By Pamela Wolf, J.D. The Senate Appropriations Committee on April 21 advanced the FY2017 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Act—a $56.3 billion measure. The bill, according to the Committee, includes funding to support economic growth, state and local law enforcement, space exploration, and scientific innovation and research. However, it also includes a pair of restrictions sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) that are aimed at curbing the EEOC’s actions. The appropriations bill, which was approved by a 30-0 vote, is $563 million above the FY2016 enacted level and $1.6 billion above the budget request, according to a committee summary. It is also said to be $183 million below President Obama’s budget request when considering spending without rescissions and CBO scorekeeping adjustments. Alexander amendments. Alexander offered a pair of amendments under which the EEOC would likely be curbed in terms of its regulatory activity. One amendment is targeted to reduction of the agency’s backlog but many would argue is transparently aimed at diverting resources away from less popular activities of the agency such as systemic enforcement efforts or regulatory guidance: “The EEOC has a private sector inventory of over 76,000 cases and a Federal sector hearing inventory of over 12,000. Using appropriated funds for activities that do not directly resolve this backlog of existing and incoming claims denies cases with complainants the opportunity of a timely resolution. EEOC’s own budget submission states that justice delayed is justice denied. Therefore, the Committee directs the EEOC to prioritize its staffing and resources toward reducing the number of current and outstanding unresolved private sector pending charges and public sector hearings.” The second Alexander amendment is clearly aimed at curbing the agency’s regulatory guidance activities: “The Committee is concerned that as the EEOC conducts its business in protecting against employment discrimination, its guidance proposals can be adopted without the opportunity of public input prior to implementation and enforcement. Therefore, if requested by at least two Commissioners, the EEOC shall make any new guidance available for public comment in the Federal Register for not less than 30 days prior to taking any potential action on proposed guidance.” Gone far afield? Alexander believes the agency has gone too much off task. “The EEOC is supposed to be protecting workers from discrimination—however, the agency’s gone far afield of that critical task, allowing its massive backlog of unresolved cases to climb to more than 76,000, while pursuing cases where there is no complaint and proposing just last month to expand by 20-fold the data it collects from employers,” he said in a statement. “Focusing on the backlog will force the agency to focus on its core mission of protecting American workers. Giving the public at least 30 days to comment on any new guidance will help ensure that the agency’s guidances are not implemented without giving the public an opportunity to have a say.”
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