Agencies may soon get some more specific guidance on how best to implement President Joe Biden’s sweeping executive order on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce.
The Chief Diversity Officers Executive Council, a governmentwide panel composed of agencies’ chief diversity officers and led by the Office of Personnel Management, held its first-ever meeting on Sept. 29.
“This has been a really long time coming,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Network.
Among many goals for the council, members will consider how to help agencies implement DEIA into recruiting, hiring, developing, promoting and retaining federal workforce talent, while also pursuing the goal of positioning the federal government as a model employer, according to a Sept. 29 press release from OPM.
“It really is to promote best practices, to promote that collaboration, to set a level of expectations about what we want to see,” Ahuja told Federal News Network. “The federal government has an incredible history of combating discrimination, for creating the middle class, especially in black communities and other communities of color. We have a strong foundation to build on, and I think this council is a part of that effort.”
Guidance from OPM earlier this year instructed agencies to create a chief diversity officer position in their senior leadership ranks. It’s also a requirement under Biden’s DEIA executive order. Those senior leaders partly comprise the interagency council and will meet regularly to work on the national strategy for DEIA, and then figure out how to help agencies implement it.
“The council is a place where we think we can bring all those CDOs together,” Ahuja said.
“This is also in light of the issues that we’ve been managing within this country for the past few years,” Ahuja said. “How do we understand the role of our history in this country, and how do we also ensure that we are bringing an equity perspective to the programs, to the grants that we issue, to how we operate or think about our policies?”
The council is tasked with collaborating on strategies and operations, as well as projects and programs for agencies to execute related to DEIA. The council members will also work with agencies and stakeholders to help implement DEIA-related policies and programs.
Agencies will also receive clear strategies, benchmarks and metrics for DEIA standards, to which the council will hold them accountable. And agencies will get guidance from the council on implementing their DEIA strategic plans, a component of the executive order.
“By creating a forum for collaboration, the Chief Diversity Officers Executive Council is a force-multiplier for the important DEIA work taking place across the federal government,” said Janice Underwood, OPM’s DEIA director and governmentwide chief diversity officer, in the OPM press release. “This historic council will be a nexus of the most promising policies and practices from the public and private sectors alike. As a council, the chief diversity officers will collaborate on an approach to advancing DEIA work across the federal government and our society.”
Ahuja serves as the council’s chairwoman, alongside two vice chairpersons: Jason Miller, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, and Charlotte Burrows, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The rest of the council comprises CDOs across executive branch agencies, along with stakeholders working in the Executive Office of the President.
“The inaugural meeting of the Chief Diversity Officers Executive Council marks a major milestone in this administration’s work to build and model a federal workforce that draws from the full diversity of the American people,” Ahuja said in the press release. “A diverse workforce that holds different experiences and perspectives makes us stronger and more equipped to resolve any issues our communities face. We know government works best when qualified people from every background and walk of life have an equal opportunity to serve our nation.”