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.

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Ida Castro interview

Friday, May 11th, 2001 - 20:00
Ida Castro
Radio show date: 
Sat, 05/12/2001
Intro text: 
Ida Castro
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the co-chair of the Endowment for the Business of 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

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Our conversation today is with Ida Castro, Chairwoman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Welcome, Ida.

Ms. Castro: Thank you, Paul. I'm very happy to be here, and I want to extend a warm hello to all of your listeners.

Mr. Lawrence: Great, and they'd like to find out more about the EEOC. Can you tell us about the commission and your role?

Ms. Castro: Well, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created, actually opened its doors around 35 years ago as a result of the enactment of the Title VII Civil Rights Act, and our responsibility is to enforce anti-discrimination laws throughout the work force.

Some years later we also were given the responsibility of similar types, although quite different in certain regards, of enforcement and promotion of equal employment opportunity in the federal government as well. Throughout the years, our jurisdiction has expanded significantly. Initially it was race and gender and national origin and the well-known areas. As you know, throughout the years there have been additional laws that have been enacted, whether it's age discrimination or disability discrimination and so forth and so on.

So our plate is pretty full, regrettably, at this point. Generally speaking, the commission receives on average about 80,000 charges from the private sector alone each and every year so we investigate in the private sector, we make determinations and findings of discrimination. We conciliate with the employers in a confidential setting, and if conciliation fails, then the commission decides whether or not to pursue the matter through litigation or if the party has a private attorney. They may request a right to pursue and proceed to court, separate and independent from the commission.

In addition to enforcement in the private sector and in the federal sector, the commission is also responsible for policy questions and for issuing guidance rules and regulations in guiding the employer community and the employee community on their rights and responsibilities under the law.

So we are basically a very holistic type approach of agency. In the past, we've been basically an enforcement agency, a law-enforcement type agency. Since I arrived, I've tried to amplify our outreach efforts and make sure that we also do all that we can, given our limited resources, to encourage compliance with our laws and to stimulate voluntary compliance because we do have far more than what we can handle, quite frankly.

Mr. Lawrence: You've worked as a lawyer and a professor as well as a government manager and leader. Can you describe your career to us?

Ms. Castro: Well, I first started actually as a manager. At a very early age I had the unique opportunity of being permitted to submit a proposal, get funding, and actually start a whole program. The initial proposal that got funded was an employment and training program in a municipality in Puerto Rico, and the program started with slightly over $100,000, and within 16 months mushroomed into an $8 million proposal that was funded under the CITA program which was just starting. So I'm going back for those of you in employment and training some time ago. I just want to highlight that I was extremely, extremely young at the time and was given some wonderful opportunities.

From there on in, I proceeded to work in a variety of areas. I guess I had a number of roles in the employment and training arena, which is public service. From there I had the opportunity to begin an academic career at the Institute of Management and Labor Relations for Rutgers University. At that time I was a labor educator, and I completed also my law degree and became the first woman tenured in the Labor Education Center.

Once I had my law degree, then I wanted basically to make sure that I could practice and have that experience under my belt as well, so I did that. I did labor law, and ultimately I also did management representation. I further administered a number of programs in the Department of Labor, the latter being an experience I've had within the last 7 years culminating in the nomination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as Chairwoman which has been indeed a privilege and an honor for me to have been able to do this job for the last 2 plus years.

Mr. Lawrence: What drew you to public service?

Ms. Castro: Public service offers a unique opportunity. I did private practice and I also did government practice. The unique opportunity is always the level of impact that one can have, particularly when one is at the federal government, actually the Washington, D.C. level. I mean, literally with the stroke of a pen so to speak one can have a real impact on the entire work force from where I sit. That is certainly an attractive position to be in.

But I think more importantly is the commitment to make sure that America holds up to its dream, and certainly to its well-earned reputation. That is, America needs to maintain its number-one standing in terms of not only its employment opportunities but also the environment in the context of the work force opportunities that are offered in America. We're leading in the world, and I wanted to serve my country, serve it well, and make sure that the promise that we've often made through our own values as Americans are met, and that is the opportunity I was offered in this position, so it's been really the best job I've had.

But public service in general is certainly to be commended. It takes a lot of commitment and a lot of hard work, and often times a lot of misunderstanding from the public in general. Certainly it's not the money you get paid because you can make more in the private sector more often than not. And often times, regrettably, it's not the accolades one gets from the public. It's really that knowledge that you are working for the betterment of your country, and that is a wonderful feeling.

Mr. Lawrence: What position or challenges gave you the best opportunity to develop as a leader?

Ms. Castro: I don't think I can pinpoint it to any one particular position. I've had I guess the wonderful opportunity of working in such a wide variety of positions from a Head Start teacher to manager to lawyer to different executive positions to planning, and then to implementing. I think that has really allowed me to be a better chairwoman at this point and a better leader because it's the exposure to the different kinds of skills one acquires along the way to the different kinds of leaders that one meets along the way that really allows you to figure out what is your best style and how is it that you can have the greatest impact.

So I really agree with the corporate world for the most part that you need to track experiences that are diverse.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm talking with Ida Castro. This is the Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and our conversation today is with Ida Castro, Chairwoman, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Well, as chairwoman you've implemented an innovative agenda to increase fairness, quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of all aspects of the agency's operations. Could you tell us more about how you went about doing this?

Ms. Castro: Well, given the nomination and appointment process, Paul, it tends to be sometimes rather lengthy. I did have the good fortune of having about 9 months to think about what is it that I needed to do and focus upon once I arrived at the agency. I really welcomed, in a warped sense, the time because it did give me that opportunity to really plan out, identify what I thought would be the major challenges for the agency, and begin to formulate a plan that would address those challenges that would accomplish results, and do so in a fair and swift manner so that the experience of success for the staff itself could then reenergize them and reenergize actually me so that we can continue to evolve and change the areas that really required attention.

Let me backtrack a moment. Because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, although it's always had a very noble mission, and a mission that's difficult to accomplish given the universe of need, it had experienced a time of about 15 to 20 years almost where it was understaffed and underresourced. That long-time resource starvation had had an incredible impact in the infrastructure of the agency as well as staff morale, so I also understood that that was another layer of my challenge. So it's not coming up with ideas, but it's also making these ideas real for the people that really have survived, so to speak, a 20-year famine, and that tends to be pretty hard.

I was helped immediately by the fact that I came in with an increase in our budget, a $37 million increase, which for EEOC was an enormous amount of money. However, given the need, it really quite frankly wasn't enough at the time because our credibility was in question as an agency. We had been involved as anyone that would have read the papers at the time, in a series of articles that really were extremely critical to the agency. At the time, everyone thought about EEOC in terms of its backlog and in terms of the length of time it took to get to a charge and investigate cases 2 or 3 years before you even got an investigation.

In other words, all of our customers were unhappy. All of our stakeholders were unhappy. The primary question had to be, "why is it that such an important agency with such an important mission has such a terrible reputation," and then work backwards and see what is it that we could correct immediately and what were the longer-term projects.

So in the immediate corrections, obviously the budget went a long way. We were able to expand our staff. We were able to improve on technology. When I arrived in '98 at EEOC, we couldn't even communicate through e-mail and people were complaining about, for example, quality of work and uniformity of decisions. Employers would raise this all the time and how can I guarantee that one region does as the other one does when they can't even communicate? So clearly that was a big issue for us.

So we were able to connect all of our offices, upgrade all of the computer technology, and therefore improve on our productivity while at the same time we're expanding the staff and training them. Our staff had not been trained in like 10 years so how do you guarantee quality customer service, and so forth and so on.

And lastly but not less importantly, we were able to once again refocus on our mission, clarify our mission, look at the way we were doing our work, and ask staff to really think through these processes and think them through not just as staff members, but think them through from the eyes of all of our stakeholders and advise me on how is it that we can address all of these processes so that we can accomplish several things.

One and foremost, results. If we're here to identify discrimination, then how quickly can we do this, how well can we do this, and how strong can we do this in the sense that once we've identified discrimination, do we have everything in place so that we can follow-up accordingly?

Have we explored all of the tools available to us to resolve discrimination? I mean, once we identify the problem, then what are the mechanisms that we have at play to increase the resolution of these disputes? And then how is it that we strengthen our actual enforcement capability?

These were the three areas that I immediately focused upon so we created a comprehensive enforcement approach. For the first time, believe it or not, Paul, we brought together our lawyers and our investigators, which had been bifurcated for the history of our commission. We had them working early on the charges so that we can identify priority charges from the beginning.

We established a National Mediation Program, which has been a total success throughout the country. That National Mediation Program allowed us to take an enormous amount of charges, refer them at the outset without any government investment in investigation and resources right at the entry point, and just refer them to a qualified mediator in the hopes that it can get resolved without the need of governmental intervention.

I'm happy to say that this program has been up and running for about 18 months now, and in 18 months alone we've already successfully resolved more than 13,000 charges. Successful resolution means that the parties came together and came to an agreement. It's voluntary, and it's free to the parties, by the way. It's a great deal, but they come together with a qualified mediator. They discuss the dispute within 10 or 15 days of the charge being proffered, and they tailor-make their own resolution. It's a voluntary agreement. We don't get involved. If they agree that this is the way to resolve the dispute then, fine, we just sign it.

On average it takes about 3 months, only 3 months, from point 1 to end of process and that is definitely a major success for us because I know that those that thought it would take 5 years to get anything done in EEOC are pleasantly surprised to see that we can actually resolve charges in less than 3 months. That's a major milestone for our agency.

In addition to that, we strengthened our litigation program. Our litigation program had been unfocused at times. The policy that whatever cause we found in our enforcement side had to be litigated regardless of the strength of the case, I thought, was also a misapplied policy that was very cumbersome. It did not allow us to prioritize our own cases and invest the taxpayer's dollars where we would get the greatest mileage, so to speak, and mileage really doesn't mean money. Mileage really means where is it that we can clarify the laws, where is it that we can clarify the parameters of behavior that's acceptable within the laws, and how is it that we can benefit the employer community and the employees that we're intended to protect? So all of these questions need to be brought to bear, and we need a program that will get us to that end game.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break in just a few minutes with more of the Business of Government Hour and our conversation with Ida Castro, Chairwoman of the U.S. EEOC. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and our conversation today is with Ida Castro, Chairwoman, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Well, Ida, in our last segment you described the processes you went through and the things that you did, but I'm curious about the results. How did it turn out?

Ms. Castro: I'm very proud of the results. Over a 5-year period, EEOC has slashed its backlog which stood at one point at 111,000 charges by 70 percent. This year we came in at a 17-year low of less than 36,000 charges. We've increased all of our performance indicators in many instances, tripling and quadrupling our performance indicators. We have had two record years in terms of obtaining benefits on behalf of charging parties.

As I stated, our National Mediation Program has been off the charts in terms of the success. Both employers and charging parties have rated that program in the 90 percentile, which is a happy factor that generally government agencies get in any program, even when they give you money.

So this has been a really wonderful result in terms of all the things that we've been able to accomplish. For example, average processing time in the private sector used to be 2 to 3 years, and now it's all the way down to about 210 days, and we hope within the next year to reach our goal which is by regulation 180 days. Now we're within a real good distance, I mean, a very comfortable distance. It's a very achievable goal for us.

But more importantly, I think it's our reputation, it's our ability to be where we need to be when we need to be. It's the level of trust that we've developed with both charging parties and the employer community because we, for the first time, have opened up a very good dialogue with the employer community.

I am very, very confident that most employers want to comply with the law, and there's no reason for me to treat everyone as if they were evil or violators of the law. On the contrary, I want to encourage those employers that wish to comply with the law to work with me and help me think through the major challenges that the EEOC has been facing in the last decade and work with me to resolve them at the earliest possible point.

I would rather reduce my backlog by individuals not feeling compelled to come to my office rather than having to ask for more money or streamline more processes.

Mr. Lawrence: In addition to working through the private-sector charges, you've also reformed the federal-sector EEOC complaint process. Could you tell us about that?

Ms. Castro: Sure. I also focused on the federal sector which, by the way, had been neglected for years and years and years, and for good reason, I mean, in terms of the EEOC, not good reason but explainable. Let's put it this way because it's really not a good reason, but the workload of the private sector is so huge in the EEOC that often times the federal sector gets neglected.

I promised the federal sector I wouldn't ignore it so we pushed for federal regulatory reform. We reformed Section 1614. We streamlined significantly this process certainly from our perspective.

We also become an active part of the NPR Task Force to reinvent the federal EEO process. Although we ran out of time, we couldn't come out with a report. I do have the benefit of all the thoughts and the recommendations of all the stakeholders we brought together in that process, and we're currently looking at all of these recommendations and looking forward to continue to improve the federal sector both front and back end.

Mr. Lawrence: The EEOC is often in the news, and you indicated in one of your earlier answers that it undergoes tremendous public scrutiny. How do you deal with that as a manager and a leader?

Ms. Castro: Up front. I believe information is power and that it's very important to maintain stakeholders and the public full informed and aware of what is happening.

For example, given the fact that EEOC had been often criticized because its backlog, the perception of the public and discrimination is no longer an issue. The real problem is that EEOC just can't handle its work and all its paperwork. It's fair to say that that was a common perception.

However, our work is not just paperwork. We don't just process charges, regrettably, there are only too many instances of very crude and egregious discrimination. There are a number of other instances that certainly provide the basis, a sound basis and foundation for pattern practice claims of discrimination, and we need to work with all of our stakeholders to begin to resolve these questions. The media and our public perception is key in turning that around and making the relationship a far more positive one.

Mr. Lawrence: How does one prepare for such public scrutiny as a manager?

Ms. Castro: How does one prepare for it? Well, one needs to understand what are generally the concerns that the public faces. In the federal government in particular, people who pay taxes want to know that their taxes are going to efforts that are worthwhile, and definitely antidiscrimination laws are efforts that are worthwhile. I mean, I don't think there's a question about that amongst the American public.

However, the American public expects us to do our job and do it well. The employer community understands that violations to the law need to be pursued, but they expect us to do that and do it well. Charging parties who are victims of discrimination certainly expect justice and trust this agency with finding discrimination and doing it well. So what is our responsibility? We have to do it well.

So in that sense, unless you correct the issues that prevent you from really reaching your mission, you won't have a good relationship with the media, so to speak. It will be far easier for people to deviate at trying to address media crises concerns. It will be easier to find that one mistake, that one ugly case that you shouldn't have brought up that is being twisted in the wind, and it will be easier then for people to have the wrong perception of what your mission is.

So if you're results oriented, if you achieve the appropriate results, then rather than shying away from the media, you should be ready and actually willing eagerly, quite frankly, to get your message across so that the public understands the value of the mission of your agency and, therefore, then continues to support not just the agency but the staff that's doing the hard work.

Mr. Lawrence: EEOC often partners with other agencies such as the IRS or the Department of Labor. What lessons about effective interagency collaboration would you share with other managers?

Ms. Castro: Well, I think it's extremely important from the federal perspective to make sure that as a leader of an agency or as a manager that one understand what are the other agencies that would normally be involved on this question and bring them together so that you can provide an answer that "A" makes sense not just within the laws of your jurisdiction, but it makes sense for the receiver of your directive.

In my conversations, for example with employer representatives, the most common complaint has always been, well, the EEOC tells us to do X, and OFP tells us to do Y, and the other agency tells us to do A, B, and C � how does one keep this all together? I happen to agree with that. I mean, laws will be effectively applied, and laws will be complied with if they're understood so that is really the importance of coordinating policy and coordinating enforcement.

Mr. Lawrence: Time for a break. We'll be right back with more of the Business of Government Hour and our conversation with Ida Castro. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with Ida Castro, Chairwoman, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The type of jobs in the future and the skills and the abilities of the workers and even the change in the work patterns will require adjustments in how we address employment discrimination in the work place. What are some of the examples of these challenges, and how are we going to be thinking about them?

Ms. Castro: Well, there are a number of challenges that actually we don't have to look too far into the future to understand because we're already facing them, and we may be a bit unclear on how ultimately we will deal with them, and history will tell.

But for example, in the area of discrimination, as we increasingly use the Internet as a mechanism to find, apply, and acquire employment, it will become extremely useful then to prove for example and provide sufficient evidence that any particular individual might have been discriminated because of sex, gender, race, national origin, age, or what-have- you. Does this mean that it doesn't occur? No. But necessarily the issue of evidentiary thresholds begins to take a greater importance. How does one prove glass ceilings or plexiglass ceilings or glass walls or sticky, gluey, floors, whichever analogy you want to use?

The issue of evidence, the issue of how does anyone actually know why it was that you were deprived of this employment opportunity really becomes a question in a practical sense. But there are other issues that come about that present a series of challenges certainly for the agency and ultimately for anyone involved in the area of human resources or in the area of employment litigation.

That is the reality. We have such a large work force, which is almost kind of split in half, and half of our work force is already in the work place of the so-called future, while the other half is in your more traditional work place setting; the fixed hours, fixed place, and so forth and so on. And the conditions under which each group works is varying increasingly, and in one sector, meaning the one that's supposedly in the future but really is in the present, varies constantly and so rapidly even amongst itself.

So there are a number of learning curves in terms of us that are not necessarily a part of that work force in understanding what are the changes and understanding what are the realities. From our perspective, for example, I'll tell you in the information technology field a lot of anecdotal references to wage discrimination to glass ceilings to lack of hiring of minorities and women after certain levels and so forth and so on.

It's difficult to prove. Why? Because the level of fear of retaliation in that industry is so enormous that it's beginning to dwarf the level of fear that generally you see in the lower-wage industries that employ for example undocumented workers, that employ the most vulnerable in our work force even though in IT, you have higher paying individuals and so forth and so on.

The stress that's caused by discrimination, the stress that's caused by the uncertainty of the work environment, and the stress that's caused by the fear of retaliation, however, has the same effect on the work force on its productivity and on its loyalty, of course, to the employer. This should be concerns to any employer in that industry. If you want to recruit the best talent, if you want to retain the best talent, and if you want that best talent to give you all that it has to give, then you have to provide a work environment that really tells this talent that they should want to work for you.

That works across the board industry to industry, and it works geographically. It doesn't matter where you are located. It's just simply good business to provide those kinds of work practices.

How do we get involved with this new area, new industry that is constantly changing where people pop up almost as teenagers and become instant business owners and multi-billionaires with little or no training about how to manage a work force, et cetera? How do we do that? We need to do that by focusing on this reality, understanding it, and working together.

Certainly, as Chairwoman, I will do all that I can while I'm still in this position to reach out to the employer community and reach out to everyone so that I can understand what the challenges are that all these industries face and begin to work with the employer community as well as the employees to develop policies that make sense and to develop policies that get us where we want to go which is in a discrimination-free environment.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give a young person contemplating a field in your field?

Ms. Castro: I would certainly encourage young and old to look at this area, and certainly come forward and work within the area whether it's from a business perspective or a labor perspective, but perhaps even more importantly, from a public-service perspective.

Certainly, at the federal level and I'm sure that at state levels, this experience is replicated in a variety of commissions and like agencies. It's always important to not only contribute to your community and society but also to have the exposure of understanding of what are the competing industries, how is it that discrimination actually plays out at the work place, how do you identify it, and perhaps how is it that you can have an impact, a real impact, in making people's lives better for all. Because this is not a matter of preferring one group to the other, it's really a matter of creating a work force in America that will keep us number one in the economy globally.

Mr. Lawrence: One of the toughest challenges that public-sector managers face today is recruiting and retaining employees. Does the EEOC have this problem, and how do you deal with it?

Ms. Castro: Absolutely. We have this problem because the minute we train our folks and we get good investigators and good lawyers, the private sector comes running and takes them away from us. We deal with that problem by making sure that we have a sound fiscal program that creates the level of credibility that will then command the support of the executive and of Congress so that we can continue to have the funds that we need to train and to provide the opportunities for growth within the agency that will permit us to retain good staff.

Now let me quickly say, though, that we also have an advantage, and that is that many staff members come to us because of their profound commitment to our mission. We've been very lucky over the years in that regard, that even though we've not been able to reward them as they deserve, they've stuck it through with us because they really believe in that which we do.

Certainly, I think that that is a plus for our agency so I would suggest to any listener that is interested in serving his or her country like the U.S. that wants to get a job in this area, this actually is a good time. We received some additional resources, we're hiring folks, so look us up. The experience will be unforgettable.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you want to mention a web site?

Ms. Castro: The web site, absolutely, another pride and joy of mine. That is, very easy to reach, and very user friendly.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm afraid we're out of time, Ida. I want to thank you for being with us today. I've enjoyed our conversation very much.

Ms. Castro: Paul, I'm really appreciative that you asked me to come, and at whatever time we can continue to discuss these important issues, I'm willing to do so. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much. This has been the Business of Government Hour featuring our conversation with Ida Castro, Chairwoman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. To learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the web at See you next week.

Ida Castro interview
Ida Castro

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