The Bush administration announced yesterday a government-wide recruitment program aimed at expanding opportunities for minorities, women and people with disabilities to compete for senior executive positions in the civil service.

Kay Coles James, director of the Office of Personnel Management, said the program was urgently needed to improve diversity in the Senior Executive Service, the government's cadre of 7,000 top managers, scientists and technical experts who oversee day-to-day operations at agencies. Of those 7,000, James said, 13 percent are minorities and 25 percent are women.

The initiative -- the Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program -- was kicked off at OPM headquarters. On hand were representatives of employee and retiree groups, including William A. Brown Sr., president of the African American Federal Executives Association, and Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association.

James praised Rep. Danny K. Davis (Ill.), ranking Democrat on the House civil service subcommittee, for playing a pivotal role in the program's creation. A recent General Accounting Office analysis, conducted at the request of Davis and other House Democrats, projected that the proportion of minorities will remain unchanged in the SES in coming years even though large numbers of federal executives will be retiring.

The new program, run by OPM, will cast a wide net to recruit people from inside and outside government, officials said. Employees may apply, regardless of whether their agency participates in the program. The program will run one or two classes annually, with 40 to 50 enrollees per class.

OPM expects the program to augment leadership development programs run by most large agencies. The new program, however, does not have funds to pay for employee training, which could prove troublesome for cash-strapped agencies.

If You're Looking for Back Pay . . .

Don't despair. The back pay is on the way. Slowly.

The delay can be traced to last year's budget disputes, wrangling over the size of the pay raise and uncertainty over whether employees would get "locality pay" this year. Not until March 21 was it clear that employees would receive a 3.1 percent increase in base pay and a locality adjustment, retroactive to the first of the year, of about 1 percent.

An OPM spokesman said the administration cannot predict when employees will see their back pay. Payroll centers are still reprogramming computers to reflect the back pay and other adjustments, such as promotions and changes in benefits.

All that takes time. At the Health and Human Services Department, for example, officials expect employees to see new locality rates reflected in their paychecks starting May 23 and retroactive payments (for Jan. 12 through May 4) in their checks on June 6.

If You Retired in 2002 . . .

Double-check the estimate of taxable income sent you by OPM before sending in tax returns. An agency spokesman said yesterday about 56,000 retirees have been given incorrect information.

The error involves people who retired last year. Because of a computer programming error, an Internal Revenue Service form showing retirement income, known as the 1099-R, omitted one month of annuity payments.

Replacement forms with corrected amounts were mailed at the end of February, the spokesman said.

Talk Shows

Two counsels for inspectors general, Steve Alderton of the General Services Administration and Larry Froehlich of the Federal Reserve Board, will be the guests on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on

Michael Jackson, deputy secretary of transportation, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 8 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Teleworking vs. At the Agency" will be discussed on Imagene B. Stewart's call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is