Diversity in government workforce is on the minds of Federal Diary readers

By Joe Davidson
Thursday, August 19, 2010; B03

The Federal Diary gets lots of mail, some of it fit to print. We give readers a chance to speak out by occasionally publishing some of their letters.

Thank you for the column on the Temple University program that is helping to create diversity in the National Park Service. It hit home because my wife and I recently took our two grandchildren to Fort McHenry.

We, along with dozens of other visitors, helped raise a full-scale flag under the guidance of NPS intern Tia Solomon.

There were several other Park Service employees of color, some in uniform, others in reenactment dress. Another uniformed black young lady gave the lecture that accompanied the movie in the visitors' center. There were other black rangers in the fort itself: one lady in a period dress and two men in 1812 sailor uniforms who gave a rousing display of how to use a saber in combat.

Fifty years ago, I remember my parents taking me to Mount Vernon and Williamsburg. The black employees only portrayed slaves or servants. I am very glad that my grandchildren were not exposed to that.

It is a good thing that diversity can be increased by such programs as the ProRangers at Temple University.

-- William Price Sr., Aspen Hill

'Thinly veiled' bias excuse

Articles about diversity, such as the one Price mentioned and a recent column about an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report on the federal workforce, sometimes generate complaints of discrimination against white people.

Why do you and your Postie ilk, like Al Kamen, persist in the sordid business of classifying people by race, ethnicity and sex? Having been a U.S. government official for the better part of 50 years, the last 30 as a supervisor, I know firsthand that "diversity" is just a thinly veiled excuse for discrimination against straight white, American males.

I absolutely refuse to hire on any other basis than experience and potential to do the job. Performance evaluations depend on performance, period. I have a small staff of 10, with two among them absolutely outstanding performers, one an African American woman, the other a white guy. I make sure both get extra support when needed for their work projects, give them lots of autonomy and award them cash bonuses each year.

I've also got a couple of less-than stellar performers, also a salt-and-pepper pair. They get appropriate performance ratings -- and no cash awards. The one exception was last year when, during our performance evaluation conference, the white guy of this only adequate pair demanded that I rate him as at least a 4 on the agency's 1 to 5 rating scale (5 being outstanding), and give him a cash award or he would sue me.

So, what to do? On looking into performance ratings agency-wide, I found they were upwardly skewed, with 90 percent of employees rated as 4 or 5. . . . So, I gave him his 4 and a $50 award. . . .

This country of ours has gotten in enough trouble over race and ethnicity, and I will not contribute to it! . . . Diversity be damned!

The EEOC is equally wrong in examining "demographics," and so is the Park Service. Race and ethnicity have nothing to do with being a park ranger. The EEOC needs to concentrate on individual cases of discrimination and provable cases of widespread and systematic discrimination -- not just demographics, which show, for example, how African Americans are overrepresented in the Postal Service workforce!

-- Tom Nisbet, Alexandria

The education factor

The EEOC report indicates that white men make up 61 percent, and white employees generally 84 percent, of federal senior pay-level positions.

I believe it was Mark Twain who said: "There's lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Of course, federal senior pay levels aren't representative of the U.S. racial demographics as a whole. The situation boils down to one simple word -- education.

Much credit must be given to the federal government who, with EEOC continually holding HR and management's feet to the fire, now have a workforce whose minority representation exceeds their percentages in the general population. [Note: This is not true for Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, according to the EEOC.] As these people move up the ladder and are able to provide better lives not just for themselves, but for their children, more and more will enter the ranks of those in senior pay levels. . . .

So those statistics quoted in the article are quite misleading, in my opinion. They show (to me, anyway) that much remains to be accomplished, but we're on the right track. But it's not by taking GS-3s and turning them overnight into senior executives.

Many government agencies already provide tuition assistance, and this could be expanded. The military sets the example by ensuring that everyone, particularly minorities, receives the training necessary to compete for promotion. Beyond that, it's up to individual talent.

-- Dick Bulova, Fairfax

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