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Increasing diversity is among OPM chief’s top goals

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When John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, looks to the new year, he sees three big items on his agenda for federal employees: cutting the retirement processing backlog, implementing President Obama’s executive orders for federal employment diversity and developing new performance-accountability systems.

“Those are the three big ones,” he said in an interview, before naming a few more items on his list. “Twenty-twelve is going to be both a busy and opportunity-rich year.”

Fixing problems with the retirement system alone probably could keep him busy for 12 months. The OPM has a long and expensive history of failure on this front, beginning before Berry’s tenure. That failure has left retirees and members of Congress outraged at the OPM and the bungled operation, increasing pressure on the director to get it right.

Berry outlined his plans for repairing the system in a separate interview in November and before a congressional hearing earlier that month. More will be learned about those plans in the coming months.

Last week, we wrote about the new performance-accountability systems for Senior Executive Service members and General Schedule employees. These programs could have a significant impact on federal workers and their pay. They’ll receive closer scrutiny as the details unfold.

So now we turn to Berry’s plans to increase federal employment diversity to include more women, people of color and disabled workers. Obama’s two executive orders outlined the policies, and it’s up to Berry to make them a reality.

“We’re going to be very aggressive,” he said last week. “We’re going to dog this from every angle I can.” He drew particular attention to the government’s poor showing in the employment of Hispanics and people with disabilities.

First, a little background.

In “Executive Order 13548 — Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals With Disabilities,” Obama said: “The Federal Government has an important interest in reducing discrimination against Americans living with a disability, in eliminating the stigma associated with disability, and encouraging Americans with disabilities to seek employment in the Federal workforce.”

When the order was issued in July 2010, people with disabilities represented just over 5 percent of the federal workforce, and people with certain targeted disabilities made up less than 1 percent, according to the White House.

The order says the administration will develop “model recruitment and hiring strategies . . . and develop mandatory training programs.” A key element of the order calls on agencies to designate “a senior-level agency official to be accountable.”

Executive Order 13583 — Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce,” which was issued in August, takes a similar approach. It says, “Attaining a diverse, qualified workforce is one of the cornerstones of the merit-based civil service.”

This order directs the OPM and the Office of Management and Budget to issue a “Government-wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan,” highlighting “comprehensive strategies for agencies to identify and remove barriers to equal employment opportunity that may exist in the Federal Government’s recruitment, hiring, promotion, retention, professional development, and training policies and practices.”

Obama specified that each agency’s chief human capital officer is the point person and that the head of each agency is to develop a strategic diversity plan.

Both orders draw on Obama’s November 2009 executive order to increase the employment of veterans in the government. The higher employment that has resulted, Berry said, “is one of my prouder accomplishments.”

On Thursday, the OPM will hold a “Diversity Employment Workshop,” during which representatives of private companies will discuss best practices in hiring people with disabilities.

The Hispanic Council on Federal Employment plans to soon give Berry a list of recommendations on recruiting, hiring and advancing Latinos in the federal workforce, said Jorge E. Ponce, co-chairman of the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives.

“President Obama should be given high marks for taking a proactive approach to diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce,” he said.

Yet, “Hispanics and persons with targeted disabilities remain the two groups that are severely underrepresented in the federal workforce,” he added.

Janet Kopenhaver, the Washington representative of Federally Employed Women, said women fall “woefully short” of being appropriately represented in the Senior Executive Service. Nonetheless, “although progress for women has been slow,” she added, “we have been pleased with the mutual work we have done with OPM and the White House Council on Women and Girls.”

Representatives of three organizations representing African American federal employees who were asked to comment did not.

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