A coalition of civil rights organizations and federal employee advocates, wary of Bush administration plans, has drawn up its own plan for improving how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission resolves discrimination complaints filed by government workers.

In a letter to the EEOC, the coalition said the handling of discrimination claims could be improved "to make the entire federal-sector EEO process more responsive to the needs of all parties." But the coalition signaled strong support for the continuation of federal investigations into bias complaints and hearings before administrative judges -- two areas where the EEOC may seek changes.

The letter, sent yesterday, was endorsed by the NAACP Federal Task Force, the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives, the American Federation of Government Employees, the Blacks in Government Region XI Council, the National Employment Lawyers Association, other groups and several lawyers who specialize in federal employment law.

A spokesman for the EEOC said the commission had not seen the letter and would not comment. "We appreciate and welcome the input of all federal-sector stakeholders," David Grinberg said.

Last year, EEOC Chairman Cari M. Dominguez announced that she wanted to overhaul the complaint process to make it faster and cheaper. Dominguez , who has not specified what changes she would like to make, plans to issue proposed regulations this year and implement any changes in fiscal 2004.

On average, more than 23,000 discrimination complaints are filed annually by federal workers. Complaints handled by EEOC administrative judges take, on average, 800 days to process. Processing of a single complaint, Dominguez has said, can cost taxpayers from $5,000 to more than $28,000.

Critics fear that the EEOC wants to streamline the process in ways that would cost federal employees more in court and attorneys' fees.

"The suggestion from the EEOC thus far has been that not all federal employees are entitled to a hearing on their discrimination claims and that not all discrimination in the federal workplace is deserving of the EEOC's resources to eradicate. This is fundamentally wrong," said Joseph V. Kaplan, a lawyer and one of the coalition's organizers.

One of the coalition's proposed changes would require the EEOC to mandate "alternative dispute resolution" when a case comes before the commission for a hearing. At that stage, the coalition said, more facts about a case are known and ADR probably will be more successful in heading off litigation.

Many agencies offer ADR to employees in the initial stages of the complaint process. In some instances, a mediator is brought in to try to get the parties to reach a settlement. In other instances, the parties agree to hear a "neutral case evaluation" where an outside expert gives an opinion on the merits of the case, which may help bring about a resolution.

To stop frivolous cases, the coalition proposed that the EEOC adopt a uniform standard for making a claim of employment discrimination. That would allow the commission to easily dismiss complaints without merit and save time and money, the coalition said.

Eagles and Bears

Interior Department employees yesterday adopted the 101st Airborne Division "Screaming Eagles" and the 10th Mountain Division "Polar Bears" at a rally honoring U.S. military personnel around the world.

The ceremony also kicked off the Interior Department's volunteer program to support the families of U.S. troops, especially those of the 101st Airborne, which has been sent to Iraq to help oust Saddam Hussein. Interior employees will help with fundraising for families faced with emergencies and in boosting morale through holiday food baskets.

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton announced that the department will pick up the full cost of health insurance premiums for employees who are called to active duty as part of the National Guard and military reserves.

Last year, the Office of Personnel Management, one of Interior's neighbors, adopted the USS Theodore Roosevelt and collected more than 1,000 toys for the children of the aircraft carrier's crew. OPM's building is named after Roosevelt, who served as the U.S. civil service commissioner from 1889 to 1895.

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is

barrs@washpost.com.