How Will the Hiring Freeze Affect Diversity in Government?

The outgoing administration asked agencies to assess why Hispanic federal employees are underrepresented in the workforce, but the new hiring freeze might divert attention from diversity issues.

The outgoing Obama administration on Jan. 18 issued a memorandum to agencies encouraging them to figure out why Hispanics remain underrepresented within the federal workforce, particularly at more senior levels.

The Office of Personnel Management and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission called on agencies with at least 1,000 full-time employees to “conduct a more focused barrier analysis on Hispanic employment” based on a recommendation from the Hispanic Council on Federal Employment. The reviews should focus on employees at the General Schedule 12 level through the Senior Executive Service, assessing recruitment of Latinos, hiring levels, promotions, and separations, among other workforce data and trends related to the population. OPM and EEOC are asking agencies for detailed, in-depth analyses.

Agencies’ analyses and improvement plans for increasing the number of Hispanic federal workers are due to EEOC by Jan. 31, 2018. OPM and EEOC urged agencies to conduct the reviews in light of a 2011 Obama executive order designed to promote more diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce as well as in compliance with an EEOC management directive to remove barriers to equal opportunity.

The timing of the memo was unusual. It was issued two days before the Obama administration left, and less than a week later, President Trump issued an executive order freezing federal hiring except for members of the military, and public safety and public health workers. Trump has not announced a nominee to lead OPM yet, and EEOC Chair Jenny Yang’s term expires in July.

But the issue of “persistent low representation” of Hispanics in federal government has been percolating for some time, and OPM and EEOC had planned on issuing a memorandum on it for a while. "We can confirm that the barrier analysis memo has been in the works for more than a year and was released once it was cleared," said an OPM spokeswoman. Still, the new hiring freeze could blunt some of the success the previous administration achieved in increasing diversity in the federal workforce.

"Regarding the hiring freeze memo, we have not received the official memo document as of right now and are referring media inquiries to OMB," said the OPM spokeswoman.  

OPM in October released the fiscal 2015 report on Hispanic employment in the federal government, noting that the percentage of Latinos in the permanent workforce increased from 8.4 percent to 8.5 percent between fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015. Interestingly, OPM was the only agency that saw a decrease in Hispanic employment between fiscal years 2014 and 2015, according to the report. Hispanics made up 6.5 percent of the federal workforce in fiscal 2000.

The SES numbers in particular were not encouraging: Hispanics made up 4.4 percent of the permanent SES in fiscal 2015, the same as in fiscal 2014. Hispanics as a percentage of new SES hires actually decreased from 5.5 percent in fiscal 2014 to 4.1 percent in fiscal 2015, according to the report.