SES Diversity Bill

May, 02, 2008

By Dan Friedman Congress Daily

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday passed by voice vote a watered-down version of a bill to promote diversity among the government’s top civil servants.

Introduced by House Oversight and Government Reform Federal Workforce Subcommittee Chairman Danny Davis, D-Ill., the bill contains two mechanisms for addressing what some members consider under representation of minorities in the Senior Executive Service, which is comprised of about 6,500 of federal agencies’ highest ranking career employees.

The bill requires creation of a Senior Executive Resource Office within the Office of Personnel Management. The office would oversee SES policy and processes for selecting entrants to the service.

The office would perform functions including issuing standards for how agencies hire and evaluate senior executives, overseeing executive resource and qualifications boards agencies use to screen SES applicants and maintaining statistics on the makeup of the SES — including tracking the service’s composition “with regard to race, ethnicity, sex, age and individuals with disabilities.”

The bill follows a series of GAO reports showing the SES is less diverse than lower levels of government, a fact some Democratic lawmakers have for years lamented.

A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Government Management Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.

Recent statistics show minorities comprise about 16 percent of the SES versus 22.5 percent of next highest rungs of career federal positions. Davis noted that while the size of SES has increased from about 6,100 in 2000 to 6,500 in 2007, the percentage of black men has declined in that period from 5.5 to 5 percent.

“The senior executives of the federal government do not reflect the diversity of the people they serve,” Davis said.

By unanimous voice vote, the committee passed a substitute amendment that also requires agencies to produce and regularly update reports on their plans to diversify their cadre of senior executives. The bill then requires OPM to deliver to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs a summary and analysis of the reports.

The amendment also urges agencies that create executive resources boards and evaluation panels for SES applicants “to the extent practicable” ensure that minorities, women and people with minorities sit on the panels.

That language replaces a controversial clause in the original bill which required each agency to create SES evaluation panels staffed by three employees that included at least one woman and one minority.

The Justice Department objected to that provision, arguing it created illegal quotas.

House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Tom Davis, R-Va., said OPM remains concerns about “the prescriptive nature” of how the bill establishes the Senior Executive Resource Office.

“I want to work with the chairman as the legislation moves forward so we can get a signable bill,” Davis said.

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