Commission should consider immediately. A key recommendation is that the Commission should authorize a final three-month extension of the NCC contract with Vangent. The consultant believes that this final extension will give the agency the necessary time to recruit, hire, and appropriately train 64 staff and get the technology in place to receive and appropriately direct the 65,000 monthly calls.
However, we have not waited for the consultant's report to get started with the migration. The agency requested and received the consultant's site recommendations for the 15 customer response units before the draft report was due, which allowed the Chair to make location decisions well ahead of the consultant's report. This permitted the agency to begin the process for hiring new staff in anticipation of the consultant's final recommendations. To this end, agency staff have drafted five new position descriptions and crediting plans, and the agency began posting vacancy announcements on October 31st, 2007. A total of 64 vacancy announcements, 61 information intake representatives and three management positions have been posted, and all positions will be closed by November 13th.
At this point I'd like to take a second to mention the hard work that OHR, our Office of Human Resources, put in here. They did a lot of really heavy lifting on creating these positions and crediting plans, getting the announcements put on USA Jobs, and working with outside stakeholders. In particular, Jack McCrory, Robert Weid, and Arlethia Monroe deserve a lot of credit here.
To make certain that the project moved expeditiously and that the myriad details involved in the project of this scale were fully identified, we developed a project tracking log which we circulated on a weekly basis to a wide range of stakeholders. To insure that the migration process is open and transparent, we have since early September circulated the weekly logs and briefed Commissioners about the progress of both the consultant and EEOC staff. As a result of these regular briefings, Commissioner Griffin identified EARN, a nonprofit agency, which is assisting us with the recruitment and screening of prospective employees with targeted disabilities who can be hired under Schedule A authority, and that's one of the benefits of having these weekly meetings with the stakeholders. This authority will be used along with other traditional and nontraditional recruitment sources.
Through our discussions with the consultant and EEOC staff, we have developed a time line attached to the vote memorandum which lays out the remaining steps necessary for the orderly transition away from a contractor run center. The timeline which shows the migration completed by March 20th, 2008, sets a realistic path for the orderly and seamless transition for both public and our staff.
There are some who think that the timeline we have right now is too long. However, I'd like to give you briefly some context about the size and the scope of the task we've been working on and what we have ahead of us. Since it began taking calls on March 21st, 2005, the NCC has received nearly 1.5 million phone calls and more than 65,000 E-mails from the public. EEOC CSRs in Lawrence have handled more than 800,000 calls in English, Spanish and through the TTY. The NCC currently receives approximately 65,000 calls a month. Calls are generally answered in less than a minute, the majority in less than 30 seconds on average. The average conversation is five to six minutes long. This means that the huge volume of referrals on calls related to non-EEOC matters are answered quickly while more time is taken for potential charging party calls. Of the calls, about 35 percent are resolved by recorded messages in the interactive voice response system, that's an IVR, and about 35 percent are potential charge filers who speak to a CSR and are mailed a questionnaire after initial screening. More than 13,000 questionnaires are mailed out each month with a rate of return to the EEOC of about 31 percent so far. About ten to 11 percent of the calls are complex calls, are customer complaints and are referred directly to field offices for assistance. The remaining 20 percent are referred to FEPAs, Fair Employment Practice Agencies, other federal agencies, and the federal information line as appropriate. The National Contact Center also continues to provide access and services to underserved language minority populations. Callers have been assisted in more than 30 languages. The most frequently requested languages are Spanish, Mandarin, Creole, Cantonese, Polish, Russian, Arabic, and Vietnamese.
In view of the above circumstances and the challenges we face, it is necessary and prudent to extend the EEOC contract for an additional three months to allow for a seamless transition from the contractor operated center to a fully implemented customer response operation. Extending the Vangent contract for the requested period will also allow us to avoid a serious disruption in service and access to the public while we are proceeding with the technology procurement and implementation.
Finally, this final extension provides the necessary time for the agency to receive the consultant's final report, consider the recommendations, and fully implement the requisite steps to bring the customer response functions in house in an orderly and seamless fashion. We believe that any period shorter than this will result in a severe disruption in telephone access to the agency and overall service delivery to our public.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you Mr. Brenner. To Awo Sarpong Ansu and Cheryl Mabry Thomas and Silvio Fernandez, and to you, Mr. Brenner, thank you, well done.
MR. BRENNER: Thank you.
CHAIR EARP: Ms. Pierre?
MS. PIERRE: Thank you. Good morning, Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioner Ishimaru and Commissioner Griffin. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission this morning. My remarks will be brief. I will focus on the impact of failing to extend the Vangent contract and sending the calls back to the field before we have the staff and technology in place to handle the large volume of calls we receive daily from our customers and the public.
As Brett mentioned, Vangent is currently handling more than 65,000 calls per month. In addition to that, a June 2007 telephone survey of the field showed that an additional 31,000 calls come to the field offices via the shadow 800 number. If we end the Vangent contract on December 19th, we will be asking the field to handle 96,000 calls per month with no additional staff or technology in place to meet our service obligations to the public. We have started the recruitment process to bring on board 61 information intake representatives to answer phones and three managers to train and supervise these staff.
However, it will take a few months to get these staff on board and trained.
We fully believe our staff in the field will work to the best of their ability to handle calls coming into their offices. However, the majority of our Directors and intake supervisors have advised that they will not be able to do this without severe pain. Reflecting similar comments from a large majority of the directors in the field, one District Director wrote to me last week, "If the three-month extension is not granted, I suppose we will assign our investigators and ISAs to handle the phones, but this will come at a significant cost to achieving our other operational goals, like investigating charges, providing technical assistance, and outreach." He goes on to say, "Frankly, I can envision myself answering the phones for some of the time since the NCC closure coincides with major holidays for which many staff already have scheduled holiday plans and approved leave."
What this Director doesn't say but others have expressed is that in spite of rising to the occasion to the best of their ability, many calls will go unanswered while statutes of limitation are expiring for callers who are unable to reach us in time. Several mentioned that it may take up to a week to return calls that will have to go into voice mail because there are not sufficient numbers of staff to answer calls. Others have mentioned the demoralizing effect on staff of asking them to take on this additional burden at a time when charge receipts are up and our pending inventory has burgeoned to more than 54,000 at the end of September, up from 39,000 a year ago.
Our mission is to protect the rights of those covered by the employment discrimination laws. By answering our phones on time and in a consistent manner, we help preserve those rights. It only takes a day for a statute to lapse, but it is a right that once lost we cannot restore. Your approval of the three-month extension will help us to support our staff in the field and our public in the most meaningful way possible.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Ms. Pierre.
I'm going to make some remarks, and then we will have remarks and questions from the Commissioners.
The basic issue as I see it before the Commission this morning is whether to obligate funds to extend the National Contact Center contract for an additional three months. The more complex and implied issue before us is what level of disruption in service are we willing to impose on the public? A corollary to that issue is how heavy a burden are we prepared to place on front line employees for the sake of scoring political or philosophical points.
In July 2006, a majority of the Commissioners voted to extend the NCC. This decision was based on sound business principles. Good call centers are cost effective, and they're customer friendly.
As Commissioner Griffin noted when she voted in favor of continuing the NCC, the reason for having a call center is to provide, and I quote my fellow Commissioner, "the best customer service that we can to the people that rely on us. Having the ability to answer the phone live nationwide, rapid and accurate routing of potential charge inquiries to the appropriate field office, and the ability to spot trends and emerging issues to inform our own policy development are still important potential benefits of having a call center," close quote.
There was clear evidence in 2006 that the NCC could and would work if given sufficient time to improve. I was initially skeptical and voted no. For the next year improvements were made, and NCC performed better than it ever had before.
On July 26, 2007, the Vice Chair and I voted in favor of exercising option year two of the contract with Vangent to continue the operation of the NCC. This time I voted yes because in that year the success of the call center overrode my skepticism. Nevertheless, Commissioners Ishimaru and Griffin voted against allowing an additional year despite all of the indications that the NCC was meeting our customer service needs in exemplary fashion, and NCC was doing this while freeing EEOC employees to carry out other critical parts of our mission.
The two-two vote in July '07 resulted in the decision to discontinue the NCC despite its success handling over 65,000 phone calls and 3,000 E-mails monthly. Instead, the decision was made to move the function in house. The move inside will cost more than a million dollars more per year than what we paid the contractor. This substantially greater cost is for hiring information intake workers to answer the phone and for technology to support the function. The Commission could better use this money to hire staff to investigate, mediate and litigate on behalf of the public's interest.
In addition to Commissioners knowing it cost significantly more to have the calls answered by federal employees, we were all told that the transition process would be labor and time intensive. Commissioners were told it would take four months just to deactivate the IVR system, move it from Lawrence, Kansas to a new facility, and reactivate the system. Such a move is not just on EEOC's schedule. The telephone company, as well as computer and data experts, is involved.
Moreover, based on standard personnel hiring times at the Commission, Human Resources estimated that it would take more than three months to create the necessary position descriptions, advertise the positions, evaluate the applications, fill the positions, and train the new employees.
All of this information was provided to Commissioners.
Even though the union and others pretend that the transition of this magnitude can be done overnight, when being thoughtful and objective rather than political and emotional, everyone knows such a Herculean feat within the framework of a federal bureaucracy would take more than a few short weeks to accomplish.
Based on reasonable timing estimates of one year to accomplish the goal, but knowing that there was too much rancor and distrust to get a year, I requested a six-month extension of the contract with Vangent in order to have a smooth and successful transition. This seemed reasonable to me, given the information we had all been provided. Not having the necessary votes for a six-month extension, and despite the best estimates of the Commission's experts that three months was not enough time to complete the change, the Commission voted on August 10, 2007, unanimously to authorize a three-month extension of the existing contract and to authorize the expenditure of funds for consulting services to devise a plan for the in-house transition of a call center.
In the spirit of full disclosure and inclusiveness, the Commissioners were involved fully in the preparation of the statement of work used to hire the contractor. Additionally, the contract was awarded to Charles E. Day & Associates 37 days after the solicitation notice. This is well short of the way and the time it takes EEOC normally to get things done.
EEOC staff and the consultant and his staff have been working diligently to do what is necessary to make the change as quickly and as efficiently as possible. You've already heard that staff have met with Commissioners Griffin and Ishimaru to apprise them of the progress of this important but massive project regularly.
The consultant's draft report was submitted to the Commission just a couple of days ago on November 5th. This is what was provided in the contract. The final report is due November 21st. In advance of the consultant's report, we have nonetheless selected locations, completed the position descriptions, and begun the recruiting process for staff to serve as information intake representatives and managers.
During this period, again, we have constantly and regularly stayed in touch with my fellow Commissioners so everyone knows what's going on. Everyone has access to tracking logs showing what has been done and what remains to be done.
Despite all of these efforts and best intentions, full implementation of the in-house telephone answering system will not be complete by December 20th, 2007. Soon after being selected, our consultant submitted to the Commission an early warning letter that recommends, among other things, that the Commission authorize an additional three-month extension which will permit the Commission to do what is necessary to complete the change from the NCC to the Commission's own in-house program.
Anything short of an additional three-month extension will cause serious harm to those who rely on us to protect them in the workplace. It is my view today we confront the brutal reality of the consequences of our vote. We Commissioners know that today's vote will either insure continuity of quality customer service, and a smooth transition, or overburden our field employees, overwhelm the phone system which in some districts don't even have enough trunk lines to handle additional calls, and at the same time deny some aggrieved individuals access to their best hope for justice in the workplace.
Today it's neither philosophy nor small "P" politics that we deal with. Today we deal with reality.
Let me start with the Vice Chair.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: Thank you, Madam Chair, Commissioner Ishimaru, Commission Griffin, and I want to start by thanking you, Cynthia and Brett, for your presentations this morning, and more importantly, I want to express my gratitude to both of you for incredible leadership on this issue over the past 16 months.
As you may recall when we met on the National Contact Center in July 2006, I discussed my concerns about the way that the contact center had been running. It was not an auspicious start, but because I believed in the concept, I worked with my fellow Commissioners at that time to come up with a strategy for improving the contact center, and I voted with the majority of the Commission to approve the one-year extension to allow the time for those improvements to be made.
And due in large part to the tremendous efforts made by Cynthia and Brett and others in the Office of Field Programs and their close coordination with Vangent, most, if not all, of the problems I had been concerned about have been resolved. Cynthia and Brett, your work just exceeded all of my expectations. I thought you guys did an amazing job and everybody at OFP. I just want to say that.
The NCC is working. The independent customer satisfaction survey showed that, our own monitoring shows that, and I think that the charge data shows that, during the time that the NCC has been functioning so well this past year, our charge filings have gone up dramatically, and I'm certain that this is due in part to the National Contact Center.
Because of the NCC, every time our phone rings, it's answered. Callers don't get a message stating that the voice mailbox is full, and they don't get busy signals, and they don't leave messages that are never returned.
The NCC has been answering our phone and providing quality information, and this has dramatically improved the level of service that the Commission is providing to the public. That was our goal, and I really believed that if we achieve that, the contact center would continue to serve the Commission for years to come and that the savings from outsourcing that function could be used to hire more investigative and other staff to beef up our enforcement efforts.
Of course, that will not happen despite your hard work and the improvements that have been made to the National Contact Center over the past year. As we all know, in July there was a split among the Commissioners for extending the contract with Vangent, and we have been forced to face the reality of shutting down the contact center and moving this function in-house.
And taking it in-house presents numerous challenges. Among other things, it will be more expensive as the Chair explained, and more cumbersome to operate and manage, that is, if we plan to do it right. But I'm hopeful that we will be able to achieve the same level of professionalism, quality, and customer service that the NCC is now currently providing.
Obviously, changing from a National Contact Center run by a private contractor to an in-house model spread over 15 offices does not involve simply flipping a switch. We just can't turn back time to March of 2005. It's going to take time to get the transition right and address the critical technology and staffing needs.
But what matters to me is that we make this change not just quickly, but correctly. We need to use what we've learned from our experience with the
Vangent NCC, about technology and scripts and soft skills and the need for ongoing training and monitoring and feedback, et cetera. These lessons were hard learned, but we've got them now and we have to use them in the future in order to create a highly effective in-house operation.
The Commission recognized that we did not have the expertise to make this transition by ourselves. So in August this year when it was clear to me that we would have to bring this function in- house, we voted unanimously to hire an expert to study the various issues involved in the transition and advise us on how to best proceed.
The Commission worked closely with OFP to create a statement of work that would clearly define the goals and objectives of the consultant's work and impose deadlines for the completion of various deliverables. Let me just say it was important to me that we weren't just hiring a consultant for the sake of hiring a consultant. We were hiring a consultant to make sure that we did this right, and the selected consultant, Charles E. Day, has extensive experience in this area, and he has worked diligently to analyze the issues and make recommendations and meet the time frames set forth in the contract.
Mr. Day strongly recommends that the Commission approve a final three-month extension of the NCC contract. He says that this is needed in order to allow us the time necessary to recruit, hire, and train the staff members we need on board and get the necessary technology in place.
Our own staff, whose opinions I trust, strongly suggest this recommendation, and we ourselves contemplated this back in August when we worked closely to negotiate the Statement of Work and ultimately approved the contract for an outside consultant.
In fact, as set forth in the Statement of Work, Mr. Day's final report and recommendations are not due until November 21st, 2007. There's simply no way that any consultant could study the problem, come up with a solution, deliver it in November, and that the Commission could turn around and implement that solution by December.
So I really have a hard time why we're here today debating this issue, although I have to say that I am glad to finally be able to say this about the contact center. As Cynthia made it clear, if we cut the contract off now, the people who will be hurting the most are the people who we are here to serve, particularly individuals who believe they have been discriminated against and reach out to us for help.
As Commissioners, it is our responsibility to make sure that the Commission serves the public as effectively as possible, and I, therefore, fully support the request for a three-month extension of the NCC contract.
I see my time is up. Would you like me to go forward with questions or move to Commission Ishimaru?
Okay. Cynthia and Brett, based on the August Commission vote, was there any way to get a migration done by December 20th? And if not, then why did you only ask for three months?
MS. PIERRE: As you may recall, what was initially circulated was a request for six months. I believe Madam Chair mentioned that earlier, and we decided to submit the second request for a three-month extension with the understanding that if we made sufficient progress and showed that we were working really diligently to get this done as quickly as possible, including taking proactive steps, such as getting the hiring started earlier and so forth, that we could in a good faith manner come back and ask for an additional extension just to insure a smooth transition without cutting the phones off to the field.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: We've received a letter from the union, and can we do simply as they've recommended and hire temporary employees to fill the gap between the end of the current Vangent contract and the date where we can get new employees hired and on board?
MS. PIERRE: It may be possible to hire contract clericals to help with answering the phone, but the cost for those would be something in the area of 200,000 a month, which would not be a savings particularly, and they would not be trained. So the most assistance they could provide would be to answer the phone and take messages, which, you know, I'm not sure how much additional value that would give us.
So, it's possible it would be expensive, and the assistance would be somewhat limited.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: I think I will pass the microphone.
CHAIR EARP: Sounds like a good idea.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Madam Chair, thank you very much.
Before I make a statement, I wanted to note that this is our last meeting with Peggy Mastroianni as our Acting Legal Counsel because a new Legal Counsel has been appointed. I just wanted to give my personal thanks to all the counsel Peggy has provided me over the years, and I know during the course of some of these meetings when I pull up my trusty Robert's Rules of Order, we've had our moments here, but Peggy has provided sound counsel, and I just wanted to salute her service as our Acting Legal Counsel for more than my tenure here, and it’s been a job well done.
So thank you, Peggy.
Like the Vice Chair, I am pleased that we are meeting today. I note that it’s been nearly a half year since this body has met, and listening to Bernadette's recitation of all the votes that have happened without a public meeting was instructive because the one thing that I've learned from this is that assumptions that we made in good faith change over time, and in listening to the presentation today,
that is reflected by the changing perceptions that have been out there and the lack of a public record of considering both whether to extend the contact center and whether to have a consultant come in, and not doing that in a public forum I think looking back in retrospect is unfortunate because there is no public record that lets us show what basic assumptions that all of us were working under at the time, and the shifting nature of the assumptions I find troubling.
But let me talk for a few minutes about the question before us. As all of you know, from the beginning of the call center pilot under Chair Dominguez, I believe that while excellent customer service should be our goal at the EEOC, a call center was not the way to achieve it. I felt rather that the best access to EEOC for aggrieved individuals was to provide adequate staffing in our field offices so that the calls could be satisfactorily dealt with by EEOC employees in EEOC offices.
I was opposed to the call center pilot and voted against it, but as I've said before on the record and I said to the former Chair, I wished it well, and I was hoping to see whether this pilot would, in fact, work.
And as we all agreed at the meeting in the summer of 2006 when we voted to extend the pilot for one more year, a vote where our current Chair and I voted against the extension. I didn't want to mischaracterize your vote at the meeting.
CHAIR EARP: No, absolutely.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: ..that the first two years of the pilot were a disaster, and that the metrics for decision makers to make a decision were not there. It was money that was wasted, sent down the drain. And it was unfortunate that it went that way, and as the Vice Chair has pointed out, the leadership that was provided in the last year by Cynthia and Brett and Nick and others in OFP was very commendable. The last year the pilot started to do what should have been done two years before that.
At that time though when we voted to extend the pilot for yet a third pilot year, I expected as a sound management practice that an alternative would be developed, a Plan B, if you will, that would deal with the situation. What would happen if this pilot was not continued?
As the pilot progressed, no one, not me, not my colleague, Commissioner Griffin, not the Congress, not the union and not our stakeholders, hid our dissatisfaction with the way the NCC was being managed.
But despite the strong signs that the votes would not be there to continue the pilot, the Chair and our previous Chair failed to have a Plan B. Now we reach a point where we have to say enough. No more extensions, no more call center. The call center question was dealt with earlier this year during the notation vote taken in July when we voted two-two not to extend the call center.
Commissioner Griffin and I made clear during those discussions that were off the record that six months was far too long. We made it clear further that we were not going to spend nearly 1.5 million more on this ill-fated call center, and Congress in no uncertain terms made it clear that it would not support a six-month extension of the call center contract.
But we recognized, Commissioner Griffin and I, that a reasonable transition time was necessary to transition the call center back to an EEOC run operation, and we recognized the need for expert assistance in this transition.
Commissioner Griffin took it upon herself even to become a call center technology expert for a day or so until she found her lawyer training insufficient to deal with trunk lines and PBXes and ACDs and the like. So Commissioner Griffin took off that hat and put on her Commissioner hat again, and we voted unanimously this summer to hire an expert in call center transitions and call center technology who would assist the EEOC in bringing our calls in house.
At that time, however, they were not to wait until the call center's recommendations were final to begin to move the call center's calls in house. The in-house calls were assumed by EEOC to be moved in house by December 21st, and the rest of the consultant's recommendations were to take place subsequently.
So in August we voted to support a three-month extension of the Vangent contract. Our vote was made in good faith, and we expected that urgency would be the operating principle.
But that has not been the case. Over the three-month extension, Commissioner Griffin and I met on nearly a weekly basis with Cynthia and Brett and others in OFP to talk about the progress that was being made on the call center transition, and we wanted to do this so this would not get lost, that the sense of urgency would not get lost. Week after week we asked what was going on. Were the position descriptions done? What was being done?
And we had productive meetings every week, but the pace was far too slow. We kept repeatedly asking about where was Plan B. Where is the plan for the transition? We wanted to know what steps were being taken to deal with the problem of transitioning from Vangent, from the call center to an in-house operation by December 21st.
No Plan B was forthcoming.
The three-month extension of the contract expires on December 21st. The Commission is now presented with yet another request to further fund the call center and Vangent another $700,000, as though that amount is nothing to this cash strapped agency.
Moreover, it appears that Congress may prohibit us from spending this money. We knew that this summer, and we know it now.
The current request amounts to a back door request to get the original six-month extension, and if you read the consultant's letter in the draft report, he suggests that he is recommending both a three-month extension of the contract and a possible three-month extension after that.
So the notion that this is a final request, I think, is belied by the fact of Mr. Day's letter, dated November 5th, that submits the draft report to the Commission, that it's three months now, three months after that, and perhaps three months after that, going to the Chair's original desire to have a one-year transition.
What I talked about earlier about the dismay that I have sitting here listening to my colleagues give their opening statements and giving their view of what happened, is troubling in that during the course of this summer the Appropriations Committees on both sides of Capitol Hill that earlier this year were clear in their desire to try to give additional funds to this agency to operate, $5 million more from the House, $50 million more from the Senate, both were clear in their desire that the contact center not continue and that the operations be in house.
This was made clear during the course of the summer. This was made clear during E-mails that were sent to the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, to Diane Dillon, where Senator Mikulski's staff indicated that a three-month further extension was not possible, was not available from their point of view, that it was unacceptable.
Senator Mikulski sent a letter as well to the Chair stating the same. I believe that our actions today to try to extend this for three months, it would be my judgment that if we did vote to do this, it would put any further appropriations increase for us at risk when you defy both chairs of both committees in the Congress.
And my friend the Vice Chair, being also a veteran of Capitol Hill, may have a different point of view, but I've learned never to cross the appropriations chairman in such a manner when they lay out a clear directive.
I know Mr. Day submitted his report, which we received this last Monday on the due date after business hours.
Madam Chair, I appreciate the fact that my time may have expired on the clock, but your time did as well, as did the Vice Chair's. Now, if we're being held to different standards --
CHAIR EARP: I'm just noting the time. I didn't say stop. I'm just noting the time, Commissioner Ishimaru. Please continue.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, if you'd like me to stop, I'm happy to stop. What would you like me to do?
CHAIR EARP: I’d like you to come to a conclusion and ask your questions and we'll --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Hello.
CHAIR EARP: Sorry, Commissioner Griffin.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Hello.
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Griffin?
Are we still connected?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Chris is still connected to us.
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Griffin?
Bernadette Wilson: Commissioner Griffin, are you there? Commissioner Griffin, are you there?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Shall we take a break to get her back on and then --
CHAIR EARP: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- I can go to some questions?
CHAIR EARP: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: All right.
(Whereupon, the foregoing matter went off the record
at 11:05 a.m. and went back on the record at 11:07
CHAIR EARP: Sorry, Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: That's all right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Madam Chair, could I conclude my statement for now, which I'll do in a minute or so, and then I'll hold onto questions until the next round to let Commissioner Griffin speak, and that way we can have our question time and our back-and-forth and it might be more helpful to the discussion.
CHAIR EARP: I don't think there's opposition to that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Okay, great.
As I noted, the Day report came in on Monday night to us, and as a draft report, that is what it is. There is some 20 pages of text. We had a productive meeting with Mr. Day yesterday where he answered some questions, and we raised issues that we thought should be further fleshed out in the report.
The one thing that Mr. Day noted in the report was that the problem here from his expert point
of view was not a technology problem, that it was a people problem, and trying to get our people on board, and that's something that despite the claims that were made in earlier presentations, a six-month or a four-month or six-month transition for the technology does not appear to comport with what Mr. Day told us in the scope of his draft report.
So I will end my statement. I must say that it is troubling to be in this position today where the expectation that a true effort would have been made to transition this by the end of the first extension period was not made and that the stories were constantly shifting and the assumptions were constantly shifting to try to put us in a box where people think we can't get out of.
But that's where we are, and I hope that the management of the agency under the direction of the Chair will work in such a way that will work diligently to deal with the problem in front of us, but this is not a problem where we should be. Everyone knew or should have known that if the NCC was not extended, that a transition would have to happen and have to happen by the end of the contract period.
The fact that it didn't happen I think is unfortunate, and with that let me end my statement, and I will yield for Commissioner Griffin's opening statement.
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Griffin?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay. I'm assuming you can all hear me.
CHAIR EARP: Yes.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Is that right? Okay.
Well, I also want to extend my thanks to Peggy. I had the privilege of sitting next to her for some time at Commission meetings. I think Peggy has been, you know, one of the best if not the best Legal Counsels that we've had.
And I know you're not leaving. So I really look forward to working with you in the future on a variety of issues.
I continue to be disappointed, I think, and frustrated by the squandering of the time we have had available to transition the Vangent run NCC to our EEOC staff function by December 20th. I do want to acknowledge the hard work of Cynthia and Brett and others on this project. This vote and discussion shouldn't diminish in your mind or anybody else's how much, you know, we respect the hard work that you've put into this.
But when I go back to last August and think about the meetings that we had with staff to discuss the ways we would accomplish this transition and, as Stuart noted, you know, a lot of this not on the record, and I regret that as well; I feel like a chump, to be honest with you. We were told time and time again that it was the technology function, such as the necessary phone switches, our lack of in-house knowledge about that technology that was limiting our ability to get this done on our own.
We all agreed that an expert was needed to help us determine the technology options available. All the associated costs of the technology options and the recommendation of which office in each district based on, I agree, a number of factors that were put into the Statement of Work, but most importantly, when we discussed this -- and this is why it should have been on the record -- we talked about basing that decision about where these folks were placed in our offices based on phone switch technology needs of each office and the cost. That was the discussion that we had.
Commissioner Ishimaru and I met with Mr. Day early on in the process, and at that time it became clear that he thought his goal was to replicate the call center as is to an in-house model. He even went on to lecture both of us about the foolishness of that approach of having a call center in the various locations versus the one location call center.
We tried at that time to explain that what we're attempting to take advantage of as indicated in earlier letters from Senator Mikulski and others was the ability to take advantage of the positive aspects of the call center, such as the use of the advanced technology and the information it provided to us, while also integrating the customer service aspect with our knowledgeable staff in our offices so that we were truly able to provide the best information about employment rights to the American people and not merely sending out questionnaires.
He clearly didn't hear us. As Stuart mentioned, Mr. Day sent us what he called an early warning letter written on October 12th, days after he was on board really, stating the need for a three-month extension and possibly more extensions without any adequate justification. In the subsequent weekly briefing that we had, we were told that the justification for the extension as well as the variety of technology options and their associated costs would be provided so that we would have all of the information needed to make an informed decision. And, yes, we were told it would be in the draft report. We weren't told that it would be in the final report.
We received the report late Monday, had a briefing, quite an extensive briefing yesterday with Mr. Day, and here we are today being asked to make a decision again on another extension without any of the information promised and necessary to make a decision.
I like my colleague, Commissioner Ishimaru and Senator Mikulski, must say no to anymore extensions on the existing contract. Mr. Day's recommendation is to use the automatic call distributor, or ACD, software which he suggests should be hosted by another government agency. Which agency, how much it will cost is still a mystery.
He does tell us that even though we don't know which agency or realistically if any government agency could really provide these hosting services to us, we need an extension because it will take considerable time, probably more than three months, to get this operation up and running. We don't know any other details, but we do know it's going to take more time. That doesn't make sense.
No other options, or there associated costs were offered in writing or during our discussions with Mr. Day yesterday. When we get into asking him to explain some of this technology that -- you know, you're right. We don't understand, but we have to make decisions about -- he actually stated that he wasn't prepared to talk to us about technology yesterday, and frankly, I thought that was why we hired him.
Now, I'm no genius on this issue, but it didn't take me very long to discover that the use of hosted ACD is offered by many private companies, including Vangent, and yet we still don't have any information about the cost of the same type of services and the length of time it would take from any of these companies so that we could compare that to what he's telling us about government agencies.
And I find it extremely hard to believe that Mr. Day, his staff, and our staff could not have technology and cost comparisons available. I think way too much time, and I stated this in one of our briefings, was spent by Mr. Day talking to our District Directors about their preference for where the office should be located in their district that would host our customer service reps. and other things, and yet no information was given to us about the technology needs of those offices in the event that we wanted to do something other than this ACD.
ACD, what I have learned, really does not provide us with everything that we're currently getting, and frankly, all of the good that we got from technology in this pilot of an NCC, all of the good we learned from that will, frankly, be lost by using ACD. I think that's a shame because I don't think that was anything that we discussed back in August either.
ACD will route the calls. It will do some cursory things that will allow people to maybe find out hours of an office or things like that, and it will route it to the appropriate people, but it's not going to provide us with all of the data and the other information that I think we found valuable and promising.
So you know, I just am a little dismayed at this whole thing and that we're already in November and we don't know very much.
Now, I too could quote a colleague out of context from that July meeting, but I won't stoop to that level. Chair Earp, you're right, we need to face reality. They have this saying on a show I like, Top Chef: it is what it is. And the reality is that the vote to transition the NCC to an EEOC staff function in our own offices has already been cast for the three-month transition.
This I think is nothing but an attempt to achieve the original plan of having the original six-month extension. Commissioner Ishimaru and I have operated in good faith since the vote to end the call center, and for us to be cast as the bad guys who don't care about the employees is just dead wrong. As Commissioner Ishimaru stated, you’ve known for a long time, even when Congress was controlled by the Republican Party, that the funding for the call center was going to be prohibited.
In your own words to me one day, you said that you kept asking for Plan B and yet nobody would give it to you. With all of that being said, we are still extremely interested in trying to come up with a solution that will result in a timely transition.
We think that we should immediately investigate the viability, timeliness and cost of Vangent hosting ACD instead of trying to persuade some government agency to do this for us that would take them whatever, six months or more to actually do it. We should get this information, and we should put all of our effort right now in the time left into hiring the 61 EEOC employees and get them on board, trained immediately, by the end of December or when this contract ends, and hopefully we'll be able to have some company host our ability to transfer the calls to them.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Commissioner Griffin.
I appreciate that you would not stoop to quote from the transcript of my on-the-record comments, but you would assert that I made a verbal comment that I would probably take issue with, but I understand that there is a lot of feeling and a lot of energy and intensity that goes into what we need to accomplish here today. So with that I'm going to open for a round of questioning starting with the Vice Chair.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So much has been said here. I really have a hard time understanding how we could have possibly -- how you could have possibly done this more quickly once we decided to hire a consultant, and I appreciate the concerns that Chris raised about the consultant's recommendation. It's, you know, one person's guess over the other.
Is that a feasible alternative, having Vangent or another company host the ACD? Question number one.
Question number two, would the Commission even be in the position of contracting with Vangent without opening it up there for other private entities to bid on?
And if we did have to open it up and another agency -- I'm sorry -- another private entity bid on it, wouldn't we still have to go through that four-month transition which is why this was all so daunting in the first place, which is why we sort of went to this alternative?
MS. PIERRE: I'm going to let Brett start answering that because he's been working closely with the consultant, talking to Vangent in the last few weeks about the proposal that Commissioner Griffin just suggested.
MR. BRENNER: And I can assert with great certainty that we have approached Vangent to get pricing information to host our ACD and provide the technology support for us in the future. We have a cost estimate now from Vangent which is represented in the draft report, which was circulated on Monday, but we believe that that cost estimate will be refined.
MS. MASTROIANNI: Can I just interrupt here and just caution everyone on the Procurement Integrity Act and the limitations it imposes? It has not been a problem yet, but we should --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But can we talk about what was in the draft report and those figures? This is not a procurement itself. It's talking about estimates that have been provided.
I appreciate the difficulties by the Procurement Integrity Act, but on the other hand, there are facts that have been provided to us that I hope we can talk about during the course of this discussion without violating a future procurement action.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: What can we and can't we talk about?
MS. MASTROIANNI: Let me just say what the
Procurement Integrity Act prohibits: Disclosure of non-public information, such as bid proposal information or source collection information before an award is made.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So we could talk about the feasibility of this without talking about the numbers because if we had to talk about the numbers and it had to be contracted out?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But if we're just talking about estimates that have been made as estimates, not as a bid --
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: .…without talking about dollar amounts?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, no, no, no. But estimates have been made, but all they are are estimates. It's not a bid from the company. They're not contractually bound to that. It's an estimate for us to think about.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: You know, can I jump in here? Frankly, what we're talking about, and we don't need to talk about it much, because it was made on other assumptions for other things, and it does not have a direct bearing on this, and we discussed that at our meeting yesterday. So, you know, I think throwing that in there was probably an inappropriate thing to do, to even put it in the report, because it was based on other assumptions that aren't in play right now.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: But, Chris, I'm just trying to get us from Point A to Point B, which is what can we get done to transition to a contact center that -- you know, to an internal model at the quickest time and what's feasible, and that's what I was trying to get at.
MR. BRENNER: And just to finish my original thought or comment, the proposal that was placed in the draft report was placed there as a place holder for information that we will be receiving, more detailed information, and everyone was informed at the briefing on Monday that we would be getting that information hopefully by Friday.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Mr. Day's draft report was a placeholder?
MR. BRENNER: No, no. The proposal, the cost estimate for a private company hosting our ACD was placed in the report, and it was explained to everyone at the meetings that those numbers would be replaced by more specific numbers that met our technical specifications, and we were seeking those numbers as we sat there.
I mean, we requested those numbers. They weren't there. So we used the numbers that we had as a placeholder, and so that was at least to me --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: No, I think it would have been more honest to just say we don't have them. We don't know. That would have been more honest.
MS. PIERRE: I think it was suggested that those numbers were provided earlier, but there was a request into Vangent with a specific -- with the specific requirements --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Cynthia, yeah, that was after much discussion about it. If we hadn't asked about it, we were left to believe that that's what it was. Anyway, it's --
MS. PIERRE: But just to move a little further though, what we were trying to get to is the information that the consultant has provided in talking to Vangent regarding what they can do is that because we are moving to 15 locations, that it would take them at least three months to do their programming and adjust the technology in order to turn their switches from having calls just coming into one location, sending them out to the 15 locations that we have designated.
So I just wanted to make that point, that it's still the amount of time to get that done even with any private agency, any private company doing the ACD hosting.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So what you're saying is whether we go with what the consultant we paid for's recommendation, which is not the only answer to our problem, we're trying to solve a problem here, which is, you know -- and to figure out how the best way to route our calls and have technology in 15 offices and to put staff there, but whether we go with his recommendation or this other idea that was represented sort of in the report, it can't be done by December?
MS. PIERRE: That's correct.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: I mean, once we hired a consultant, we knew we had to move along, you know, a path to get somewhere, but if we have to move the ACD, we know that that takes even longer from Vangent if we don't stay with that or if we can't, which you didn't answer that question yet, whether or not that would even have to go out for bid.
So I mean, we're still here in November, and I really do take issue with the idea that we were squandering that time. I thought we were trying to explore the best way to do it. I don't think in any way anybody has been stalling. I mean, it is the government, we don't move at the speed of light, but you know, you guys have done a great job working weekends and flex days and all of that.
So the point is we're trying to get from Point A to Point B here. So --
MS. PIERRE: We were asked to have the consultant focus first on the site selection locations so that we could start the hiring first. So that's why a lot of time was spent in identifying the 15 locations, and I mean, I guess there is so much that can be done simultaneously.
A lot of work is being done, has been done in the last few weeks to deal with the technology issues, and I think that will become fleshed out as requested by Commissioner Ishimaru and others in this final report. But you know, we've been moving very quickly. Procurement has worked really fast. The 37 days we didn't -- I don't know if she's still here, Caroline Fowler and other people in OFCFO, they've been very critical to this process as well in terms of trying to get the contract issued and getting the consultant started, and I don't think a day has been really wasted in this effort.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: I'm going to let Commissioner Ishimaru who seems to be busting at the seams talk.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I just find this whole discussion to be hard to fathom. Mr. Day came to us at an early meeting that we had with him, our initial meeting with him, and he said, "Technology is not the issue here," and I think in the early warning letter it said that as well. The answer is people and how to deal with people and new people on board.
Mr. Day at least from his draft report and in discussions with him in figuring out which offices to host this, did not go into a technical discussion as far as I can tell or a technical analysis of which offices of ours could actually host these.
What Mr. Day appeared to do was to do the same thing we could have done and we could have done months ago in looking at where we possibly could place people in our existing offices, not the question of whether a phone line could go there, which is what all of us lawyers sitting around the table thought the barrier was, that the phone technology in our various offices was not sufficient to deal with these new lines going in.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: But that's because from my understanding of it, and technology is definitely not my strong point, we were all going on the assumption that we could only do this in certain offices.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Exactly.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: And Mr. Day, who we hired to lead us through this process, is the one that said things have changed now and you don't have to look at it from this angle, you have to look at it from that angle.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right, right, but what may not have been pointed out in this discussion is that Mr. Day's technological solution which allows us to be able to place people in any office regardless of what the technology is for the specific offices, in doing so there's a tradeoff in what we'll be able to have the system do, and that is not discussed in this report, although we discussed it at our briefing yesterday, that there will be a 25 percent drop-off in
the amount of information in the calls that are handled by the automated system and --
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So you're both second guessing --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: -- this ACS recommendation over --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: No.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: -- the IVR --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No, no.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: -- and saying that this -- because if we went with the IVR we could only go to certain offices?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No. My original point was that Mr. Day told us at our initial meeting with him that the problem was not technology. The problem was people and getting them placed on board, trained, ready to go in our offices.
Now, I would note for the record that the position descriptions, despite requesting to see these for weeks and weeks and weeks were not finished even though we knew this summer that we would have to create position descriptions to do the hiring; that they were not done until the end of October, and that
the announcements were not made until the last day of October.
So you had August, September, October go by even though we knew. When I first starting asking about this in the spring and when I asked the Chief Operating Officer what are we going to do if this is not extended; can't we get started now; can't people get ready, there was no answer. And the fact that position descriptions for these basic jobs were not completed for at least three months and were not announced for at least three months, putting aside the question of where you place these people, but the position descriptions were not done for three months.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: But if they had been done, the locations of where you could have put them wasn't done at that point.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But Mr. Day said early on when we met with him in early October it didn't matter where you placed these people, they could go anywhere. And that's a call we could have made a month earlier, and we could have moved this up.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: But you're also questioning his whole foundation. So how could we have moved forward with his recommendations?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, having read the report, I believe that there are legitimate questions to be raised as to whether this is a good technological solution, the best technological solution.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So at the same time you're suggesting we should have moved forward with his plan, which would have put them in locations --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No, no.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: -- that if we don't choose his plan --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Reclaiming my time, reclaiming my time, I'm not suggesting that. What I'm suggesting is despite the representations that have been made that people have been working at warp speed, it should not take an agency three months to get basic position descriptions for a job that has been contemplated for a long period of time ready and out the door.
CHAIR EARP: Okay. So if we stipulate that the PDs should have been done faster, I would agree. I would have preferred that they be done faster, but the fact of the matter is that it happened when it happened. They were not done.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, but, no, Madam Chair, the problem is that by allowing this to lapse and by allowing this to delay for a quarter of a year, we're in a position now where people are saying there is no way we can transition to an in-house solution by December 20th, which was what the original assumption when we were talking about it this summer was; that we would give a three-month extension so we could get people in house doing this after a three-month extension with the call center.
The call center is dead. We have voted on that, and we need to move on.
So let me ask a question of the panel. If today the Commission does not vote to extend for another three months, what is your plan to deal with the calls come December 21st?
MS. PIERRE: On December 20th we will have the calls then going to the field offices. We need a ten-day lead time with the telephone company to have them switch the calls from Vangent back to the various jurisdictions that we have, where we have offices, and the calls will return to the field, to our various offices.
As I think it was pointed out in the report
that we still do have different capacities in the offices, and so our coverage will be very uneven. So it will basically be status quo ante in terms of before the call center.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Well, how will you staff it up? What's the plan for that?
MS. PIERRE: I think, as you are aware, we have, you know, limited funds for hiring. We have the 61 positions that are being recruited, but it will be, you know, some months before they can be on board and trained. So the staff in our offices, we've talked to the directors, and their plans are to use their available staff as they did before, investigators, ISAs… --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And what --
MS. PIERRE: -- and clerks to answer the phones.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Will the management of the offices be held --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Hello.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Are you there, Chris?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Hello.
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Griffin?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Hello.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Why don't we break?
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Griffin.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Bernadette?
MS. WILSON: Yes. Can you hear me, Commissioner Griffin?
CHAIR EARP: We'll take a break.
(Whereupon, the foregoing matter went off the record at 11:57 a.m. and went back on the record at 11:59 a.m.)
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Griffin, and the fact of the matter is the phone system that we have in Washington contrasted with some of the states around the country is highly sophisticated, and we can't keep you on the phone through our deliberations. So sorry. We apologize again.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: That's all right. Where were we or where were you?
CHAIR EARP: I think Commissioner Ishimaru was about to ask the panel a question.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Let me ask one more question and then I'll yield so we can continue the round. Why does it take so long to hire people? In the draft time line that was provided in the packet, it said that the postings would happen at the end of October for a ten-day period, and yet hiring decisions would not be made until the full month of January going into February.
Why does it take so long?
MS. PIERRE: First of all --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And could it be expedited?
MS. PIERRE: First of all, let me respond to the comment about how much time it takes to write a PD. In this instance our Office of Human Resources classification people were faced with developing position descriptions for a job that hadn't existed before. So it did take some time for them to do research first on a position of this type that we were creating and then not only to write different position descriptions for information intake representatives and lead information intake representatives, bilingual as well, and also for managers for the project. They had to do crediting plans for each of those positions, which had to be‑-
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: You think three months is a reasonable amount of time?
MS. PIERRE: Excuse me. Excuse me.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Do you think three months is a reasonable amount of time?
MS. PIERRE: I think that they worked – as diligently as they could.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No, no, no. That isn't my question. My question is do you think it's a reasonable amount of time or do you think it could have been done quicker?
MS. PIERRE: I think they did it as quickly as could be expected. I didn't get a chance to finish everything they had to do, not just the position descriptions and the crediting plans, but then questions and weights and then adjusting this information to the requirements of a new staffing system, USA staffing.
Possibly it could have been done shorter than three months, but not very much shorter than three months, and it's not like we have more than two classification people in our Office of Human Resources as well to work on this. So they also had to work with OFP staff for the content, and we thought they worked quickly because they did make it a priority and put it ahead of other positions that they were working on as well. So in summary, it could have been maybe slightly shorter, but not very much shorter than three months' time. I mean, we took --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Fair enough. You believe this was a fair amount of time that they did it in.
MS. PIERRE: I feel that they were working on this project as a priority, and they did it as quickly as they could.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And you also believe that the timetable that was laid out in the package before us is a reasonable amount of time, and that can't be shortened as well; that you --
MS. PIERRE: We were told that OHR could get the -- once the positions closed on November 12th and 13th, they could get selection packages to us as early as December 3rd. From that point we would have to start doing interviews. They expected they may get hundreds of applications. They'll have to sort through those.
If we start doing interviews as soon as possible after December 3rd, and then we have put together selection panels to do this interviewing already, then, yes, I could see, you know, in early January making the selection decisions.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So despite an urgent need, there's no way to speed this up, and that would be satisfactory to you.
MS. PIERRE: Well, people have to be reached and scheduled for --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No, no, no. That isn't my question.
MS. PIERRE: Even if the --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: My question is: is it satisfactory to you as a manager that despite the urgent need, it's going to take three months to do this or whatever the period of time?
MS. PIERRE: I believe it said hiring decisions in January.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: No, but by February. That's what it said.
MS. PIERRE: That's completing the process, that's completing the process. I believe it gave a full month --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: A full month, right.
MS. PIERRE: -- for the actual hiring.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: The full month of January.
MS. PIERRE: Because everyone obviously can't be hired on the same day, but we would start the hiring decisions in early January and proceed district by district on that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Let me yield to my colleagues for other questions, Madam Chair. Thank you.
CHAIR EARP: Commissioner Griffin, do you have questions?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: You know, I don't know that I have any questions. You know, again, I'm dismayed by the way some of -- you know, some of this proceeded given our discussions in August about, you know, what all of our expectations were about hiring a consultant, and I think if we had discussions in August that he was going to devote most of his time and efforts in the area of personnel and hiring, I would have made different decisions, and I would have questioned why we need someone to do that.
And yet, you know, you can see from the report and from discussions with him that that is where he has, you know, focused his efforts. I also think that --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And, Chris,
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: What?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- Mr. Day also spent two weeks, as I recall, going around to the District Directors talking about siting decisions, of where it should be not as a technological matter, but
as a way to get them to buy into hosting employees in various offices.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Right, and I kind of flipped a little when we had that discussion because two weeks in a row we were told that he was spending all of his time or his staff's time -- I don't know who was doing it. I guess he was -- trying to get hold of our District Directors. Some of them he couldn't get hold of. They weren't calling him back or whatever. We were told he was even making these calls from airports as he was flying around doing other things.
And then we found out after all those discussions for two weeks that that's what he was spending the bulk of his time working on, that the technology piece of this -- that was the first time we really heard that technology in our offices wasn't a concern; that he wasn't investigating the technology
piece and the phone switch issue and all the other stuff that we had spent, you know, tons of time talking about back in August; that he was actually talking to the District Directors about, you know, what their preference was, which I think is valuable, but I don't think we should have been paying a consultant to have those discussions.
Then that is also something that we should have been able to do ourselves, and we should have been able to do a lot quicker than in two weeks.
So we end up now in November. We don't have the information that I thought we were going to have. We have a consultant who I think is focusing on a number of things that I, you know, yes -- you know, you can pull out something out of the Statement of Work and say, "Oh, yeah, that's what we meant by that," but we certainly never had discussions about him focusing on the hiring process and developing questions and all this other stuff that, you know, we're now, learning that this is his expertise or his staff's expertise, and this is what he's focused on.
We're at the beginning of November. We don't have the technology answers that I thought we would have, I thought we should have, and frankly, we need, and we need them now. I think we're put in a bad situation, and I do think we have wasted a lot of time.
So again, I really don't have any questions. I mean, we can sit here and question each other to death. I and Stuart have talked about this yesterday, and we want to solve this problem, but we want to solve it in a time that gets us to where we're almost partly operational in December, by the end of December, and I really think if we put a lot of our efforts into this, and hey, I'll volunteer some staff. I'll voluntary myself to read through resumes and whatever else and to be on interview teams and anything else, and I think a lot of people would.
Maybe this is the time where we stand down so to speak and we put all of our efforts in one area, because it is important that we do it. We're told by Congress we're not going to have any more money to spend on this effort, and so, I think we just bite the bullet and we do what we need to do. We hire these people, the jobs have been announced. I think they end next week; is that right, Brett?
MR. BRENNER: November 12th and November 13th are the closing dates for the jobs.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Those are the closing dates, and then we work our butt off to get these people in there as quick as we can or get as many of them in there as quick as we can and get them trained, while at the same time, at the very same time, someone has got to be working on the technology piece.
And we know at a minimum we need ACD to get the calls distributed to the right people and the right offices. While maybe that's the quickest fix is to get somebody, Vangent or somebody to provide that service to us very quickly, and I'm hoping because we already have this relationship with them, that they can do it. I don't even know if that's possible.
And once we get that done, we then really need to explore the ability of Vangent or somebody else to host the other technology pieces because I think it's a shame that we'll get this far and we're going to miss the opportunity to capture the data that IVR and CTI and everything else allows us to capture under our current arrangement.
So that's pretty much all I have to say. I think we should, just like I said, bite the bullet and solve this problem and solve it in the time that we're allotted.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Commissioner Griffin.
Final questions, Vice Chair?
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: Can you sort of respond, Brett and Cynthia, to the points raised? Specifically, did our consultant focus on finding us a technological solution?
MR. BRENNER: He has been working on a technological solution and has provided us with a framework to basically, as Commissioner Ishimaru and Commissioner Griffin have said, to avoid the technological issues in the offices, and what that framework does is it allows us to utilize our current technology to connect to an ACD that's either hosted by a private corporation or by another federal agency, and it allows us the functionality at that point.
ACDs create data reports. Most of our trend reports and data reports that we get now from the NCC come out of the Right Now system, which we will be retaining in the model that the consultant has pushed forward.
What we would be losing if we lost the IVR
and the CTI is the ability to capture demographics from people automatically from phone calls and also to do automatic phone number look-ups and bring that automatically into the screens that our employees would be looking at when they get a phone call.
And that is a loss, and if it's kept with Vangent, we could retain that system because it's already located there. The consultant's suggestion to get rid of the IVR and the CTI in a hosted solution was to make it less complex to move.
I think someone alluded to the four-month time frame to move an IVR. The information that people get from the IVR, the recorded messages that you can listen to about race discrimination or gender discrimination, that can all be copied from the IVR onto an auto attendant connected to the ACD, and it has the same functionality.
And I believe that when Mr. Day said that 25 percent of the 35 percent of calls that are screened out may leak back into the system, he was concerned that some of the messages would be shortened to fit onto the auto attendant or that people would get more frustrated. I think he was being conservative in estimating the number of calls that would come through the system if it was hosted somewhere else.
So we will retain data reporting and trend reporting. We will not retain -- it will probably cost us a little bit of time in the time to answer phone calls, and people will be on phone calls if their screens aren't auto populated with questions, but quite frankly, right now their business process is to reaffirm or verify that information once they get on the call, and so that would be, you know, typing it in versus spell checking it, along those lines.
And so that's kind of the technological framework that we're working on. Outside of the scope of work of the contractor is actually finding someone to host this solution. One of his people who works on his technological issues, he has five staff who work for him, and we have dealt with most of them directly, is also working on a contract with a federal agency and thought that this would be a solution for us. They brought that solution to us as another federal agency hosting it. Basically if we had an interagency agreement, it might facilitate a shortened process to get us onto a hosted agreement without lengthening a long procurement process.
So those solutions were stuff that were brought forward to try to shorten the time frames, and it's a good point that if we can retain the contract at Vangent, we may be able to retain all of the functionality of the IVR and the CTI, which is the data bridge. We may be able to do that, and it may be just as cost effective, and that's what we're exploring right now.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: But my understanding was that the consultant's recommendation to switch to IVA was based on two things: one, because it is less complex and we do lose stuff.
MR. BRENNER: Correct.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: It's less expensive, and second, the technology to support that would be able to go to any office giving us more flexibility.
But here's the part I don't know. If we were able to stay and have Vangent continue to host this, is it DV?
MR. BRENNER: ACD.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: ACD. Thank you. DVR? No, would we be able to funnel that to any of our offices or -- so that could go to any of our offices as well?
MR. BRENNER: Yes…,
MS. PIERRE: …but it will require some programming. Right now --
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: Either way, if we were able to stay with Vangent, you told me, you said earlier in this it would still take the three months.
MR. BRENNER: Yes.
MS. PIERRE: It will still take some time to --
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: But can you just address one more question? If we do as Chris suggests and we are unable to extend our contract today and the agency turns around and hires all of the people, are we going to have them good to go on, you know, December 20th to answer the phone? Because we clearly won't have the technology piece at that point. We won't have an automated system to put them through if we cut off the phones there, so every one of those calls are going to our offices. Can we have people both hired and trained without -- and we're training them, by the way, without the technology, which is really what their jobs will ultimately be -- I mean, what's that going to look like? And what's that going to mean for theagency?
MS. PIERRE: I think as I said earlier is OHR committed they could have selection packages to us no earlier than December 3rd, and this is with them hiring additional contractors to come in and help them review the applications coming in. If we were to start hiring people December 4th, people have to give notices where they work. I can't imagine getting people on board in less than two or three weeks' time if we were to make a decision the next day, and I really don't see how you can make a decision in one day.
But, you know, assuming you could do that, people have to be trained, and we're talking at least two, three weeks' training as well. So --
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: And it's different training to answer the phone cold than it would be to answer the phone with all of this technology as well?
MS. PIERRE: Right.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: You know, we can't impart all of that to these people, and you know --
MS. PIERRE: Not in 17 days, no.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: Without some technology. So even if we hire all of the people, they won't be really equipped to be answering our phone on December 21st?
MS. PIERRE: No, they would not.
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So what is that going to mean? I mean, if this contract goes down today, what's that going to mean for everything at the agency? What's going to happen?
And that's my final question.
MS. PIERRE: Well, the words that we’ve gotten from the Directors we’ve talked to ranged from crisis to chaos, but, you know, we will be faced with having to direct calls back, and right now, you know, the saying you can't step into the same river twice. The situation we were in in 2003, before we pointed the calls to the call center, we were getting a lot fewer calls even coming to our offices, and we had more staff.
We have in the past year did considerable publicity of the 800 number following one of the action items. From July '06 we put out PSAs, brochures, a lot of outreach, advertising. So we're getting a lot more callers even to our 800 number.
We're still going to be using that same number.
So basically it's going to be a slam on the offices, and we will just have to, you know, live with
it to get through it the best that we can. It will also depress investigations that we can do, and as was suggested as well, other activities that we like to carry on in the field, mediations, outreach and so forth, because resources do need to be placed in allowing people to have access to us because it does involve preserving their statutory rights.
CHAIR EARP: Final question? Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair.
I just wanted to note for the record that in the draft time line that was provided to us in our package, it states that it anticipated that a final interagency agreement, if we went the way of having another agency host the technology, would not be entered into until the end of January.
And then it also says that the migration from Vangent to the agency as a technological matter would happen in 17 days. Frankly, I have questions given how long it takes for the processes to develop
position descriptions, how long it will take us to develop an interagency agreement and how long, frankly, it will take us to actually migrate systems, physical technology systems, into from one site to another, from one entity to another.
And frankly, 17 days does not strike me as a reasonable amount of time to deal with the technology problem when we're unable to do position descriptions in 90. So I note that for the record.
Yesterday at the Supreme Court there was a case that we were involved in that was in front of the Court, and Justice Scalia said that his main concern was to do something in that case that will require the EEOC to get its act in order, and I hope here, whatever the result of this, is that the EEOC will get its act in order.
And I recall from our former colleague, the former Chair, telling me on repeated occasions that the Chair runs the agency, Commissioners just develop policy. So I would hope that whatever the result of our vote is today that the agency gets its act in order, answers the phones in a timely fashion, does it in a professional way, and that we get ourselves out of this bind that from my view was self-created, that
we're in this position now of saying we need three more months, then three more months, then three more months, then three more months.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Commissioner.
I would like to bring the discussion to a close and call for a vote. I want to again thank the staff, especially Ms. Pierre, Mr. Brenner, and their team who worked on this, and I would like to note for the record that the NCC had its act together. The NCC was doing its job and doing it very well.
Is there a motion to approve the obligation of funds for a three-month extension of the National Contact Center contract?
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So moved.
CHAIR EARP: Is there a second?
Any additional discussion?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Let me say, Madam Chair, as a matter of fact that the NCC if it was doing its job would have been extended, and the vote taken by this Commission said that it wasn't. So I think to try to revive the call center at this late date doesn't do us any good.
The leadership of this agency should be talking about how do we move on from here, and the repeated attempts to say the NCC was a great entity is
history. We should be moving on and we should be trying to figure out a way, and we should be putting our efforts into trying to figure out how to deal with this problem that's in front of us.
CHAIR EARP: I'll take those comments as a response to my call for discussion. Any further --
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: I would actually also like to say that I agree, that to keep saying that it was working is false. When we go out to our offices, people tell us repeatedly about how they are being buried in these questionnaires. Yes, they were answering the calls and having, you know, wise people answer calls is a good thing, but at the same time if all you're doing is filling out forms and sending this off to our offices and burying them in a different type of work, that to me doesn't say that it's working.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: You know, I also think that yesterday's case, the Holowecki case, may raise serious questions about what we send out from our call centers, which is a question for another day, but again, I call on us to get our act together and move forward.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Commissioner Griffin, for that discussion.
I'd like to call for a vote. All in favor, aye.
(Chorus of ayes.)
CHAIR EARP: Opposed?
(Chorus of nays)
CHAIR EARP: The item is voted. The vote is two in favor and two against. The vote fails and is disapproved.
I want to thank everyone here for joining us. We appreciate your being here. Thanks, again, to the staff who worked on it.
If no further business, can I hear a motion to adjourn?
VICE CHAIR SILVERMAN: So moved.
CHAIR EARP: Second?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Second.
CHAIR EARP: Thank you.
The meeting is adjourned.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: We need to vote.
CHAIR EARP: Sorry. All in favor.
(Chorus of ayes.)
CHAIR EARP: Opposed?
CHAIR EARP: The ayes have it and the meeting is adjourned. Thank you.
(Whereupon, at 11:55 a.m., the meeting in the above-entitled matter was concluded.)
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