The head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ordered a "full investigation" yesterday into its own recent practice of asking politically loaded questions of people who have applied for jobs with the agency.
The questions - said to be aimed at eliciting the "social awareness" of prospective EEOC case-workers - asked for applicants' views on issues ranging from defense spending and the Panama Canal treaties to public employe strikes, welfare curbs and news media coverage of Bert Lance and former president Nixon.
While the questions did not appear to have any "political motivation," they were "clumsy, insensitive and inappropriate," said EEOC Chairman Eleanor Homes Norton in ordering a halt to the practice and the start of a probe.
The questions were devised by Nathan Shinderman, a retired 30-year veteran of the Civil Service Commission who had been hired at $150 a day in March by EEOC to develop procedures for screening about 500 new "equal employment opportunity specialists."
These workers, to be hired at GS grades 5 through 7, which have starting salaries of roughly $10,000 to $12,000 a year, would help process, investigate and conciliate complaints of job discrimination, which the agency handles as its principal function.
It was meant only as a kind of supplementary current events quiz to "elicit a person's social consciousness on the broadest range of subjects," Shinderman said yesterday from EEOC's public information office.
Shinderman said the questions were culled from newspapers and other similar sources at a time when the Senate outlook for the Panama Canal treaties and the outside financial interests of budget director Bert Lance were what he called "hot news items." They were asked only when the more routine job interview questions failed to show enough about the "social awareness" necessary for EEOC's work. He said interviews didn't have to ask the questions and were instructed not to judge applicants by their points of view.
"Put this down to my naivete," he said. "It never occurred to me that there could be any political motivation ascribed to it."
Shinderman said similar questions have been used before during major government hiring efforts. He recalled that he, as a Civil Service Commission official, devised some during the early 1970s when the Office of Economic Opportunity was hiring a large group of professional workers.
Among the questions that Shinderman asked for EEOC were these:
"If you were U.S. senator at the time, how would you have voted on the Panama Canal Treaty? Why?"
"The media has come under attack from former president Nixon and recently Bert Lance - to what extent do you believe that the media has gone beyond its justifiable role of reporting and commenting on the news?"
"Do you believe that teachers, police officers, firefighters, garbage collectors should have the right to strike?"
"Should the federal government's defense program be reduced until major social needs are met?"
"The number of citizens on welfare and welfare costs continue at a high level. What steps do you think would be effective in reducing the number of persons on welfare? Would your require persons on welfare to accept employment if offered and they were physically fit?"
"Has the affirmative action gone too far?"
The affirmative action question would presumably be of more than academic interest, in light of EEOC's active involvement with the hiring and promotion of minorities and women.
Shinderman said about 1,400 of 17,000 applicants for the 500 jobs were interviewed last month, although he couldn't say how many were asked the 16 supplementary questions.
EEOC public affairs director Daisy Voigt said a new round of interviews is scheduled to start tomorrow, minus the supplementary questions. Thirteen are left, she said, and they are "standard questions."
An official EEOC statement said Shinderman cleared the questions "routinely" with the staff of the Civil Service Commission. The statement quoted Norton as saying she had spoken with Civil Service Commission Vice Chairman Jule M. Sugarman and "both agreed the questions showed poor judgment," although no violation of laws or egulations was found.
Shinderman said he was not personally aware of any complaints about the questions, but other sources said some job applicants and current EEOC employes have protested to members of Congress.
Norton said she learned only Friday from her staff of the questions' content, and ordered the investigation at that time. Voigt said the results of the in-house probe are expected "very soon," and will be made public.