Diversity in the federal workforce has improved slightly over the last decade
But Latino representation among federal employees continues to lag behind a nationwide benchmark.
A federal government watchdog agency last reported that over the course of the 2010s, the federal workforce gradually got more diverse, although it continues to lag behind the overall labor force when it comes to Latino representation.
The Government Accountability Office analyzed demographic trends in the federal workforce as measured by the Office of Personnel Management’s Enterprise Human Resources Integration database from fiscal 2011 to 2021, which at the time of the start of GAO’s study was the most recent decade’s worth of data available.
GAO found that over the 10-year period, representation at federal agencies of “historically disadvantaged racial groups” improved slightly, with the ratio of Black or African American federal workers increasing steadily from 19.2% of the total federal workforce in fiscal 2011 to 19.8% in 2021. Similarly, the population of Asian Americans grew from 5.7% to 6.9%, while the proportion of white employees fell slightly, from 71.7% in 2011 to 67.9% in 2021.
The watchdog agency analyzed the ratio of Latino federal workers separately, because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines Hispanic employees as people from Spanish or Portuguese-speaking countries or cultures, regardless of their race. While the proportion of Hispanic employees increased by 1.4% over the decade, the overall percentage remained below 10%, roughly half of Latino representation in the overall U.S. civilian labor force.
Government Executive's analysis of more recent data published by OPM suggests those same trends have continued during the Biden administration. President Biden in 2021 signed an executive order aimed at improving diversity, inclusion and accessibility both across the federal workforce and in the services federal agencies provide to the public.
Despite the government’s progress in improving the overall diversity of the federal workforce, that has not yet carried over to all levels of the government’s pay systems. White and Asian American men continue to have outsized representation at the upper echelons of the General Schedule pay scale and within the Senior Executive Service.
“In the GS pay system, most historically disadvantaged groups have higher representation rates in lower pay grades,” GAO wrote. “The primary exceptions to this were Asian males and females. Asians also had increases in their GS grade representation rates across all levels between fiscal 2011 and 2021. Black or African American males and females experienced their greatest increases in representation rates from fiscal 2011 through 2021 at the GS grades 13 through 15 levels. White females had their highest representation in GS grades 1 through 9, while their lowest representation was in GS grades 13 through 15.”
The diversity disparities across pay grades at federal agencies are most obvious when looking at the Senior Executive Service. While the number of Black women in the SES increased from 344 in fiscal 2011 to 495 in 2021, that was only good enough for a 1-percentage point increase and accounted for just 6% of SES members overall. Conversely, in 2021, the percentage of SES positions filled by white men was 52%—down from 59% in 2011—while white women made up 28%.