GAO to launch employee diversity reforms in response to job performance report

The Government Accountability Office will reassess its work evaluations system, begin an agencywide discussion of race and formal diversity training, and expand its efforts to recruit minority employees after an independent report concluded that cultural issues are contributing to disparities in how African-American and Caucasian analysts were rated on their job performance.

"These first steps will not be enough, and I am committed to do more," said acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. "I am committed to ensuring an even playing field for every employee at GAO and making sure every employee has equal opportunities at our agency."

The disparity in rankings came to light when Ronald Stroman, managing director of GAO's Office of Opportunity and Inclusiveness, began releasing performance data sorted by demographics. GAO hired the Ivy Planning Group, an independent consulting and training firm in Rockville, Md., to investigate the discrepancies and their causes.

That report, released on May 1, found that the gulf between the average ratings of black and white analysts across all job bands continued in the 2006 cycle, with the most significant gaps occurring in Bands IIA and IIB. The discrepancy in ratings decreased between 2005 and 2006, but persisted nonetheless, according to the report.

The study suggested that there were a number of structural and cultural factors at GAO that contributed to the issue. The agency's professional development program does not require advisers to act as mentors, and does not include guidance on unwritten rules for success like networking and establishing relationships with colleagues within the workplace.

"African-American analysts often reported that informal feedback received is less actionable [compared with Caucasian analysts' reports]," the Ivy Planning Group said in their report. Caucasian analysts were more likely than African-American analysts to believe they learned the rules through informal guidance."

The report also found that qualifications or experiences that contributed to higher ratings for white analysts had no impact on the evaluations black analysts received. For example, having a doctorate and working on a high-risk project boosted ratings for Caucasians, but did not affect the evaluations of African-Americans.

Both African-American and Caucasian analysts told the Ivy Planning Group that the competencies used in performance assessments were vague and not always weighted to match their actual significance. White analysts, however, were more likely to say that the recruiting process failed blacks; African-Americans faulted the performance ratings system.

The report recommended more frequent and comprehensive evaluations to ensure that analysts have opportunities to discuss and improve their performance before the formal ratings process. It also suggested that GAO clarify the roles of mentors and consider more innovative ways to recruit African-American analysts.

The consulting firm said GAO needed a frank and honest discussion of race to clear the air so reforms could take root. "Before thinking about diversity more broadly, we believe GAO will benefit from addressing the race issue directly in order to mitigate any barriers that may limit communication, coaching and career development," the report said.

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