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For the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, modernization takes on several meanings, as the agency achieved another milestone this summer.
The EEOC expanded its online public portal to federal employees in July, which allows federal employees now to file and manage appeals of their equal employment opportunity complaints digitally.
But the achievement will also kick-start a series of modern improvements for EEOC, which sees the public portal as a gateway to move many of its employees into higher-value, more meaningful work.
The new portal is a big improvement from the previous process, which was mostly paper-based, and required federal employees to file an appeal with the EEOC through the mail or by email with their complaint attached.
“It was a huge paper process. The files were big. The file rooms were big, and the number of steps that needed to be done by hand because of that just absorbed a lot of time,” Nicholas Inzeo, EEOC’s director of field programs, said in an interview with Federal News Network. “This is an effort that’s designed to make the process easier for employees, for agencies and for EEOC and its employees.”
The launch of the EEOC public portal for federal employees comes after the agency first digitized the filing process for private sector complaints.
The agency has realized significant time savings already by simply allowing complainants to check the status of their case online.
“They can do it 24/7, which is a wonderful service for them,” Inzeo said. “But then it means that our employees are fielding that many fewer calls. We’ve realized a savings there.”
Simply allowing private sector complainants to check the case status online will free up enough time for EEOC to process another 3,700 cases a year, the agency estimates.
EEOC doesn’t yet have an estimate for how much more it’ll save with the federal sector filing system online, but the private sector savings give the agency a good indication.
The new online filing system will also free up office space at EEOC headquarters and at the agency’s 52 field offices across the country.
But beyond the cost and space savings, EEOC sees an opportunity to move its employees, who perhaps spent their days opening or sorting the mail and making copies, to higher value work.
“We’ll try to move them higher up the value chain,” Bryan Burnett, the agency’s chief information officer, said. “Instead of opening an envelope maybe you’re adding metadata to the case or you’re providing some other service to the constituent. That’s what we’re trying to do: use these systems to allow lawyers to be lawyers, investigators to be investigators and to move everybody up that value chain.”
Inzeo said the EEOC public portals also allow the agency to spend more time working with agencies, federal employee groups and other advocates.
“EEOC hasn’t been a resource-rich agency,” he said. “By freeing up some time, we can then spend more time on the matters that we should spend on the cases that we have. We have plenty of cases to work on.”
Beyond allowing federal employees and other complainants to check the status of their case, the EEOC Public Portal also allows them to submit or receive documents supporting their case, update contact information and respond to an invitation to engage in an alternative dispute resolution.
The online portal also allows federal employees to more easily manage their case throughout the hearing and appeal stages, said Carlton Haddon, director of EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations.
“A lot of federal employees may ask for a hearing and it gets resolved later and there’s no appeal,” he said. “Some of the appeals though may include cases for which there was no hearing. Federal employees can not only just check the status but they can manage their complaints a lot better [and] a lot more efficiently. They can figure out what the agency’s provided.”
EEOC modernizing internal and external IT services
Still, there’s only so much EEOC can do on its own to digitize the hearing and appeals process. Each agency typically has its own equal employment opportunity platform to process complaints, and EEOC needs to be equipped to handle cases coming in both paper and digital formats.
“While we’re excited about our savings at EEOC, still at the agencies, there’s a mix of processes,” Haddon said. “Some are — most are — on paper. But if we we’re looking down the road we’d like to see if we could extend some of these advantages to the federal agencies.”
In the meantime, EEOC is also turning toward its internal IT capabilities. The agency’s charge case management platform is nearly two decades old, Burnett said, and EEOC will begin rolling out new capabilities to modernize that system next month.
First up is the development of an employee master list.
“Up until this time for all of our private sector charges, we had a unique employer record per charge,” Burnett said. “They weren’t shared across any offices [or] any databases. Now we’re moving to having an enterprise employer master list, taking data from multiple places.”
As EEOC continues to modernize its own internal systems, the agency said both federal employees and private sector complainants will be able to notice the difference.
As we modernize our internal systems, we’ll have even greater capabilities externally,” Burnett said. “Transparency is one of those. ‘Show status’ only shows you what you are capable of digitizing internally. If you’re able to do more [and] have more digital processes internally, then you’re able to show greater granularity of status to your constituents.”