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Obama plans federal workplace diversity effort

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 7:55 PM

If creating a government workforce that reflects the people it serves, particularly at top civil service levels, is a high priority for Uncle Sam, you can't tell it by his record.

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White men held more than 61 percent of senior pay level positions in fiscal 2009, far more than their representation in the total workforce, according to the latest Annual Report on the Federal Work Force by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Women hold just 29 percent of senior positions. African Americans are a paltry 7 percent, and Latinos are almost invisible at 3.6 percent.

"It's a very, very serious problem that you have for minorities and women," said Jorge E. Ponce, co-chairman of the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives.

It's a problem that has not escaped the Obama administration's notice. The White House is preparing a presidential directive, in the form of an executive order or presidential memorandum, on increasing federal workplace diversity.

Presidential orders and memoranda sound impressive, but they are only as good as the effort to make them work. Previous attempts to increase workplace diversity have withered from inattention.

The directive would follow along the lines of the Executive Order on the Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government that President Obama issued in November 2009, an effort widely praised by veterans' organizations.

That order created an interagency Council on Veterans Employment and directed agencies to develop specific operational plans to boost hiring. Obama also told the agencies to "establish a Veterans Employment Program Office, or designate an agency officer or employee with full time responsibility for its Veterans Employment Program, to be responsible for enchancing employment opportunities for veterans within the agency."

A similar diversity directive would put teeth in a government personnel agenda item that has had more bark than bite. Six weeks after Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry took office last year, he listed increasing workplace diversity as one of his three long-term goals, along with controlling federal employee health-care costs while maintaining benefits, and reforming the federal pay system.

He labeled them "often intractable issues" and said reaching those goals would not be easy.

Diversity would be the first of Berry's three long-term goals to get the kind of attention a presidential directive would bring. The three short-term goals he announced at the time - reforming recruiting and hiring practices, improving work life and workplace conditions and veterans employment - all have received White House attention.

The government's senior-level diversity figures are so bad, said Christine Griffin, OPM's deputy director, "because historically we just haven't done a good job of making sure we provide everyone with career development training."


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