White House orders increase in diversity hiring

Thursday - 8/18/2011, 4:33pm EDT

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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By Emily Kopp
Reporter
Federal News Radio

President Barack Obama has issued an executive order directing agencies to contribute to a plan to increase the diversity of the workforce.

Under the order, the President's Management Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must develop a four-year governmentwide plan and issue guidance to agencies by Nov. 16. Agencies will have four more months to tailor and submit their individual strategies to OPM and OMB for review.

"The federal government has a special opportunity to lead by example," said OPM Director John Berry in a conference call with reporters. "In the 21st century, 'we the people' must include access to opportunity for all the people, all the way up to senior positions in our workforce."

In the executive order, Obama acknowledged that this was not the first time that a President had directed agencies to hire more people of color, but said the "federal government must continue to challenge itself to enhance its ability to recruit, hire, promote and retain a more diverse workforce."

Berry said this measure would enjoy more visibility than prior efforts because it would become the responsibility of the high-ranking agency officials that make up the PMC.

The President, Berry said, "has built upon a structure that already exists in the government at the very highest level so it will get attention and scrutiny, and at the same time provide opportunities to share best practices."

About a third of the federal workforce is minority, but that percentage shrinks further up the civil service ladder. Of the top career federal workers who make up the Senior Executive Service, 17.4 percent are people of color. More than half of those are black. Latinos make up 4 percent of the SES and Asians are three percent. There also is a gender gap. For example, fewer than 80 of the more than 7,000 SES members are Latina women.

The order stated the governmentwide plan must focus on agency accountability and leadership. It should highlight strategies for identifying and removing barriers to building a more diverse staff, from entry-level to senior ranks. In addition, it would require agencies to regularly report their progress in building a more diverse workforce. OPM Deputy Director Christine Griffin said agencies would not be required to meet quotas.

"You don't have to say, 'hire this many people,'" she said. "You can take steps to demonstrate that you're committed."

For example, she said, agencies could expect human resources staff to analyze their own data to identify why minorities are not being promoted. "They have a lot of data and information in front of them," she said. "I don't think a lot of people use it effectively."

Sometimes other priorities can slow diversity. For example, agencies are required to give veterans preference in hiring.

"The pipeline for Coast Guard veterans is predominantly white male," said Arlene Gonzalez, the Coast Guard's division chief for compliance and policy, during a conference this week in Washington on Latinas in the federal workforce. "The Coast Guard is 90 percent white. It's not diverse." Gonzalez said her agency would have to increase outreach efforts, but that would take money.

"We are not normally funded sufficiently to achieve the civil rights mission. That's just a given," she said.

But OPM's Griffin said agencies could make a lot of progress by shifting around existing resources.

"While the administration isn't saying 'here's a gazillion dollars to do this,' this is something that should be folded into everything you do to recruit, hire and promote your workforce," Griffin said.

OPM issued a memo earlier this week stating that the agency was working with the EEOC and the Government Accountability Office to identify reasons why the government pays women, on average, 7 cents less on the dollar than men, and define ways to close it.

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