Intelligence community making limited progress in diverse recruiting

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Efforts to increase the number of female, minority and disabled employees have taken place across the intelligence community. But over an eight year period, the Government Accountability Office found the results have been modest and lower than federal standards call for. For more, Federal Drive with Tom Temin turned to the GAO’s director of Defense Capabilities and Management Issues Brian Mazanec.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Brian, good to have you back.

Brian Mazanec: Thanks Tom, happy to be here.

Tom Temin: Give us the numbers of the change that occurred in women, minority and disabled employees in the IC over the period studied, I believe it was eight years ending in 2019.

Brian Mazanec: That’s right, Tom. Yeah, so we analyzed the aggregate workforce data that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence puts out looking at 2011 through 2019, which was the most current available data. I should note too, we also did look at individual IC elements data, but that information is largely at a classified level. So it was not used in our public report. When we looked at the data, we found, as you mentioned, some slight progress in enhancing the representation of these different groups over the past eight years. So looking at women, we found that the proportion of women was reported mostly a stable changing from around 38.5% to around 39.5% over the period, so very slight increase. In terms of racial and ethnic minorities, we saw a little bit more of an increase going from 23%, about 26.5%. Where we saw the greatest relative proportional increase it was for persons with disabilities, where we saw an increase from 5.3% in 2011, to 11.5%, in 2019. So almost doubled as a relative percentage. And as you mentioned, while these trends represent some progress, they do remain below the federal benchmarks that we think are relevant here. The Federal Labor Force and the civilian labor force, which that data is put out by the Office of Personnel Management. And when we compared what I just walked through from the IC perspective to those benchmarks, we found that the IC was lower than the federal government overall. So for example, the proportion of women in 2019, I mentioned we found within the IC, it was 39.3%., that’s lower than the federal workforce number, which was 46.9%.

Tom Temin: Got it. So with respect to getting more employees of color, more employees with disabilities, more female employees in — you have to have that before they can be promoted up into the higher ranks. Did you look at the proportions in various levels, that is beginner, mid-career and senior?

Brian Mazanec: We did Tom. And we found, and this is a story that unfortunately I think is consistent outside of the IC as well, but we found that as you go up to the mid grade and senior grade positions, the representations decrease. And that’s something that IC officials we met with acknowledged, they recognize it’s going to take time to grow and promote and have the representation increase at the higher levels over time. So I think that’s not a unique story to the IC.

Tom Temin: And also in the report, you list, let’s see, there’s nine best practices for increasing diversity within a workforce. And all of the IC elements did some of those things, but none of them did all of those steps in terms of recruitment and getting people, best practices in for their workforce. Give us a more detailed assessment of what you found there.

Brian Mazanec: In addition to looking at the data itself, we did look at how each of the 17 IC elements, and I should point out to the intelligence community is made up of these 17 entities that vary pretty dramatically. It’s a diverse group of agencies, they vary in size and mission, and whether or not they’re independent, or within another agency. So there’s a lot of complexity there. But when we looked at all 17, we assess them individually of how they were doing and implementing the leading practices for managing workforce diversity. These are practices that we’ve been using since 2005 to assess this kind of thing. They include basic things such as leadership commitment, performance measures to track progress. And we found that among the 17, most were addressing seven of the nine practices. So as an example for leadership commitment, we found that within the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence community element, the Undersecretary for DHS’ office of intelligence and analysis had appointed a senior leader to champion workforce diversity issues, a workforce management and engagement chief in October of last year. So that’s an example of that element meeting the leadership commitment practice. But when we looked at all nine practices, we did find a couple areas where there’s room for improvement. Most of the IC elements had not developed strategic plans to guide their efforts, or develop diversity related performance measures to track progress.

Tom Temin: And not withstanding the fact that it is classified what the variations were from component to component, is there one component of the IC that you can say, did most of what they should do?

Brian Mazanec: I would say most of them are implementing most of our leading practices here. Really was in these two areas of strategic planning and performance measures where most of them actually fell short. So there was some consistency there. I would highlight as a positive example, some of the elements did do well in those two areas where most fell short. The Department of Treasury’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis had at department wide strategic plan, that is a diversity strategy, that was pretty good. And then on the measurement front, I would note that the Central Intelligence Agency has a really well developed diversity related performance measures that it has identified in its diversity strategic plan. So it references things such as employee climate surveys to inform the delivery of diversity, training activities, and things like that. So there are positive examples throughout. And that really, maybe is a good jumping off point to the third area that we looked at, which was how the Office of the Director of National Intelligence overall was leading the entire community in this area and in embracing interagency leading practices for coordination. And that’s an opportunity where as these different 17 elements are making progress and implementing different programs, they can come together as an enterprise and share these best practices and work together to strengthen the entire community’s effort to have a maximally diverse workforce.

Tom Temin: And you’ve also written that, in many ways, the workforce and the diversity of the workforce is particularly important in relation to the IC mission. Maybe elaborate on that for us.

Brian Mazanec: Yeah, so workforce diversity, we believe, and I think we heard this consistently throughout our view, it’s critically important across the government, but particularly within the intelligence community. And it’s been increasingly prioritized within the IC as well. So the 2019 National Intelligence Strategy established a specific enterprise objective focused on people that emphasize that the IC would recruit, develop and retain a diverse workforce to address enduring and emerging requirements and enable mission success. And it’s that last part mission success, that’s the key, the IC’s mission is to provide intelligence decision advantage in a complex and diverse world. And that’s really enabled by having a diverse workforce. And I would note, too, I think workforce diversity planning and oversight, which is what we focused on for a large part of our review, is particularly important for the IC because it also faces some unique challenges in this area. It’s one of few places where a significant portion of the workforce is required to maintain a top secret security clearance, which can delay hiring considerably and create challenges for individuals or populations who can’t wait for an employment offer. So they have faced a number of challenges as well.

Tom Temin: And you’ve got a fairly extensive list of recommendations, seven of them, all of them are kind of open at this point, I guess, as the IC, receives them and decides what to say, but just characterize the recommendations for us.

Brian Mazanec: So we had seven recommendations. And we were pleased to see that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did concur with all seven, they expressed some reservations about the extent to which they can instruct other IC elements in these areas. But we think we’ve crafted the recommendations in a way that they could be implemented. And they’re intended to have the Director of National Intelligence clarify for the full community, the requirements for developing, as I mentioned earlier, strategic plans for specific elements, developing some of those performance measures at the element level, and then also enacting a level of accountability for the entire community in terms of developing some measures that ODNI could use that are really time bound and specific to ensure that the entire community is making progress in this area.

Tom Temin: And just a final detail question on recruiting. Do the people that do recruiting on behalf of the IC components? I guess each agency acts independently in that sense. Do they visit the say, historically black colleges and universities for example, and make efforts to get to where the incoming people might be?

Brian Mazanec: Yeah, Tom, that actually, you’ve identified one of the leading practices that we looked at specifically for each IC element, it is recruitment. And that is exactly one of the examples that we saw at most elements that they were doing. So for example, the National Security Agency has a recruitment strategy that is very specific in identifying recruitment methods, goals and activities to attract diverse candidates, which includes going to various universities in places where there’s a great proportion of that particular demographic that they might be seeking to recruit. That is a key element of the efforts that the elements are taking here.

Tom Temin: So overall, this report is optimistic, it sounds like?

Brian Mazanec: Yeah, overall, we found that IC elements efforts to improve workforce diversity and ODNI’s efforts across the entire enterprise were following most of our leading practices, but there’s definitely room for improvement, again in the areas of strategic planning, measurement and accountability.

Tom Temin: Brian Mazanec is director of defense capabilities and management issues at the Government Accountability Office. Thanks so much.

Brian Mazanec: Thanks Tom.

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