Senior executive ranks not diverse enough, says OPM official

The Senior Executive Service is not as diverse as it should be, and despite recent increases in the number of minorities and women in the top ranks of the federal civil service, “progress remains unacceptably slow,” an Office of Personnel Management official said Wednesday.

The Senior Executive Service is not as diverse as it should be, and despite recent increases in the number of minorities and women in the top ranks of the federal civil service, "progress remains unacceptably slow," an Office of Personnel Management official told a House Government Reform subcommittee on Wednesday.

The hearing, held at the request of Danny Davis, D-Ill., ranking minority member of the House Government Reform Civil Service and Agency Organization Subcommittee, follows the publication of a January General Accounting Office report (03-34) that found that the percentage of minorities in the SES is expected to increase by only a fraction of 1 percent over the next four years, from 13.8 percent to 14.6 percent. The percentage of white men in the SES is projected to decline from 67 percent to 62 percent, while the percentage of white women is expected to increase from 19 percent to 23 percent. GAO based its projections on agency hiring trends from 1995 through 2000.

Those figures alarmed Davis, who told a packed committee room that "the federal government is at risk of failing to realize these benefits [of a diverse workforce] because its workforce does not appropriately reflect the diversity of the people it serves."

Davis asked the subcommittee's chairwoman, Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., to hold quarterly hearings to hear testimony from randomly selected agencies on steps they are taking to diversify their SES corps. By doing so, he said, Congress could hold agencies accountable for hiring more women and minorities.

But Ronald Sanders, OPM's associate director for strategic human resources policy, said that there would be no "quick fixes" to the lack of diversity among top civil service employees because the traditional "feeder pools" for SES appointments-civil servants ranked General Schedule 14 and 15-are not much more diverse than the existing SES. Minorities currently comprise 13 percent of the SES, while 20 percent of employees ranked GS-14 are minorities, and 18 percent of GS-15 employees are minorities.

Still, Sanders said that federal agencies are likely to end up with more top minority executives than GAO projects in the coming years because of several existing federal government initiatives that are bringing in more minority employees, as well as new OPM initiatives aimed at bringing more minorities into the federal workforce.

For example, he said, the most recent class of presidential management interns is a "model of diversity." Twenty-one percent of the class is made up of racial and ethnic minorities, while 58 percent are women. At the same time, 26 percent of those recent college graduates hired through the Outstanding Scholar Program in 2003 are minorities.

Future improvements in minority hiring are also likely, Sanders said, because of the new OPM-sponsored Federal SES Candidate Development Program, which is designed to find the SES employees of the future. Though the program is technically racially neutral because of constitutional limits on federal affirmative action programs, Sanders said that, "OPM's challenge is to create a diverse pool of applicants by ensuring that those qualified members of traditionally underrepresented communities know about the program and are encouraged to apply."

The federal government can do this, Sanders said, "through constitutionally acceptable methods of aggressive recruiting and outreach" to potential minority applicants. OPM is already working with numerous groups representing minorities in government, such as the National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives, and Blacks in Government, to find high quality minority applicants.

In addition, the recent passage of the 2002 Chief Human Capital Officers Act, which requires all federal agencies to designate a top-level official to oversee personnel issues, will help ensure that agencies are held accountable for recruiting minority applicants, Sanders said.

Also testifying at the hearing, Carlton Hadden, director of the Office of Federal Operations at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said that the EEOC for the first time in more than 15 years has revised its formal guidance to federal agencies on how to meet their responsibilities and structure their equal employment opportunity programs, which are required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The guidance, known as EEOC Management Directive 715, requires federal agencies to systematically and regularly examine employment policies and practices to identify and remove barriers to free and open workplace competition, Hadden said. EEOC is expected to send formal instructions to agencies by the end of 2003, and will then offer a series of training sessions to federal agency personnel responsible for complying with the directive.