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White House Diversity Strategic Plan Focuses on Equity in Hiring and Pay

Many of the administration’s strategies dovetail with its efforts to revitalize the federal workforce.

The Biden administration on Tuesday published its strategic plan to improve diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal government, laying out a series of strategies that align closely with efforts already underway to revitalize the federal workforce.

The report, first reported on by FCW, is mandated by President Biden’s executive order aimed at improving diversity in the federal workforce and equity in the delivery of government services. It is the first update to the government’s diversity priorities since 2011.

At a high level, the plan lays out the Biden administration’s argument that diversity is key to improving agencies’ performance and efficiency, in addition to fulfilling the government’s role as a model employer.

“The United States is at its strongest when our nation’s workforce reflects the communities it serves, and when our public servants are fully equipped to advance equitable outcomes for all American communities,” it states. “Even with decades of progress building a federal workforce that draws from the full diversity of the nation, many underserved communities remain under-represented in the federal workforce, especially in positions of leadership.”

The plan calls on agencies to take steps to improve their diversity, equity and inclusion programs both in terms of agency hiring as well as policies to eradicate harassment and discrimination in the workplace, including training, the hiring of chief diversity officers, and making their professional development programs more equitable. Some of these strategies mark the rolling back of controversial initiatives embarked upon by the Trump administration, like the effort to ban allegedly “divisive” diversity and inclusion training programs at federal agencies and contractors.

But others appear to dovetail with other ongoing efforts to revitalize the federal workforce, including encouraging agencies’ use of paid internships for college students—unpaid internships tend to neglect applicants from underserved communities who cannot afford to work without pay—and to make it easier for agencies to hire interns and other recent college graduates. And the plan calls on agencies to improve their collection of voluntary demographic data to monitor the performance of various diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

The plan also pays special attention to the concept of pay equity, calling on agencies to conduct regular audits to ensure employees of different races, genders and sexual orientation are “equitably compensated for similar work,” and ending the use of a job applicant’s salary history as the basis for setting their starting pay in the federal workforce. The Justice Department has been under fire in recent months for paying civil attorneys more than assistant U.S. attorneys, and their continued use of salary history as part of the hiring process.

Issues specific to employees’ sexual orientation and gender identity are also given close examination in the plan; the White House wrote that the federal government must ensure that the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program “equitably serves all LGBTQI+ employees and their families” and ensuring that agencies accommodate employees’ preferred gender markers and pronouns.

On the issue of accessibility, which was not broached in the 2011 diversity plan, the White House wrote that agencies must take lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that their technology infrastructure does not impede employees or customers with disabilities.

“The federal government’s commitment to accessibility should include proactive engagement with users and efforts to modernize infrastructures to support the rapid adoption of technological innovations,” the report stated. “To support this work, [the Office of Management and Budget], in consultation with the General Services Administration, U.S. Access Board and the Chief Information Officer Council, will review existing accessibility guidance and best practice resources and make updates as necessary to help agencies build and sustain an accessible federal technology environment.”

Each individual agency must put together its own diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility strategic plans by March 23, 2022, and issue annual reports on the topic to the White House. In the coming weeks, agencies like the Office of Personnel Management, OMB, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will issue additional guidance to help agencies develop specific elements of their plans.