Legislation aims to promote diversity in senior ranks

Lawmakers on Thursday introduced a measure aimed at developing a more diverse cadre of senior federal executives.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., in the House and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, in the Senate, would create a federal office to oversee diversity within the Senior Executive Service. It also would provide public access to statistics on the composition of the senior ranks, and require agencies to establish panels to assess the qualifications of candidates for career-reserved SES spots.

"Diversity is one of our nation's great strengths," Davis said in a statement introducing the bill. "Ensuring that diversity at this critical level of government operations will strengthen the Senior Executive Service and improve the functioning of agencies while ensuring equal opportunity for every American."

The Senior Executives Association, a group representing career federal executives, welcomed the provision establishing the oversight office. For several years, there has been "no focal point responsible for the overall management of the career executive corps" at the Office of Personnel Management, which would house the new unit, said Carol Bonosaro, the group's president.

The new office would develop regulations and guidelines concerning diversity. It also would run mentoring efforts and establish recruiting, training and career advancement programs.

The office would maintain statistics on vacant career positions, the people qualified for them and the overall composition of the SES based on race, ethnicity, gender, age and disability. Some of this information would be made available to the public via Federal Register notices and the Internet.

The bill would establish evaluation panels at agencies to review the qualifications of candidates for career-reserved SES vacancies and pass the results along to agency Executive Resources Boards. The panels would have three members, of which one would need to be a woman, and another a member of a racial or ethnic minority group.

The legislation could be "substantially improved" by letting agencies decide between establishing the diversity panels or creating diversity subcommittees within the Executive Resources Boards, Bonosaro said.

She also noted that while the bill moves in the direction of increasing diversity in the SES, "efforts must be undertaken, as well, to ensure that the career ladder which leads to the SES has a sufficiently diverse population so that the bill's provisions, in the end, will be successful in achieving the objective of increased diversity."

OPM spokesman Michael Orenstein said the agency had just received a copy of the bill, and would not comment on it.

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