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Discrimination Complaints Up Slightly

Steve Vogel | The Washington Post via YellowBrix

October 01, 2009

Complaints from the federal workforce alleging discrimination by the government increased slightly in the latest figures from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, ending a recent downward trend.

The EEOC’s Annual Report on the Federal Workforce notes 16,752 complaints alleging employment discrimination filed against the federal government in Fiscal Year 2008 — up 2.4 percent from the prior year. The complaints were filed against agencies alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability and reprisal.

The increase runs counter to decreases over the previous three years, from 19,024 complaints filed in fiscal 2004. EEOC officials say the increase in 2008 is not cause for alarm, but should be monitored to make sure it does not continue. “It’s a modest increase, and the trend is down, but we want to make sure it’s not ticking upwards,” Dexter Brooks, EEOC director of federal sector programs, said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, it is t aking longer for the government to resolve discrimination cases, according to the report released last month. The average processing time for 11,157 complaint investigations completed in fiscal 2008 was 180 days, an increase of four days from the previous year.

Of 7,538 cases accepted for investigation and closed on the merits in 2008, about 19.5 percent were settled and another 2.5 percent resulted in findings of unlawful discrimination. Agencies paid out more than $50 million to complainants, according to the report.

“Federal agencies must step up their efforts to improve complaint processing time, while also focusing on quality results,” acting EEOC Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru said in a statement, adding that the EEOC seeks “an inclusive, discrimination-free federal workplace.”

The federal government is the nation’s largest employer with nearly 2.7 million employees. The EEOC release notes that there have been “subtle changes in the composition of the federal workforce” over the past decade, with slightly higher numbers of women, Hispanics and Asians.

Nonetheless, the report found that “Hispanic or Latinos, whites, women and persons of two or more races remained below their overall availability in the national civilian labor force, as reported in the 2000 census.” Groups that were overrepresented, based on the 2000 census, include “Black or African Americans, Asians, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders, American Indian/Alaska Natives and men,” the report says.

The number of people with serious disabilities continues to decline and remains below 1 percent of the total workforce, the report notes.

The report is available on the EEOC’s Web site at http://www.eeoc.gov/federal/fsp2008.

Insurance Premiums

The big increases in health insurance premiums announced this week are likely to fall hardest on federal retirees, many of whom are on fixed incomes but are not expected to receive any cost-of-living adjustments this year, according to federal employee advocates.

Employees enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program can expect to pay an average of 8.8 percent more in 2010, according to figures released Tuesday by the Office of Personnel Management. Moreover, those covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield, which includes approximately 60 percent of the federal workforce and an even larger percentage of retirees, will see the share they pay increase by 12.4 percent for family plans and 15.1 percent for self-only coverage.

The increases “will be difficult for federal annuitants to shoulder in a year when no cost-of-living adjustment is expected and when the federal employee pay raise is anticipated to be minimal,” Margaret L. Baptiste, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said in a statement Wednesday. Federal employees will likely receive a pay raise of between 2 percent and 2.9 percent.

Baptiste called the premium increases “bad enough,” adding, “what’s worse is that this comes at a time when some in Congress effectively want to end the FEHBP and enroll federal workers in an exchange system.”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced an amendment to the Senate Finance Committee’s health-reform bill last week that would require members of Congress and federal workers to leave the FEHBP and join health exchanges.

Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association expressed “grave concern” at the insurance cost increases. “This is an enormous increase that would make the FEHBP increasingly costly and result in a decrease in take home pay for our employees, many of whom are serving in posts important to America’s foreign interests, but where health conditions are markedly worse than the U.S,” she said.

Dan Adcock, legislative director of NARFE, said the group is mobilizing its membership to oppose the amendment. “We take it very seriously,” Adcock said.

Joe Davidson is away. He will resume writing this column when he returns. Contact Federal Diary at federaldiary@washpost.com.


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