Of the Office for Civil Rights
Fiscal Year 2006
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VIII. PROMOTING MANAGEMENT EXCELLENCE
To maximize OCR’s ability to carry out its law enforcement mission in a timely and effective manner in light of shrinking resources and expanding demands, OCR must redouble the premium it places on management excellence. The processes OCR has put into place synchronize its various business processes and ensure communication and coordination at all levels, whether it is the way OCR provides customer service or the way it manages its human resources and carries out its fiscal responsibilities. In 2006, OCR further reinforced these goals by ensuring accountability through improved performance plans of managers and staff and by putting in place a process where strategic goals and priorities are regularly communicated to staff at all levels in teleconferences and face-to-face meetings. To encourage coordination, collaboration and consistency, the assistant secretary for civil rights launched a leadership agenda that included visits to all 12 regional offices, two national directors’ meetings, a national chief attornies’ meeting, a senior leadership retreat, and a national managers’ conference. The national managers’ conference brought together approximately 100 OCR managers from each of OCR’s regional offices and headquarters for the first time in OCR history. The agenda included up-to-date training on the latest management and leadership strategies as well as various discussions about how to improve OCR’s current case investigation, resolution and coordination processes. The following illustrates OCR’s efforts in FY 2006 to promote management excellence throughout the various mission-critical business processes in OCR.
A. Customer Service
Effective civil rights enforcement in education requires that the public as well as education institutions understand the legal regulatory requirements and that students, parents, educators and other members of the public understand their rights. To meet these goals, OCR makes its guidance available in many different media, including through the Internet, and updates and augments that guidance regularly to ensure it reflects current developments. OCR also serves the public through its national toll-free customer service line. In FY 2006, OCR responded to over 5,407 hotline phone inquiries, an 8 percent increase over FY 2005. OCR responds to written requests from Congress, other federal agencies, state agencies, education institutions at all levels and others. In FY 2006, OCR provided written and oral guidance in response to tens of thousands of inquiries, and exceeded ED’s goal of a 10-day average for responding to controlled secretarial correspondence.
OCR also carried out its customer service responsibilities through its work involving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. §552. The FOIA was enacted in 1966 and generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records. The Privacy Act, a companion to the FOIA, also regulates federal government agency recordkeeping and disclosure practices. Under these two acts, persons (e.g., complainants, students, parents, school districts, colleges, universities and the media) have the right to request access to, or copies of, records maintained by OCR. OCR reviews and responds to the requests, consistent with the Department’s FOIA and Privacy Act regulations.
Each year, OCR receives a significant number of such requests, which are processed in OCR’s headquarters and regional offices. OCR devotes considerable resources to meeting the requirements of these laws and to providing timely and effective access to information to the public. In FY 2006, OCR received a combined total of 898 FOIA and Privacy Act requests. As the chart below shows, this high number of requests has been fairly constant over the years.
To further customer service with respect to FOIA and Privacy Act requests, OCR has been a significant participant in the Department’s initiative to automate case management under these laws. Executive Order 13392, “Improving Agency Disclosure of Information,” issued on Dec. 14, 2005, emphasizes the need for more efficient and effective processing of FOIA and Privacy Act requests. OCR is committed to producing tangible and measurable improvements in processing them and, in FY 2006, OCR successfully piloted FOIAXpress, the Department’s Web-based solution for FOIA and Privacy Act case management, in two of its enforcement offices and in headquarters. By the end of summer 2007, FOIAXpress will be fully implemented in all OCR field offices and headquarters.
In addition, in FY 2006, consistent with Executive Order 13392, OCR established new FOIA procedures, including delegation to the 12 OCR office directors of the authority of FOIA denial officers. This allows FOIA requests to be processed in a more efficient and timely manner, and establishes clear accountability for FOIA processing.
B. Staff Training and Development
In FY 2006, OCR began developing a national training program that facilitates consistent high-quality work across all OCR’s offices. OCR assessed core competencies, staff training needs to meet those competencies, substantive training resources, and vehicles for delivery of training. The national training program will address a full range of training needs for both new and experienced staff. In FY 2006, both headquarters and field office briefings were conducted on substantive and procedural issues. For example, through a nationwide videoconference on April 20, 2006, OCR staff was trained on the Boy Scouts Act and the need for all SEAs and LEAs to sign new assurances of compliance with the civil rights laws. OCR’s field offices also conducted comprehensive multi-day training of all new attorneys in fundamental and emerging legal issues and the conduct of investigations. OCR field staff also received training on OCR’s revised Case Resolution and Investigation Manual, which contains the procedural standards for conducting investigations as well as training on substantive programmatic issues. OCR continues to conduct periodic investigation and policy training for all new staff.
In addition, in FY 2006, OCR funded and launched a Web-based training initiative. OCR’s first Web-based training, in the final stages of production, will provide staff investigative training on civil rights issues including disability discrimination, retaliation and disparate treatment.
C. Fiscal Management
In the area of financial management in FY 2006, OCR was in compliance with the federal Managers’ Financial Integrity Act and had no reportable conditions or material weaknesses in its financial accounting systems. OCR implemented internal Purchase Card (P-Card) procedures resulting in the reduction of the number of P-Card charges over 60 days old from 34 ($17, 245) in July 2005 to 0 in July 2006.
D. Human Capital Planning
During the past decade, FY 1996 through FY 2006, OCR’s complaint receipts rose by 20 percent, from 4,828 in 1996 to 5,805 in 2006. However, OCR’s FTE has steadily declined over the years, from 744 in FY 1996 to 630 in 2006—a decrease of 15 percent. This represents the smallest number of staff and nearly the largest number of complaints received in OCR’s history.
One way OCR has addressed the gap between the higher workload and the smaller number of staff has been to develop a systematic and strategic approach for managing its human capital that includes a rigorous recruitment and hiring process, development of a national training program, and performance appraisal standards that clearly recognize and distinguish among levels of employee performance.
With respect to hiring, OCR widely recruits from a range of sources that offer a large pool of qualified candidates. A panel, comprising knowledgeable OCR staff, reviews all resumes and conducts first-round interviews only of well-qualified applicants. The panel recommends the most highly qualified applicants for a second-round interview. Only applicants with the most excellent credentials are offered positions. As a result of this highly selective process in FY 2006, OCR’s new employees have made strong and effective additions to the offices.
In the area of employee performance appraisals in FY 2006, OCR ranked among the most exacting of offices in the Department in terms of scrutinizing employee performance under the Department’s Performance Appraisal System (EDPAS.) Notably, OCR received recognition within the Department for the clear distinctions it has made in the assessment of levels of employee performance, from the “Unsuccessful” level of performance to the “Outstanding” level of performance. For employees whose performance is less than “Successful,” steps are taken to improve or enhance performance to bring it to the “Successful” level.