U.S. Department of Education: Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans

1995 Annual Report to Congress -- April 2, 1996

OCR Continues to Improve How It Does Its Work

The Office for Civil Rights in the last three years has fundamentally redesigned its approach to civil rights enforcement. For complaints from the public, the emphasis is now on prompt and appropriate resolution of any underlying civil rights problems, rather than on the production of documents summarizing agency findings. Mindful of its obligation to end illegal discrimination whether or not the agency has received an individual complaint, OCR has built an enforcement program that proactively uncovers, stops and remedies egregious cases of illegal discrimination. OCR's program of empowering others also took significant strides forward in FY 1995.

OCR has extended its consultation efforts through its conversations with school staff and interested community groups to pinpoint problems and establish partnerships to resolve civil rights issues. Many of OCR's offices have also developed customer service teams to be more responsive to our partners and stakeholders. Throughout OCR, labor management partnerships have been fully implemented.

After extensive redesign efforts, OCR implemented an update to its PC-based Case Information System that eliminated costly mainframe programs. This enhanced system reduces staff time needed to keep track of OCR's cases and streamlines reporting, while saving money.

OCR's core organizational unit is now the Case Resolution Team. Groups of attorneys, investigators and support staff in OCR's 12 enforcement offices work on the same team to promptly and appropriately resolve cases of illegal discrimination. Containing all the skills and resources necessary, the teams have authority to reach final determinations in all but a small minority of OCR cases. This innovative approach, which earned OCR a 1994 Vice Presidential Heroes of Reinvention ("Hammer") Award, was implemented throughout OCR in FY 1995.

In the coming year, OCR will complete its reorganization into four enforcement divisions, each containing three of OCR's enforcement offices, including a new enforcement office based in Washington, DC. OCR will maintain appropriate centralization, while operating with lower travel budgets and benefiting from increased local involvement and strong working relationships that accrue from its on-the-ground presence in multiple locations. When fully implemented, the division management team will conduct enforcement activities, planning, training, and administration across office lines. This approach was in large measure made possible by OCR initiating its investment in appropriate information technology, and by OCR's use of team approaches at the management as well as the staff level.

As OCR's number of staff decreases under government-wide downsizing, we know that OCR must continue to do much more to stop and remedy illegal discrimination. Fewer staff can appropriately resolve a greater number of civil rights cases, if they have the tools at hand to do so. OCR will need to invest more heavily in technology and outside expert support in order to maintain its core capacity to identify, investigate and remedy complex cases of discrimination; promptly and appropriately resolve complaints of discrimination from the public; and provide the education, outreach and technical assistance needed to prevent discrimination from occurring and recurring in America's schools, colleges and universities. OCR's upgrading of its technology infrastructure will also enable OCR to provide an appropriate level of service to our customers and the ready access to information that will enable parents and students to play a more active role in securing equal access to quality education.

OCR's post-rescission funding level in FY 1995 was $58,236,000. Under the FY 1996 continuing resolutions, OCR has been funded at a level of only $53,951,000, putting at serious risk the agency's improvements. Adequate investment is required to provide funding for OCR's staff and non-personnel needs including costs of prosecuting cases, development of strong, educationally sound remedies, staff improvement, legal research, publications and outreach, and the national civil rights surveys postponed in FY 1996 because of its funding level under the continuing resolutions. The President has proposed a budget for OCR in FY 1997 of $60,000,000. This is less than a dollar per year for each of America's students. An end to illegal discrimination in the nation's schools deserves no less.

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