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O.C.R. To Emphasize Monitoring Efforts and Staff Training

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Washington--A yearlong internal analysis has persuaded the Education Department's office for civil rights to place new emphasis on staff development and training and on monitoring efforts to remedy violations of civil-rights laws, according to an ocr report.

The statements are contained in a document outlining the o.c.r.'s responses to criticisms leveled in a report more than a year ago by the majority staff of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The agency's response indicates that the civil-rights office has addressed or is in the process of addressing several of the persistent problems identified by Congressional investigators and others who criticized its operations under the Reagan Administration.

But it also suggests that the new efforts, together with an expected increase in discrimination complaints against colleges and univer4sities, may detract from the office's efforts in other areas, particularly compliance reviews.

According to the report, the o.c.r. staff expects to initiate between 105 and 128 compliance reviews during 1990, compared with 138 last year and the past decade's high of 288 in 1985. The number of such reviews will decline in part, it says, because the Congressional recommendations will prompt investigators to concentrate on cases that raise complex issues and that are more expensive and time-consuming to complete.

Racial Discrimination Targeted

In a directive issued Aug. 30, 1989, the o.c.r. told its regional officials that their compliance-review efforts "should be targeted on problems that appear to be serious or national in scope and that may not have been raised by complaints."

In response to another recommendation, the agency states in the new report that regional officials "are planning to increase substantially"8the percentage of compliance reviews examining potential violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and national origin.

"However," the report adds, "if complaint receipts continue at their current very high rates, these plans will have to be re-examined."

The report indicates that, in response to some of the other recommendations from Capitol Hill, the o.c.r. will:

  • Soon make minor modifications to the time frames governing the agency's activities, "to provide regional managers with additional flexibility in processing cases."
  • Expand policy-development activities and explore new methods for disseminating policy guidance.
  • Increase monitoring to ensure that actions that institutions have agreed to take to remedy violations are actually under way.
  • Implement "critically needed" staff development and training.

The o.c.r. staff has also drafted new rules for implementing the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 that must be approved by the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Management and Budget before being released for public comment.

In addition, the report says the o.c.r. "will consider whether it is appropriate to make any revisions to the Title VI regulations consistent" with the Congressional report's recommendations. These included ensuring full relief for victims of discrimination, requiring all recipients of federal financial assistance to post notices that nondiscrimination is the law, and authorizing the issuing of subpoenas to enable the o.c.r. to obtain data necessary for its investigations.

'Respectful Disagreement'

The rights agency notes that the General Accounting Office last month began an audit of the issues raised by the Congressional report.

The o.c.r. "respectfully disagrees" with several of the Congressional recommendations, the response says. The report cites, for example, recommendations that the agency reinstate a national quality-assurance program that it disbanded in 1985 in favor of regional controls, and that it cease issuing "letters of finding" indicating that a violation under investigation has already been corrected.

Remedies agreed to by subjects of ocr investigations while such probes are still under way, the report says, "are in no way inferior to corrective actions obtained through adversarial proceedings and secure the appropriate remedies for beneficiaries much sooner."

The report also rejects charges that there were more than a few isolated instances where o.c.r. staff members encouraged complainants to withdraw their complaints in order to decrease workload pressures. It also denies that investigators required "proof of intent" to discriminate in order to establish a violation of Title VI, and that certain issues, particularly those involving race discrimination in disciplinary actions and special-education placements, were "off limits" and not to be investigated.

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