Lawmakers probe agencies’ diversity efforts

Outreach to the broadest possible pool of applicants is essential to increasing diversity in the senior levels of government, agency officials said Thursday.

At a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, representatives from six agencies and the U.S. Postal Service indicated that while they have made great strides in increasing the number of women and minority employees at their respective agencies, their greatest challenge is drawing a more diverse pool of applicants.

"This issue is important because the federal workforce should be as diverse as the people it serves," said Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., chairman of the subcommittee. "It is simply good business and good government."

The hearing came as officials are becoming increasingly concerned over the government's aging workforce, with 90 percent of senior executives eligible to retire within the next decade.

Nancy Kichak, associate director for strategic human resources policy for the Office of Personnel Management, said OPM has several initiatives aimed at diversifying the applicant pool, including an eight-part television ad series launched last year and proactive participation in federal career day and job fairs nationwide. Both programs "have been targeted for their potential to help us build a highly qualified and diverse applicant pipeline," she said.

Kichak also pointed to OPM's latest annual Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program report to Congress, which found the government to be a leader in employing minorities. The report found that minority representation increased overall between 2005 and 2006, with minority groups better represented in the federal workforce than in the civilian labor force.

Additionally, OPM provides agencies with a tool that shows them how to integrate diversity values into their leadership succession planning, Kichak said.

Davis asked how performance-based pay systems in some agencies, particularly the Patent and Trademark Office, have affected agencies' ability to promote diversity.

Vickers Meadows, chief administrative officer for PTO, said performance management actually enhances her agency's ability to promote diversity. "It holds executives more accountable to leadership and ensuring diversity," she said.

Still, some groups argued that the government is not doing enough, especially in the face of a retirement wave. "We must have a replacement workforce that will represent the mosaic of America," said William Brown, president of the African American Federal Executives Association.

Brown recommended that Congress work to ensure that OPM expand its SES Candidate Development Program, which trains and prepares employees to become senior executives. He recommended the program be expanded and funded to accommodate 200 positions, adding that last year, OPM received approximately 5,000 applications, but accepted only 20 people.

Rhonda Trent, president of Federally Employed Women, argued that agencies also need more training programs for women and minorities, providing them with the skills necessary to move into the senior ranks.

Trent and representatives of other groups also said the federal government lacks a mentoring program for women and minorities. They recommended that OPM promote such a program across government and make incentives available for senior leaders to participate.

Davis said he planned to ask the Government Accountability Office to conduct a new study on diversity in the SES and the Postal Career Executive Service. "The purpose of the study will be to continue to track agency results in increasing diversity," he said.

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