Proposed Federal Jobs Act would push for greater diversity in senior ranks
- By Nathan Abse
- Aug 20, 2020
In a summer roiled by protests and political debate over racial equality, lawmakers in Washington recently introduced legislation they say would improve diversity in the federal workplace: the Federal Jobs Act.
Not just at the level of entry- and middle-level jobs, the bill’s authors hope, but all the way to the top. That aspiration is written into the bill’s language, with sturdier reporting and review mechanisms within it.
If passed, multiple agencies and offices would have to work together to create a new, shared road map leading to that desired diversity: an Executive Branch Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Initiative and Strategic Plan.
The bill calls on the Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Management and Budget , the President’s Management Council, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to lead that effort.
The resulting work product, according to a press release, "would put a critical focus on workforce diversity, workplace inclusion, agency accountability and leadership, and strategies to identify and remove barriers to equal employment at each agency."
"This kind of bill, if enacted in such a way to lead to greater monitoring and follow-up, would be a powerful tool," Delia L. Johnson, a federal diversity consultant, told FedSoup. Johnson’s federal career spanned five agencies over forty years. "When I was in government, we were always reporting—report after report—on diversity," she said. "But no one was really following up, and agencies were and often are more or less just ‘checking the box,’ without worrying ever about being followed up on it."
"Diversity and workplace inclusion is much more than a vision statement—especially when it comes to federal agencies," cosponsor Sen. Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement. "Our Federal Jobs Act strives to make a government by the people and for the people, look more like the people it represents. Increasing diversity in the workplace also creates a culture of inclusion that is reflected in the policies and programs advanced by the federal agencies, giving visibility and a voice to communities that are often left behind."
Following the model of a 2011 Executive Order on diversity in the federal workplace signed by President Obama, the new plan would require quite a bit of federal agencies. Each one would have to "identify and remove barriers to equal employment opportunity and develop practices to improve the effectiveness of [each] agency's efforts to recruit, hire, promote, retain, develop, and train a diverse and inclusive workforce," according to the release. "The legislation also requires agencies to publicly report and update … demographic workforce data and progress. This bill also provides a pathway of access to capital for economically and socially disadvantaged businesses by requiring agencies and contractors to report their contracting of minority owned businesses."
Senate cosponsors include Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), with a similar bill in the House sponsored by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.).
Johnson sees clear value in the renewed effort, though in some aspects it has been tried before.
"What I have found really is this: We need a top-down kind of change here," she said. "Poor practices start at the top. Unfortunately, leaders at a lot of federal agencies and organizations remain so focused on mission and that they need just the right people in place, period, to take care of agency mission matters. … If someone were really working on diversity, we have the talent and we could be seeing far greater gains."
"A problem so far is, once most Latin Americans and African Americans reach approximately the GS-12 level, you frequently find they’ve arrived at, frankly, a barrier," she said. "There continue to be efforts to use data to do barrier analysis—exit interviews and other data—in an effort to discern what are the barriers to higher leadership ranks. So far, I believe we are overreporting on this, yet still not following up—enforcing, pushing things toward improvement. There needs to be a system, a real system, on this."