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House and Senate Subcommittees Address Diversity in Senior Government Positions

On April 3, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on the Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia held a hearing on “Managing Diversity and Senior Leadership in the Federal Workforce and Postal Service.” The hearing also examined the Senior Executive Service Diversity Assurance Act (H.R. 3774), sponsored by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), and the Senate version (S. 2148), sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI). The Senior Executive Diversity Assurance Act would provide for greater diversity within, and improve policy direction and oversight of, the Senior Executive Service (SES). The SES is composed of individuals in management positions just below presidential appointees.

Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) said, “Diversity of race, gender, heritage, and experience provides any organization with a valuable range of perspectives and ideas that can improve its effectiveness…Our legislation would create a panel of diverse employees responsible for reviewing candidates for merit appointments and passing them along for further review. Too many executive candidates are accepted into the SES without a woman or minority ever looking at the available pool of applicants. Our bill requires that diversity be incorporated into the process of review, but not in the standards of the review. The standards are high for entry into the SES, and we need to continue to ensure that the merit system principles are supported in the process of candidate review. However, diversity is not at odds with merit system principles, and we believe that our legislation supports merit principles while promoting diversity.”

Ranking Member Kenny Marchant (R-TX) said, “Obviously the American business landscape is changing much faster than federal agencies. In a sense, this creates a giant laboratory for policymakers to observe and learn what is working…[evaluating] what doesn’t work, and what might work in a government setting. If done correctly, this oversight process can improve the workings of the federal government and make it an even better place to work.  However, implementing policy changes without full consideration of the consequences — both intended and unintended — could end up adding additional bureaucracy to a system already beleaguered by low application numbers and relatively uncompetitive compensation packages.”

George Stalcup, director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), said, “In 2003, the gender, racial, and ethnic profiles of the career SES at the 24 CFO [Office of the Chief Financial Officer] Act agencies varied significantly in October 2000. The representation of women ranged from 13.7 percent to 41.7 percent, with half of the agencies having 27 percent or fewer women. For minority representation, rates varied even more and ranged from 3.1 percent to 35.6 percent, with half of the agencies having less than 15 percent minorities in the SES. In 2007, the representation of women and minorities, both overall and for most individual agencies, was higher than it was in October 2000. The representation of women ranged from 19.9 percent to 45.5 percent, with more than half of the agencies having 30 percent or more women. For minority representation, rates ranged from 6.1 percent to 43.8 percent, with more than half of the agencies having over 16 percent minority representation, and more than 90 percent of the agencies having more than 13 percent minority representation in the SES.”

William Bransford, general counsel of the Senior Executives Association (SEA), said, “One provision of the bills does cause SEA some concern. This is the provision that requires diversity panels in the role of gatekeepers to the SES. These diversity panels would consist of three career senior executives, one of whom must be a minority and one a woman. A vacancy announcement for an SES position could only be filled from candidates referred by one of these panels…These panels could slow the already burdensome process of promoting general schedule employees to the Senior Executive Service. This is particularly true in small agencies where satisfying the requirement for gender and ethnic representation may be difficult because of operational demands, because of travel schedules, and other operational demands. By mandating another layer of bureaucracy in what is already a cumbersome process, the SES diversity panels could further complicate and hinder the overall selection process, leaving crucial agency positions vacant for even longer than would otherwise be the case. SEA suggests that the current legislation be improved by allowing agencies to choose between the diversity selection panels, as stated in the bills, or effective oversight and management of its SES selection process by creating diversity subcommittees of Executive Resources Boards with authority and responsibility to oversee the SES selection process. These subcommittees, which would consist entirely of career SES, a majority of whom must be minorities or women, would have veto and oversight power over SES selections. This would provide a strong mechanism to encourage diversity while not adding any bureaucratic hurdles to an already difficult SES selection process.”

Rhonda Trent, president of Federally Employed Women (FEW), said, “Diversity remains very important for FEW and its members. As an organization, we offer diversity training annually at our national, regional, and chapter training programs…The latest employment and demographic statistics available from the Office of Personnel Management [OPM] are from September 2007. According to these latest totals, women represent 44 percent of the federal workforce, yet only 29.14 percent of the Senior Executive Service. The last known statistics of women in grades 13 through 15 was 125,889 in 2006. Employees from these grades were referred to as ‘feeder’ pools from which SES candidates are sourced…In order to improve the representation of women in management and other senior level positions, we must ensure that managers and supervisors are held accountable for diversity; ensure that women have a meaningful and decisive role on committees, task forces, and other decision-making entities; ensure the assignments given to women are not purely task-oriented, but rather include decision-making and strategic thinking roles; provide networking training on issues that affect women in the workforce; and provide better educational and leadership development opportunities for women at all levels of the federal workforce.”

Bray Barnes, acting chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security; William Brown, president of the African American Federal Executives Association; Carson Eoyang, executive director of the Asian American Government Executives Network; Nicole Johnson, assistant chief inspector of Investigations and Security Support at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Nancy Kichak, associate director of the Strategic Human Resources Policy Division at the Office of Personnel Management; Susan LaChance, vice president of Employee Development and Diversity at the U.S. Postal Service; Jose Osegueda, president of the National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives; Katherine Siggerud, director of Physical Infrastructure Issues at the Government Accountability Office; Ronald Stith, assistant inspector general for mission support at the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General; and Carmen Walker, deputy officer of the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security, also testified.

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