Davis Seeks Review of Diversity

Posted November 13, 2007 at 6:48pm

Low numbers of women and minorities in the senior ranks of legislative branch agencies have prompted Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) to request a formal review of those agencies’ diversity offices.

Davis announced his intention Tuesday at a hearing on a report that found that only 16.8 percent of the agencies’ senior officials are minorities — blacks, Hispanics and Asians — and 35.8 percent are women.

The report was written by the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia, and it used numbers supplied by the agencies themselves.

“All of these agencies work for us — the United States Congress,” Davis, chairman of the subcommittee, said in his opening remarks. “While we can provide oversight of these agencies, we cannot monitor their day to day efforts to improve diversity in their agencies. That is the role of their respective diversity offices.”

Davis said he would soon formally ask the inspectors general of the agencies to look into the effectiveness and independence of their sister agencies’ diversity offices. The IGs will review existing programs that address diversity concerns, how those programs are being evaluated, the accuracy of the discrimination data reported to Congress and whether the offices are “sufficiently independent” of the agency head.

The subcommittee’s report found that in all agencies, the percentage of minorities in the top ranks — which includes positions such as “deputy director” that pay about $150,000 a year — was lower than that of the workforce as a whole.

It also found that the percentage of minorities has stagnated since 2002 and the percentage of women has risen only slightly.

But agencies’ individual statistics varied significantly.

For example, the Library of Congress came out on top with about 20 percent of its top spots filled with minorities and about 44 percent with women, while the Congressional Budget Office was on the other end of the spectrum with minorities representing about 8 percent and women representing 18.4 percent.

The subcommittee’s fix was simple: Agencies should improve the diversity of their top ranks by looking outside the agency and by hiring women and minorities for positions that feed into senior jobs.

At Tuesday’s hearing, agencies argued that they were doing just that. All pointed to outreach programs at black and Hispanic colleges and hiring practices that emphasized minorities and women.

In some cases, they argued that the pool of employees on the verge of promotion was more diverse, promising higher numbers in the future. Some also pointed to a long history of segregation and white male dominance at legislative agencies — a trend that is hard to fix quickly.

The Government Printing Office had only one woman in its senior ranks in 2002; now, it has three out of 26, said Nadine Elzy, director of GPO’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity. Elzy described her first day as a senior executive in 1997, when she realized that she was “the only minority and the only female, period.”

More must be done, she said, but the agency is committed to improving.

“I no longer feel as though I am in a time warp,” she said. “Today, I feel as though I am part of an agency that is moving forward with great speed in the right direction.”

Representatives from the Architect of the Capitol and the CBO pointed to harsh private-sector competition that hampers attempts to attract minorities.

It’s all about name recognition, said Teresa Bailey, director of the AOCs’ Office of Equal Employment Opportunity. According to the report, minorities make up 20 percent of AOC’s top ranks and women make up a little more than 30 percent.

“We are dealing with a very competitive market,” she said. “What it means for us is trying to distinguish ourselves as an employer of choice.”

But one agency representative noted that diversity offices can only do so much to push agencies in the right direction. Legislation only guarantees that employees’ individual discrimination concerns will be met, said Ronald Stroman, managing director of the Office of Opportunity and Inclusiveness at the Government Accountability Office.

Studies and action on the wider hiring and promotion practices of any agency is done solely on the mercy of that agency’s management, he said.

“Much of this work is hamstrung by lack of a legislative hammer,” he said.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) expressed disappointment that agencies could not increase diversity on their own. Pointing to the disparity between minority representation in the entire work force and the top-tier division, she called the situation “an embarrassment” to Congress.

“The more you’re able to show large numbers in the work force, the greater the burden is on you to show why they are not rising through the ranks,” she said.

But Members may end up taking the lead in some cases. At the hearing, Norton announced her plans to introduce a bill that would change the internal process for discrimination complaints. And after receiving a copy of the report, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joe Baca (D-Calif.) expressed his intention in a statement to work on the issue.

“It is important that we analyze these patterns and look to ways that we can increase the diversity of the workforce of these vital government agencies in the Legislative Branch,” Baca said. “Through the cooperation of Congress, these agencies, academic institutions, and congressional organizations like the CHC, we can help develop a strategic plan to ensure that there is pipeline of qualified individuals for these positions.”

Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.