The federal office that investigates universities accused of discriminating against female students—including reports that schools are intentionally ignoring or downplaying allegations of sexual violence—is poised to lose 46 full-time employees under the proposed Trump administration budget, or 8 percent of its staff.
The potential staffing cut emerged yesterday in a report by the Washington Post on how the administration is suggesting cuts to multiple federal anti-discrimination programs, including the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which enforces the anti-gender discrimination law dubbed Title IX. The full budget request is online and, according to that document, the number of people working on investigations will be affected. From the proposal:
Directly under that table is language familiar to anyone who has gone through a workplace going through layoffs. It says OCR “must make difficult choices” and those include “cutting back on initiating proactive investigations.” The cuts mean the federal investigations that follow reports of discrimination will take even longer than they already do. This is something the proposed budget document itself admits. (Emphasis added here and elsewhere is mine.)
In FY 2018, OCR staff must handle its increased complaint workload while maintaining existing operations. At the reduced FTE level, the number of days to complete investigations may continue to increase, and OCR may have difficulty meeting the performance target levels for complaints resolved within 180 days (80 percent) and complaints pending over 180 days (<25 percent) as established pursuant to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). In the first quarter of FY 2017, OCR failed to meet the targets for both of these performance measures. OCR only resolved 72 percent of cases within 180 days, and the percentage of complaints pending over 180 days was 36 percent.
Prior to FY 2016, the caseload grew by nearly 500 additional cases per year since FY 2006. The FY 2016 ratio of cases per investigative staff was 41 to 1, increased over the 2015 ratio of 26 to 1 largely due to the 6,201 complaints submitted by one individual. This ratio will likely continue to increase through FY 2018 due to fewer staff.
The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Title IX tracker shows that two of the universities with the most high-profile scandals in past years—Florida State and Baylor—still have Title IX investigations ongoing. Michigan State’s investigation by federal investigators started in 2011 and and was resolved in 2015. The Chronicle estimates that the average case, currently, takes 1.7 years.
The request itself doesn’t present much better numbers. As of Dec. 31, 2016, the postsecondary level had an average case age of 549 days, according to the proposal. The rate wasn’t much better for elementary and secondary education, which in the first quarter of fiscal year 2017 had an average case age of 453 days.
One factor in this delay could be the long-term increase in OCR’s caseload while staffing has gone down down. It’s worth remembering that these caseloads aren’t just reports of rape on campus—the same office also investigates discrimination based on disability, race, and age across multiple levels of education.
But the request notes that they received 11 complaints of sexual violence at the postsecondary level in 2009. As of Dec. 31, 2016, the office had 360 sexual violence cases pending.
From the request:
The cuts wouldn’t merely affect the number of investigators. It also means cutting back on proactive programs, like building a public database of pending and resolved investigations.
Transparency Enhancements — In an effort to further increase transparency and provide easily accessible information to the public about its enforcement activities, OCR will continue to explore ways to provide the public with up-to-date data about pending and resolved investigations (such as information that is sortable by date, name of institution, and issue). Currently, OCR does not have the capacity or funds to develop and maintain a searchable public online database of thousands of OCR investigations and resolutions, as has been requested by members of Congress and the public. OCR will gather information and explore the possibility of developing such an online database.
This is not a death blow to Title IX investigations; the office will still exist but, in conditions those of us in corporate America know far too well, under the ominous dictate to do more with less. You know how that goes.