New strategy gives agencies a "springboard" for increasing diversity

Monday - 11/21/2011, 5:15am EST

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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Agencies have four months to develop diversity and inclusion plans under a broad, brief governmentwide strategy released last week.

The strategy directs agencies to focus on three goals: workforce diversity, workplace inclusion and sustainability.

"This sustainability piece is to ensure that those first two goals-of workforce diversity and workplace inclusion-are truly being met," said Veronica Villalobos, Office of Personnel Management director of diversity and inclusion.

OPM, along with the Office of Management and Budget, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the President's Management Council wrote the plan and accompanying guidance for agencies.

The guidance recommends agencies include diversity and inclusion components in their strategic plans and in employee performance plans. It emphasizes training and suggests agencies form diversity and inclusion councils.

This is the most recent of many attempts to diversify the federal government. Minorities make up a third of the workforce, but the government lags behind the private sector in a number of areas. For example, Latinos make up 8 percent of the federal workforce and just 3 percent of the Senior Executive Service. They represent about 14 percent of private sector employees, according to OPM.

"For the last 41 years, we've had a lot of task forces, blue ribbon commissions, tiger teams and voluminous action plans and reports that say basically the same thing and collect dust in managers' file cabinets," said Jorge Ponce, co-chair of the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives.

The strategy follows President Barack Obama's Department of Veterans Affairs assistant secretary for human resources and administration, Friday at a meeting of the Hispanic Council on Federal Employment.

The council is developing additional recommendations focused on recruiting, retaining and promoting Latinos.

"If you don't have the leaders of your agencies fully involved in promoting diversity, then it's not going to work," he said. "The other is metrics to measure over time the progress that departments are making, and thirdly, the importance of training, particularly HR and hiring managers, so they understand how to legally, appropriately and effectively increase levels of diversity within their departments. All of those elements are embedded in this diversity plan."

OPM is offering training to agencies for the next four months, while the agencies develop their specific plans.

The strategy does not contain quotas or fixed goals. The recommendations in the guidance are old hat for many agencies. For example, Sepulveda said the VA already evaluates SES members on diversity metrics.

But agencies may not know where or why they are falling short because they do not effectively analyze their data, Villalobos said.

She said they will have to do a "deep dive" into the numbers to find out who is under-represented, and at which levels of the agency.

"That's where we're going to see innovation and have a lot of catch-up work for the agencies because they're not used to focusing in so well on all of these issues," she said. The plan doesn't direct agencies to spend money on implementing diversity plans. But they may end up doing so, especially if they're big.

The Department of Defense had 9,000 job vacancies and nearly 400,000 job applications in a recent month, said Pat Tamburrino, DoD's chief human capital officer.

"I have to talk with my IT people to see how we're going to sift through that," he said. "Once we crack the code, it will be straightforward. But that's a lot of data."

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