The Business of Government Hour

 

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The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Cari Dominguez interview

Friday, February 28th, 2003 - 20:00
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Cari Dominguez
Radio show date: 
Sat, 03/01/2003
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Cari Dominguez
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Arlington, Virginia

Monday, February 10, 2003

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, the co-chairman of The IBM Endowment for The Business Government. We created the endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is with Cari Dominguez. Cari is the chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Good morning, Cari.

Ms. Dominguez: Good morning, Paul. It's a pleasure to be with you.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you for joining us. Could you tell us a little bit more about the EEOC and its mission?

Ms. Dominguez: The EEOC has a very unique mission. It's a keeper of the laws that enforce non-discrimination in the work place. The Age Discrimination and Employment Act, The Americans Disability Act, The Equal Pay Act, Title Seven of the Civil Rights Acts, all of these are statutes that are enforced by the Commission.

Mr. Lawrence: Now, it is a Commission as opposed to just a government agency, Why is that?

Ms. Dominguez: The EEOC was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We actually became operational in 1965. Back then we had no experience whatsoever with issues relating to employment discrimination. And so, it was determined that we needed a body of regulators, individuals, primarily attorneys that would look at class issues, patterns and practices and discriminatory behavior and then we take these issues what we call Commissioners Charges . That how the whole development of EEO case law came about. Primary took Commissioners Charges, the identification of discriminatory practices and then the Commissioners, it's a five member Commission, the Commissioners would then direct the investigations as well as the selection of these employers to pursue non-discrimination issues. And so, that's how it evolved. And that's how the Commission has played a very critical role in the development of EEOC case law in our history.

Mr. Lawrence. Now, you're the chair. What are your duties and responsibilities as chair of the Commission?

Ms Dominguez: Essentially the chair sets the direction for the Commission. I'm nominated by the President, confirmed by the Senate. It's a five year term. Five Commissioners. Each has a five year term. And the chair serves as a CEO of the Commission. I'm in charge of all of the management day-to-day direction and guidance, setting up the strategic framework, the operational management practices, etc. that I would expect all of our employees to operate under. And then issues that relate to lawsuits and policy development are handled by the Commissioners. They bubble up to the Commissioners. I present them to the Commissioners for vote. And so, that's pretty much that. So, I'm a voting Commissioner but at the same time I have the added responsibilities of running the agency.

Mr. Lawrence: Tell us about your previous experiences before joining the Commission.

Ms. Dominguez: Prior to joining the Commission, I was a small business entrepreneur. I ran my own management consulting business that involved a variety of things. I did executive recruitment, executive search. I also did served as expert witness on class ceiling issues. I did a lot of workforce preparedness assessments for employers looking at the competencies of their employees and then making some recommendations. So, this as an entrepreneur.

And, then prior to that, I was a partner with the two major international search firms. I've also believe in the power of one and I chose to go into the search business because I felt that people do influence the direction of an organization by the individuals that you appoint to positions of leadership.

Prior to that, I was a political appointee in the Bush 41, the 41st President Administration. I was the Assistant Secretary of Labor as well as Director of the Office of Federal Contra-Compliance Programs.

And, prior to that, I was at Bank of America in charge of Director of Executive Programs in charge of what we call the Caring and Defeating of the Top Appointed Executives. At the bank, I did all the executive staffing, executive compensation, benefits, succession planning, all of those things.

And, I think the theme that ran through my career regardless of whether it was weaving in and out of the public and private sectors and independent sectors has to do with human resources and the value of our human capital in driving, change and improving performance in an organization. You know, you can have the best laid out technology and business processes but if the people aren't included, aren't part of it, aren't the ones driving it, you are going to still continue to have mediocre results. So, whatever position I've held has always been with a focus of the importance of human resources of our people in being in the driver's seat.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think that's a widely understood theme now?

Ms. Dominguez: I think it's getting to be much more widely understood. I recall the about seven or eight years ago when we started the delayering organizations and we became so beefed up talent that all of a sudden Corporate America had to hurry up and once again look at the critical competencies and the talent that they had lost. So, I do think it's important and it's much more important now when we are always playing catch up in the marketplace and looking for ways to be more competitive and drive improvements and be more profitable.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think this is appreciated in Government as well?

Ms. Dominguez: The Government has never had a competitor per se. We've been somewhat insulated from the pressures of the marketplace, from the demands of our customers, but that's no loner so. We're now as concerned about being competitive particularly under the President's management agenda and his commitment to make sure that if we're going to outsource that we can at least be as competitive as the entities that to which we may end up outsourcing. So, we're beginning to realize the value of having prepared, skilled, knowledgeable individuals driving these changes. And the importance and the efficiency of our operations even though we don't generate a revenue per se, we are entrusted. So, yes, I do think that the Government in general is looking at ways to drive improvement and attract the best talent and development the talent that we have. For so long we've had silos in government and even though the people are so dedicated and so hard working and so committed. The Commission, for example, we have some of the longest tenured employees. We have individuals that have been there since the doors opened back in 1965. So, it's important that we keep people with broadening their skills of development. Yes, people do matter.

Mr. Lawrence: You've had a variety of different experiences when you were describing your career. I wonder if there's any one or any one particular challenge that best prepared you for your present position?

Ms. Dominguez: Well, one of the challenges when I look back on which is a transformational experience is that when I was Director of the Office of Federal Contra-Compliance Programs. When I arrived, there it was an entity that was not really -- did not have a good image of itself. I felt that they were just kind of going through the motions without really a sense of focus of purpose. And, we identified an opportunity that we could really establish the relevance of that program and that came out through the glass ceiling initiative. Glass ceiling by the way is a definition that talks about the syndrome that you seem to be rising and rising but you somehow can't get to the top of a corporate ladder because there's an invisible barrier that's getting in the way and you just kind of bump against the ceiling but you don't know what it is. So, we decided we needed to be at the table and we needed to participate along with the shareholders and with the customers and with the employees and since the Federal Government has a role to play. And, just by having that initiative it caused almost a miraculous turnaround in the sense of value and self-esteem and interest that our employees generated because for once they felt themselves part of an important societal issue and they saw themselves as catalysts in improving changes in the society. So, that was a very, very positive experience and I should say that it has been an initiative that's been carried throughout both administrations for republicans and democrats.

Mr. Lawrence: You moved from the private sector to the Federal Government and back again both ways. I'm curious, how would you contrast the two sectors in terms of their approach to management?

Ms. Dominguez: Well, quite different. In fact, I arrive in the private sector I think in the best and the worst of times. I was there, I worked for banking at the time when we went from 1,200 branches down to 800 when we were downsizing and restructuring. And, I recall the first two years reporting to six different managers. I'd go to lunch, come back, I'd have a different manager. It caused me to be adaptable and flexible and nimble. It caused me to be sensitive to the business changes that were going on. And, the recognition that our employers, the employer and all the other peer companies had to follow the market requirements, what the customers wanted, what the marketability, you know, the alliances and the kinds of things that make an organization not only profitable but responsive to the needs of the society.

So, one of the things that I noticed was how quickly we changed in the private sector. It was just a survival. And, it was a need, you know, just a viable. Unfortunately, in the Government we haven't had that sense of emergency, that sense of, we need to be responsive to the customer because we haven't had any competitors. It's been a self-contained entity. We're beginning to see that sense of competition and that sense of okay, so we've made great progress and yes, we're lucky and fortunate to have had the pleasure of all this time to think about ways of improving it without the external pressures. But the time has come now when we have to keep asking more of ourselves when our own tax payers and customers are asking more of us. So, I do think that the culture that we've had one that is bureaucratic, many, many layers of checks and more checks and counter checks. When you've had individuals you even, even with their desires to move and broaden find themselves sort of stymied in the same career path without ability to broaden their base of knowledge and skills and career building experiences. We find that that is a detriment now to our dedicated employees. And, we need to break up all those barriers and give them an opportunity to broaden their base.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. We got to go to a break. Please join us in a few minutes as we continue our discussion with Cari Dominguez of the EEOC. Do you know what the Commission's five point plan is? We ask Cari to tell us more about it when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence and this morning's conversation is with Cari Dominguez. Cari's the chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Cari, at the last break we were just talking about the management styles and I'm curious, what's it like to lead an management organization that has a lot of public scrutiny?

Ms. Dominguez: Obviously, we're adjudicatory agency. We have a person that comes and files a complaint against an employer. And, so, our responsibility is to go out and investigate those allegations and because of the nature of our business we have stakeholders who are a constituency groups if you will that constantly monitor every decision, every case that we take to litigation. So, we have stakeholders. For example, the NAACP, Mexican/American Legal Defense Fund on the one hand representing the interest of groups of citizens and working men and women. On the other hand, we also have the employer community and we have the practitioners within the employer community. We also have Congress. If they don't like what we're doing at any particular point or if they get too many letters from any of these groups, I will get invited over there for a little visit. And, so we do have just about every segment of our society from the workers all the way up to the legislators that keep the close tabs on what we do and how we do it. And, it's a very visible agency. We're constantly being studied and lots of press articles and all kinds of things. So, we have to make sure that we're constantly communicating and explaining. Communications is the key. Explaining to all of our constituencies why we're doing what we do and why we think it makes sense and inviting them to come and help us in the development of public policy.

Mr. Lawrence: Over the years, what type of complaints have the EEOC dealt with?

Ms. Dominguez: We have had a fairly consistent pattern of charge activity. About 35% of most of charge -- we get about 82, ;83, 84,000 charges a year. It's hovers around that number. And the majority of the charges, about 35% are race related charges. About 30% are gender discrimination. 20% age. 20% disability, which are two of the fastest growing segments of our workload. 10% national origin which also took a spike after September 11th along with religious discrimination which we get about 1 to 2 % of charges a year. And, that's been a consistent trend since the inception of the Commission. We're getting a lot of charges of individuals over 50 who are alleging that they're being restructured out of their positions. And, again, that with the more religious diversity we've had more religious discrimination charges. So, it's a interesting blend of issues and a interesting trend that we're seeing but by far race and gender lead the way.

Mr. Lawrence: How many people work for the Commission and what type skills do they have?

Ms. Dominguez: We have a lot of serve. We have about 2,800 employees in -- at the moment we have 51 district area and local offices including Porto Rico. About one-third of our employee base is made up of attorneys. Lots of -- we have a very, very vibrant general counsel's office. We have regional attorneys and they're the ones that take the cases forth. We file about -- over -- anywhere between three to four hundred lawsuits a year. And, again, I said we get 82,000 or so charges. So, that's not a whole lot of cases that we actually take to court to litigate. Most of our cases end up being settled prior to going to court. So, there's a lot of conciliation and mediation efforts that take place.

So, about a third are attorneys and then we have mediators. We have investigators. We have analysts. We have a couple of physiologists to look at trends and make sure the validation of tests, those kinds of things. Of ten times the employers will administer tests and then they have to be validated to make sure that they don't have an adverse impact that effect one group of workers differently than others discriminatorily.

Mr. Lawrence: I initially thought the EEOC dealt primarily with large businesses but in doing research for our conversation I learned that a lot of activities going on with small businesses and under represented -- underserved communities. Can you tell us about that outreach activity?

Ms. Dominguez: Certainly. I think that if you look back at the trends, a lot of the major employers that were the recipient of Commissioners' charges and lawsuits. And, for the most part the Fortune 500 side employers have developed pretty good sophisticated HR programs and practices and policies that keep them and their workforce pretty well informed of what their responsibilities are. We are finding that the greatest number of charge activity coming from our, as you mentioned, Paul, mid-size and small size employers and particularly in some of the areas with little sophistication. For example, we had major law suit last year, $47 million dollar settlement. This company had no HR, no Human Resources operations. They had no outside counsel. And, this particular employer decided he did not want women working in his company. So, all of a sudden all of these women cued up to our offices and we're seeing that a lot of it has to do with the lack of understanding and application of sound HR policies and programs. So, our biggest outreach efforts right now are with mid and small size employers and with underserved communities like agriculture, farming. We've had a number of issues with documented workers and the migrant communities. So, we're still seeing some of our more venerable segments of the work force being prayed upon. And, so, that's where we think the -- a lot of our work needs to continue to focus on. These are individuals that have limited education, limited skills. Often times, English is a second language. But they're very critical components for a work force because they take on the jobs that very few others want to take on, service workers and laborers and unskilled workers.

So, that is a huge segment of our work force, work load and we need to continue to have extensive and aggressive outreach efforts directed at that community.

The particular profile of a charging party, a person that comes to file a complaint is someone that is kind of a wage/hour -- hourly wage earner. Someone who has limited education. Someone who just can't pick up and go -- get hired by the competitor because they have very limited opportunities.

And, now we find that there are three industries that take up the bulk of our attention. Retail because of the labor intensive nature of the work; foot service, fast food service and that type of thing; and, hospitality, housekeeping and those types of jobs. A lot of those types of industries and industries related to the three that I mentioned really make up the bulk of our work.

Mr. Lawrence: Can you tell us about the five point plan?

Ms. Dominguez: I got together with our senior managers. And, for a period of several weeks, decided that they needed to have five anchor points. We needed to develop a strategic frame work upon which all of the things that the Commission would do in the context of the 21st century workplace would have to be addressed.

The first point is proactive prevention. We must attempt to prevent discrimination from occurring in the first instance. It's almost like medicine. You know, you want to know, you want to screen out any potential illnesses before they become fatal, before they really truly effect and get to the -- get to your core organs. It's the same thing with us. The act of prevention is where we're spending a lot more resources than we have in the past. I added another five percent of our resources to making sure that we do outreach. We're doing web chats. We're doing technical assistance program seminars. Last year I spent quite a bit personal time meeting with senior executives all over the nation. It was an interesting -- I'll just share a quick addict with you. When I call on -- these were individuals that typically would not meet with the chair EEOC, like Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Information Officers, Financial Officers, small business CEO's. When they got the call that the chair of EEOC wanted to meet with them -- when I met with them, what did you think when you got that call and they would say they were panic stricken. We didn't know why you wanted to meet with us. I wanted to change that --that sense into one of curiosity. Well, maybe there's something there that we need to partner up with not just to delegate it to the attorney or to the Human Resources Executive. So, proactive prevention and all the related outreach efforts are key. If we can't prevent discrimination from taking place, and we do get a charge, an allegation, then it's called point number two proficient resolution. Let's try to address it as quickly as possible, as quickly and cheaply as we can so it isn't languish infester.

And, the third point is what I call the center piece of the five point plan. And, that's mediation. We have had tremendous success in mediation. The days that it takes -- it takes on average about 171 days to resolve a charge. That is a dramatic drop from your prior lasts 182 days. But I think the winner has been mediation. It takes us about 86 days to mediate a charge compared to 171 days. And last year we settled more cases, more charges through mediation than ever before in the history. And, this year we positioned to do even more. We're promoting universal agreements to mediate. We're encouraging employers to sign national agreements with us that says that's it's not required, but it says if a charge comes up let's commit to take a look at it under the concept of mediation before we go into the investigative mode. And, so, it's been a real success story, Commission as well as for the employers.

The fourth point in the five point plan is the strategic enforcement and litigation. We want to make sure that our attorneys in the general counsel's office as well as our investigators in the day to day operations work along side of each other early on so that we don't delay processing of charges because once you refer it to the attorney, he or she will go well, no, you need to go back and investigate this, that and the other. So, if they work along side it early on in the development of the case, then the case can -- you can either issue a right to sue letter if you thinks its not going to be pursued by the Commission or you can take it on a litigate it yourself. That's a very important component. It's also a component under which we'll be looking at trends, we're looking at patterns. For example, we're seeing that most of the charges we're getting relate to retaliation, relate to harassment. There's a tremendous epidemic of harassment charges across the nation. And, also, to -- what constitutes a reasonable accommodation under the American Disabilities Act. It's a lot of confusion as to what am I required to do in terms of providing that accommodation. I think that if we can collect that information, develop guidelines like we have been, and then feed it back to the employers, that's an important contribution.

And, then the fifth point this is what I say practicing what we preach. It's the EEOC as a model work place. Let us have the best mediation program that we can have. Let's us make sure that whatever we have before us is equally responsive to the expectations that we've placed on the employer.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good point. We've got to go to a break. Come back after break as we continue our discussion on management with Cari Dominguez of EEOC. This is The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence and this morning's conversation is with Cari Dominguez. Cari is the chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Well, Cari, so far our conversation has focused on complaints in the private sector. I'm curious about the complaints in the federal sector and how that process goes.

Ms. Dominguez: Yes, Paul. EEOC has a dual responsibility not only to the private sector charges but also we write the regulations and review the appeals process for the federal sector. We've made some improvements but we're not doing as well. We still get about 23,000 complaints by federal employees annually, individuals who believe that they've been discriminated against, and if you conservatively cost those out, and the cost ranges depending on how long it takes, but it could be anywhere from $5,000 to $35,000 to process an EEO charge in the federal government, we're looking at hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money. And I recently held a commission meeting to look into that and find out what were some of the issues and to a person everyone was concerned about the delays. It takes over 420 days to settle a complaint compared to 86 days if we mediate one in the private sector or 171 days if we investigate it. Sometimes the appeals process and the review of that could take years. It's not uncommon to have complaints last four or five years.

So we need to take a look at the layering and making sure that we can simplify the process. And one way to do that is to introduce mediation early on in the process. We've had such great success in the private sector that we believe that if we have a mediation process early on and once an employee comes in to talk about concerns or whatever they're experiencing in their offices that may be a good opportunity not only to have EEO counseling but also introduce mediation.

So we're looking and that's one of my major priorities this year is to look for ways to streamline the federal sector complaint process so it's not as lengthy, so it's not as mixed. Oftentimes a lot of the issues that are in that pool of complaints have nothing to do with EEO. It may have to do with maybe more of a union-related grievance. It may be more to do with communications or bad blood between an employee and an employer. So we're trying to come up with some standards that really drive out the nonmeritorious allegations and really concentrate on those that have substance.

Mr. Lawrence: The five-point plan you described in the last segment laid out some broad management themes. What type of performance measures are you using to measure the success of the five-point plan?

Ms. Dominguez: We're using a variety of performance metrics. Of course, one of which we are constantly being measured against is how long it takes to process a charge so looking for ways through technology and by building the expertise of our investigators to cut down the time that it takes is always an important metric.

We're also looking at the satisfaction rate. We've gone out, particularly as it relates to mediation, to find out whether both the respondents and the charging parties are pleased with the quality of the services they're getting from the commission and the quality of the process and we've been pleased to see that we've had over a 90 percent satisfaction rate when we used mediation.

Another benchmark that we're trying, again, if we look at the fact that it takes on average 420 days to process a federal sector complaint let's see if we can do it in 300 days and how can we work more closely with the agencies. The most important measure we now have is the President's management agenda metrics of getting to green, getting to green in human capital, getting to green in the use of technology, and so we're working on our own getting to green standards. For example, one of the things we're working on this year is filing complaints online so that you don't have to come into a brick and mortar building, EEOC office, but you can actually do it out of the comfort of your home with commands and so on and you can file that and then having a hotline or some sort of a technical assistance desk to help with that.

Another aspect of measurements that I think is important has to do with our own infrastructure. Our infrastructure, I mentioned we have 51 offices, but our infrastructure has not had a fresh look since the late 1970s. At a time when we're much more mobile, much more technologically oriented, I think about my banking background. It used to be you had to go walk into a branch to deposit and people are a little leery about ATMs. And now they go online banking. I said there's no reason why we have to have people come into EEOC to file a charge. They should be able to do it in a variety of ways. They can come in if they want to or they can use technology. So that's an important piece of it.

And that would allow us to then distribute our investigators and mediators in a much more different way than they currently are. They currently are concentrated in pockets within major cities and other areas where there's a large activity of charges but that doesn't necessarily have to be that way. We can have a much broader presence throughout all 50 states if we in fact took full advantage of our technology. So that's an important one for us, getting to green and working closely with the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management and all of those components.

Mr. Lawrence: In terms of getting the complaint process online was it just as straightforward as actually putting the forms and such on the Internet or are there other things about security and privacy that were only envisioned as being done on paper that now require changes?

Ms. Dominguez: All of those things. You also have to remember a large bulk of our population of complainants are skills limited, oftentimes don't even speak English, so we have to be sensitive to that and we have to make it easier for those that are proficient with technology and have access to it. But it has to do with confidentiality issues. It has to do with if in fact they want to mediate. It has to do with making sure that there's a firewall between our mediators and our investigators and how that information once filed how we're going to keep it and how we're going to use it from one function to the other is critical.

So yes, we've had a number of attorneys looking at all kinds of issues relating to what's the best way and how to best instruct individuals if they're going to self-direct their own information processing, if they're going to writing the allegations and so on, how can we best instruct them so they can be clear in what we need in order to do our work?

Mr. Lawrence: Earlier in our conversation you talked about directing more resources to certain functions. I think you said 5 percent more. I'm curious. How are you linking resource allocation to performance as you look across the organization?

Ms. Dominguez: We're doing some of that. I'm not satisfied with where we are at the moment. Last year we had a banner year. We just had a phenomenal year in terms of reduced time to process charges, the increased number of charges that we processed, as well as the benefits that were collected for victims of discrimination. So it looks like on all points we really did a phenomenal job.

But we're still apportioning our resources on an even basis, not so much on a needs-driven or where is the majority of the charges coming from or what are some of the issues that may be precedent-setting. One of the critical roles of the commission is to identify issues that are novel or precedent-setting or that help evolve case law and take those cases to litigation so that we can get some court rulings on it.

We have not yet gotten our resource allocations to the point where we can be that flexible. It's still somewhat centralized. Over 90 percent of our resources are fixed expenses. They deal with salaries and rental leases, brick and mortar type things, so we have very, very little funding for discretionary allowances, a little more this year for technology but not as much as I would like, for example, if we can get mobile units and do this online application and take the funding from rental leases and use that for more investigative work or more outreach work.

Similarly, I think our ratio of employee to manager may be a little off-kilter and we need to take a look at that. We still have a somewhat hierarchical structure even as we rely on technology. I can now send an e-mail to all my employees. I don't have to rely on my direct reports talking to their direct reports talking to their direct reports and all the way down the line. So we have enabling technologies that help us reach but unfortunately we're working on it but I don't think our processes are where they should be to be able to redeploy those resources as quickly as we should.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, speaking of messaging, could you tell us about the "Freedom to Compete" public service announcements?

Ms. Dominguez: "Freedom to Compete" is an initiative that I launched shortly after I arrived at the commission and the message was very simple. It's when you peel all the layers of the laws that we administer, be it Americans with disabilities, age discrimination, what is it that it's all about? It's about the freedom to compete in the work place on a level playing field without regard to race or color or religion. So we decided to go out and aggressively heighten awareness and identify opportunities, to talk to individuals who see the commission as an enforcement, as a cop, and educate the public as to this is about everyone's rights.

I think the reason we have these laws is because as a nation we value fairness in the work place as well, as much as we value fairness in everything we do. And it's about that freedom to compete, giving people a chance to prove themselves and not to be saddled with prejudice or biases. And the "Freedom to Compete" is a way of capturing that, providing information to the public on the trends we're seeing, the ongoing biases and prejudices that we're still seeing, so that they can do some self-correction on their own.

We can't be boiling the ocean and covering all fronts. We have to engage in strategic alliances and partnerships which we have done. The Executive Leadership Council, for example, is the first group that we've partnered with and through them we launched those public service announcements. We had individuals that helped identify spokespersons and that was a very important partnership for us. Similarly, working with the Society for Human Resources Management, with the American Bar Association, their employment section, the EEO subsection, we have a number of partners and alliances that we need to tap into to promote the concept of freedom to compete.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. Come back after the break with us as we continue our discussion on management Cari Dominguez of the EEOC. What role will the EEOC have in homeland security? We'll ask Cari for her perspective when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence and this morning's conversation is with Cari Dominguez. Cari is the chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Well, Cari, can you tell us about some of the partnerships the commission has with the state and local organizations?

Ms. Dominguez: Yes. We've had a long-standing relationship with what we call FEPAs, fair employment practices agencies. Essentially they're state human rights commissions and we have working arrangements with them so that when an individual files a charge at the state level they can serve as our agents. Sometimes they file both at the federal level with EEOC as well as at the local level. They're a very, very important component of our work practices because they serve as agents. They keep us informed of what's going on at the various states. And now we are actually piloting an effort to involve some of those FEPAs in mediation on behalf of the commission.

Similarly with the TEROs, the tribal employment rights offices, they serve as representatives of the commission within the various tribes to make sure that if there are individual Native Americans who believe they're being discriminated against that they represent the commission and take those charges and process them on our behalf.

Mr. Lawrence: What role will the commission play in homeland security?

Ms. Dominguez: We will continue to play a very important role. We went out quite aggressively talking to national leaders of Muslims and Arab Americans and Sikhs. In fact the first commission meeting that I held related to backlash discrimination after 9/11. We want to make sure that innocent victims do not suffer and that anger is not misdirected at them because they happen to be Muslims or Sikhs. So from our perspective our challenge is to make sure that this valuable group of workers in America is not singled out, not profiled, in the workplace any differently than any other individual would be, so making sure that everyone gets treated fairly and equally under the law. And so we'll be coordinating very closely with the Homeland Security Department to make sure that that message gets out.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the next challenges on the horizon for the EEOC?

Ms. Dominguez: We have a number of challenges. Legislatively there are three laws working their way through Congress, one of which has to do with genetics discrimination. It's the new frontier. With the Human Genome Project and the decoding of the DNA we now have very sophisticated medical tests that can identify genetic markers, that can tell an individual whether they're predisposed to developing certain illnesses like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, carpal tunnel, et cetera, and there's some concern that if this information gets in the hand of an employer that it may be used for employment selection. Because you're genetically predisposed does not mean that the illness is going to be developed. But that's one of the new frontiers that Congress is looking at and considering passing a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of genetics.

Similarly, there are a couple of other laws working their way through Congress, one of which is the Employment Nondiscrimination Act on the Basis of Sexual Orientation, which is not covered. It's covered in a number of states but not at the federal level. As well as a strengthened law relating to workplace religious discrimination and, again, a lot of it had to do with the backlash from 9/11. We received over 700 charges, by the way, after September 11th from Muslims and Sikhs and Arab Americans. The Sikhs have the long beard or the turbans or the dresses. A lot of them were being singled out. At least the allegations were that they were being singled out. So this Workplace Discrimination Act heightens awareness to some of these things along with many others.

So I think legislatively we'll have the new frontier of employment discrimination issues to address. Structurally we're going to continue to refine our processes. As I said earlier, at our infrastructure we commissioned the National Academy for Public Administration to come in and they are the only congressionally-chartered group that does a lot of work with federal agencies. We invited them to come in and interview hundreds of our employees and stakeholders to talk about what's working, what's not working, how can we refine our processes and make our organization flatter and return many more of our resources to the trenches, if you will, down to the investigative resources where we have such an important need.

Mr. Lawrence: What's your vision for the EEOC over the next five to ten years?

Ms. Dominguez: My vision is to continue to build on the excellence that we've gained so far. EEOC is the premier civil rights employment law enforcement agency in the nation. We've been charged by statute, by the President, to serve as the lead coordinator of all of these. We work closely with Justice and the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management. We want to build on that and I wanted to take it to a higher level. I think we need to be the global premier enforcement agency and we want to do it by modeling the best, the excellence that we can model in terms of outreach, in terms of professionalism, in terms of our enforcement activities.

We've been working very closely with Canada and European countries. Especially when you have so many multinational companies like IBM, for example, all over the globe we want to make sure that we facilitate developing consistent standards across countries and the way to do that is by sharing our expertise with other countries. So I have personally committed to working very closely with my counterparts in other nations, participating in global summits and sharing information, because it's a lofty vision, but the world is getting smaller and we need to make sure that we speak with one voice.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you ever envision the day when the commission goes out of business because there are no more complaints?

Ms. Dominguez: That I think is a dream for all of us who work in these types of programs. Wouldn't it be an ideal world when we no longer have to endure discrimination or bias or prejudice? So yes, I hope it will happen in my lifetime but the issues keep evolving. It used to be hiring. Now it's on the termination side. So it means that a lot of people are getting hired so that's the good news. It used to be that the doors were locked for many.

So yes, I think the issues are evolving, becoming more sophisticated, and I hope that in my lifetime we can see a reduced amount of focus on this and a much more aggressive effort at the harmony in the workplace.

Mr. Lawrence: Throughout our conversation this morning you've talked about the EEOC working with different organizations at the state level, at the government level, at the private sector. What are the management challenges and how do you make that collaboration work?

Ms. Dominguez: A lot of it, again, it gets back to the people. Even in our own agency it's coordination and how people make it work. And that's what I have found to be the success, by reaching out to my counterparts at the state level. Every state that I visit I make it a point of visiting with my director of the state Human Rights Commission, my counterpart, and that's what's going to make the difference. I said earlier I believe in the power of one. I do believe that a person can make a lasting difference and we certainly have plenty of experiences along those lines.

So the coordination of that outreach requires leadership. It requires extensive communications. It requires modeling the behaviors that we want others to emulate. And if we do that and we do it consistently and credibly it'll happen. It'll happen throughout.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give to perhaps a young person interested in a career in public service?

Ms. Dominguez: My advice would be to go for it. It's a novel calling. I have been enriched tremendously personally by my experiences in government. It may not be the most financially rewarding but it's certainly the most intrinsically rewarding because you do make a very positive difference and you see the results day in and day out. It's just a wonderful career and I think with all the exciting changes about to hit in the federal government that we'll see the kinds of opportunities we're used to seeing in the private sector take hold in the public sector. So I would encourage everyone who's listening to give it a serious thought, not to be intimidated by those long forms, to fill the applications but to really go for it and see beyond that because they can make a big, positive difference.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm afraid we're out of time this morning, Cari. Thank you for joining us.

Ms. Dominguez: Thank you, Paul. It's a pleasure to be here. And remember www.eeoc.gov is where you can get more information about what we're doing.

Mr. Lawrence: Great, thank you. This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Cari Dominguez. Cari's the chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can also get a transcript of today's very interesting conversation. Again, that's businessof- government.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Announcer: How can you strengthen the relationship between performance and public service? A recent endowment report makes the case for performance management by confronting conventional attitudes. The report, "Performance Management: A Start Where You Are, Use What You Have Guide" by author Chris Wye, provides a convenient way for practitioners to find practical, low-cost help when they need it in their specific situations on the ground. For a copy of the report visit our website at www.businessorgovernment.org or call us at 703-741-1077.

Cari Dominguez interview
03/01/2003
Cari Dominguez

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