While acting as Case Manager and supervising a rotating number of Investigators, Counselors, and FAD writers I realized the obvious but brutal reality. An investigator’s resume, writing samples, and references did not determine the quality of their work product or their actual experience. The sad truth is: To be a bad EEO Investigator is simple and requires little effort for the same pay as being an effective and competent EEO Investigator. Someone might think, why not do less/substandard work for the same pay??? This is the logic of an incompetent EEO Investigator, with little integrity, that does not see the full picture in this important and unique career opportunity. When employed by a prime contractor as a service provider (EEO Investigator) you are only as good as your last case, good references are based on your work product. So, Why are Incompetent EEO Investigators being hired and actually retained for additional cases? It could be that the market is saturated with mediocre EEO investigators and the bar is set low. I will address some concerns and answer questions regarding the Incompetent EEO Investigators which have “slipped” through the cracks and infested the formal complaint process. This look into Incompetent EEO Investigators is not written to be negative, but rather a wakeup call to those individuals that need to understand the seriousness of being a professional EEO Investigator and their role and responsibility for the integrity of the process.
Basic EEO training: Most EEO Investigators are independent contractors/consultants that do not work for the Federal Government. These contractors are required to have 32 hours of initial training and 8 hours of additional yearly training to be considered certified. Management Directive-110, chapter 6, which can be located at https://www.eeoc.gov/federal/directives/md-110_chapter_6.cfm list all of the attributes and responsibilities that an effective EEO Investigator should have; professional guideline.
I will take a different approach and illustrate repetitive traits that Incompetent EEO Investigators practice. But first, Let me ask you some questions? How often does minimum effort towards anything produce something of great value? Have you ever met an unorganized, lazy, incompetent, not too bright person with some type of certification? Of course, you have, all you need to become certified in most scenarios is money and the minimum requirements to get a piece of paper that states… [insert certification]. I know many people with a Real Estate license; however, many were not ready to run their own business, market, buy the necessary equipment, and sell homes. The same is true with EEO Investigators, many take the class and gain certification but never appear to be ready… I will address how the “certified EEO Investigator” can be guided into becoming an effective EEO Investigator and how to identify and eliminate the bad EEO Investigator from the formal complaint process.
There are ways to tell that you are dealing with a Bad EEO Investigator in reference to their work product. The eleven examples that follow are some of the most common attributes of an incompetent EEO Investigator’s work product: (1) They interview the Complainant, the responding management official (RMO), and follow only what their training manual outlines but no other relevant parties are identified during the investigation. (2) They believe everything people tell them rather than being objective, they rarely corroborate conflicting statements by interviewing a similarly situated third party witness. (3) All investigators have their own writing style, but it appears they never proof read what they summarize in their reports. (4) Their written summaries are redundant, have irrelevant testimony, with no logical and/or chronological flow when appropriate. (5) Irrelevant documents are requested for the file because they do not understand their purview as an Investigator, which is to cover the components of the adverse action and gather supporting documentation. (6) They cut and paste testimony from an affidavit or interrogatory and do not change the pronouns when they summarize testimony. (7) They utilize generic questions hoping they cover all aspects of any issue they investigate without asking appropriate follow up questions to determine the actual decision maker. (8) They allow affiants to take them off on a tangent that is not related to the accepted issue of the complaint; in reality, I do not think the bad Investigator even knows this is happening or they have lost control of the interview. [i.e. single-issue case with a 99-page affidavit] (9) When they are questioned about vital information missing in the investigation, they have no valid reason (Memo to the File) but remedy the situation only because someone addressed it with them. (10) They use the wrong Complainant name, agency, case number, protective class(es), stated issues, and phone numbers on formal documents. (11) They interview everyone the Complainant list as a witness without verifying what information that person can attest to; even though many of these parties are only privy to third party information or are character witnesses for the Complainant. All Investigators may have been guilty of one of these examples; however, there is a problem when this occurs on a consistent basis.
An Incompetent EEO Investigator is not prepared to provide the service they are contracted to conduct. Having the necessary equipment and a professional work area allows the Investigator to be organized and efficient. Here are some possible circumstances of an unprepared EEO Investigator. (1) While they are on telephonic interviews there is noise (crying babies, television/radio, their barking dogs) in the background. (2) Using a cell phone with bad reception to conduct an interview. (3) They have no scanner, or a computer that “crashes” once a month, and/or an inappropriate email address. (4) They accept assignments that have deadlines but tell you later they forgot they had a vacation planned around the time the assignment is due. (5) When they are not on vacation, it can be impossible to reach them because their voice mailbox is full or their email is temporarily down, once again. (6) Emailing the wrong government employee from another agency indicates they have more cases than they can handle or lack organization and a proper filing system. (7) They have other engagements and are not available during working hours to manage their cases nor have the flexibility to conduct timely interviews.
Note: The corporate world can eliminate or implement most of the issues stated above but an Independent Consultant makes decisions on their own regarding quality control.
Overtime, I noticed a pattern in certain responses and explanations incompetent EEO Investigators use to “justify” their behavior. Below are some of the responses or excuses you hear from a Bad EEO Investigator. In general, when a Bad EEO Investigator is asked a question in reference to their inefficient work product, you hear a silence. I believe sometimes there is no reasonable answer for some of the things they do. You hear a lot of times, “ok, I will go back and do that”. When you ask why no comparators were interviewed, they state “I never had to do that before”. When they are asked if they know how to find a viable comparator for the current issue, you hear silence. An Incompetent EEO Investigator can be biased at times, they may state “I felt sorry for the Complainant, did you read what management did to them?!” Often times, deadlines are not met and they respond by giving you a breakdown of everything that is happening in their personal life. I recall asking an EEO investigator why their written summary is in different fonts, they replied “it is not like that on my end?! There was the time I asked why papers were missing from the Index of one of their cases, they replied “I swear the documents were there when I mailed them”. I have asked them why their status report says the same thing as last week’s status report, they would reply “There is no change in status”. I ask them “why no change in status over a week” or “has any progress been made with the case?”, and then there is that familiar awkward silence.
I remember talking with another Case Manager on occasion, she told me that the Investigators we supervised reminded her of being in the movie “Groundhog Day”. I had to go and watch the movie to understand what she meant. In the movie, the same thing occurred every day. The Investigators made the same errors day after day and we had to send out multiple directives before anything would change.
Why should the industry eliminate incompetent EEO Investigators from the formal process, or make efforts to hold them accountable? Federal agency employee’s careers, reputations, and lively hoods are in potential jeopardy depending on the allegations made during a discrimination complaint. Only dedicated and skilled professionals should be contracted and/or retained to handle these matters. Cases are remanded by Administrative Law Judges for many reasons, but one of the reasons can be eliminated proactively by not using incompetent EEO Investigators. Inefficient Reports of Investigation (ROIs) are remanded and cause a delay in the formal complaint process. Eliminating Incompetent EEO Investigators will allow the federal employees working in the EEO office to not be over burdened with matters outside of their position descriptions. There will always be Incompetent EEO Investigators until they are held accountable and their work is pushed back to them with constructive criticism/proper guidance or their services are terminated with no compensation. Complaints of discrimination should be reserved and available for the few and/or upcoming professionals that deserve a career in handling EEO services.
How do we weed out the Incompetent EEO Investigators from the formal process, or turn them into valuable professionals? It should be an easy solution to provide them “adequate” training, but that is a subject for another discussion, 32 Hour EEO Investigator Course: Limitations. Before a prime contractor hires an independent consultant as an EEO Investigator they need to rely on more than the “exaggeration template” aka: personal resume. I can simply ask an Investigator a few questions to determine if they have experience. If they do not speak EEO fluently it is obvious they do not grasp the process, or have only conducted a few investigations. To find a competent Investigator, call a reference who is actually someone that has used that Investigator’s work product; that is a true reference. Do people really put their mom or spouse as a reference on their resumes, yes, it does happen. An Incompetent EEO Investigator will give you a character reference, people genuinely like them and believe they will make a good employee. However, EEO Investigators are not employees, they are solo practitioners that produce a work product for a negotiated compensation.
The difference between a new and a Bad EEO Investigator can be mistaken by someone that does not supervise Investigators. The sad truth is, many Incompetent EEO Investigators are experienced and have been working for years in the field. I will go over a few similarities, but slight differences between a new and the Bad EEO Investigator: (1) New investigators ask many questions, incompetent Investigators assume they know what they are doing. (2) New investigators have a learning curve; incompetent Investigators are careless and repeat the same poor habits. (3) New investigators are adjusting to a preferred writing style; incompetent Investigators decide to become creative after they have been instructed to produce a certain work product. (4) New investigators ask why they made an error; incompetent Investigators just fix whatever you tell them. (5) New investigators ask ignorant questions; incompetent Investigators do ill-advised things. (6) New investigators are nervous and hesitant, incompetent Investigators make everyone in the process nervous as they act first, think later.
Both the new and incompetent EEO Investigators can be trained properly over time, but the onus is on the person to have respect for the industry and the work product they provide. Everyone needs time to grow as an Investigator, only some are willing to continue to better themselves after each investigation. The incompetent EEO Investigator repeats patterns but provides the minimum of what is expected each time they provide their services because they were paid for their poor work product previously. Without getting into the fee structure for formal Investigations, you get what you pay for most of time. This is not a career where contracting to the cheapest practitioner will provide the industry the professionals it requires. The Incompetent EEO Investigators should have respect for the formal EEO complaint process and move on to other self-employed opportunities if their dream is working independently or away from a corporate setting.
Who is responsible for these Incompetent EEO Investigators? The Prime contractor who is awarded an EEO service contract is responsible for fixing any deficiencies in the work product delivered to the Agency. If any deficiencies slip past the Prime Contractor the Agency point of contract (POC), EEO Director or supporting cast should be able to recognize those defects and send back the deficient work product. Everyone involved in the process needs to step up and take responsibility because the work product reflects on everyone in the process prior to a Final Agency Decision or review from an Administrative Law Judge. I have worked with many EEO Specialist that have set the bar high for the EEO services that come through their office. There are prime contractors that provide a good work product on a consistent basis to the Agency. However, there are particular prime contractors, EEO Specialist, and others involved in the process that are just as guilty as the Bad EEO Investigator for an insufficient work product.
What can we do? Training programs and companies that offer certificates for EEO services need to be revamped or Investigators need to find a mentor before they are required to sink or swim as an Independent Consultant providing EEO services. Passing a multiple-choice open book exam administered online will not prepare someone for an EEO Investigation. Prime Contractors that have EEO service contracts should offer shadow cases for new EEO Investigators before they are released to conduct their own cases. Any employee that files an allegation of discrimination and/or harassment should have the right to be assigned a professional EEO Investigator that has the skills and competence to conduct a thorough investigation and produce a sufficient work product. I have encountered many circumstances concerning incompetent EEO Investigators that can be humorous in context, but these types of actions have no place in a serious matter such as Equal Employment where discrimination could have possibly occurred. We all need to take responsibility, hold each other accountable and move towards enhancing the EEO Investigative process by performing at the highest level possible.
This article was written to address a concern and to encourage innovation and implement change moving forward. If you have any comments or suggestions on how EEO Investigators can better prepare themselves to be professionals, please share in the comment section.