SES diversity numbers disappointing, legislators say

A recent General Accounting Office report on diversity at the highest levels of the civil service has a group of Democratic legislators calling on the Bush administration to more aggressively promote women and minorities into the Senior Executive Service. In GAO's report, "Senior Executive Service: Diversity Increased in the Past Decade" (GAO-01-377), the agency studied the growth of women and minorities in the SES during the 1990s, and also compared representation of the two groups in the career service to minority representation in the national labor market. According to the report, the number of women and minorities appointed to the SES rose slightly during the past decade, but 69 percent of the career SES remained white and male. In September 1990, the gap between white women and black women (the largest minority among women) in the career SES was 7 percent, GAO found. By 1999, the difference had increased to 15 percent. But over the same period, the percentage of black men increased slightly, from 3.7 percent to 5.1 percent. The number of male Hispanic, Asian and Native American senior executives all remained below 2 percent from 1990 through 1999. "Clearly, the inequities that persist in the SES represent injustice to women, to Latinos, to Asian Americans and to Native Americans," said Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., ranking member of the Government Reform Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization. Davis requested the report along with Reps. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., and Elijah Cummings, D-Md. The three legislators, joined by Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., held a press conference Thursday where they asked GAO to revisit the issue. They also pressed the Office of Personnel Management to take steps to increase the number of women and minorities in the Senior Executive Service. Norton, who headed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Carter, argued that affirmative action efforts have withered. "There have been increases, but they are way too shallow," Norton said. The legislators promised to hold hearings and initiate legislation, if needed, to remedy the situation. In a letter to acting OPM Director Steven Cohen, the group wrote: "Given the large number of federal employees that are expected to retire in the next five years, this is an opportune time for OPM to vigorously encourage agencies to recruit and hire highly qualified women and minorities to the SES." Blacks in Government, the Agriculture Department's Coalition of Minority Employees and the NAACP all endorsed the legislators' efforts.

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