‘More work to be done’: OPM details upcoming goals to advance federal DEIA

The Office of Personnel Management’s first-ever DEIA annual report details both progress and upcoming goals to hit the requirements of Biden’s executive ord...

Agencies got some insight into the Office of Personnel Management’s upcoming plans to advance the Biden administration’s goals for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the federal workforce.

OPM laid out several initiatives, as well as some of the progress toward advancing DEIA in the governmentwide workforce, in a first-of-its-kind annual report.

“In order to recruit and sustain the best talent, we must ensure every service-minded individual feels welcome and supported in contributing their talents to the federal workforce,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in a Feb. 15 press statement. “We look forward to continuing the work to break down barriers to serve and help build a federal government that draws from the strength and diversity of its people.”

The Feb. 15 report encompasses the goals and requirements of President Joe Biden’s executive order on advancing DEIA in the federal government, which he signed in June 2021.

The new annual report, which OPM’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (ODEIA) is in charge of putting together, aims to provide more transparency around DEIA in the federal workforce.

Over the past few years, there were only “minor improvements” in the racial diversity of the federal workforce, OPM said. In the Senior Executive Service, for example, Asian employees composed 4.68% of the SES in fiscal 2021, compared with 3.49% in 2017. And Black employees made up 11.66% of the SES in 2021, a slight increase from 10.37% in 2017.

Racial Diversity Overview of Total Workforce Profile FY21
Image from the Office of Personnel Management’s Governmentwide Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Annual Report

There is still work ahead to improve DEIA in the senior-level federal workforce, OPM said. That also includes, working to close a gender gap in the SES levels of the federal workforce. According to the report, men made up close to two-thirds of the SES in fiscal 2021.

Gender Diversity Overview of Total Workforce Profile FY21
Image from the Office of Personnel Management’s Governmentwide Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Annual Report

Beyond being a couple years outdated, the workforce data itself is limited in other ways, too. OPM said it is considering how to improve its demographic information for future versions of the annual DEIA report.

“One example of a future reporting change, is providing more options in gender categories in efforts to be inclusive of people of all gender identities,” the report said. “OPM is researching ways to report more data on the underserved communities … to identify gaps and community needs to develop better strategies to reach these communities.”

Along with improving data, OPM said it plans to offer more DEIA training opportunities to federal employees in 2023. OPM is also, partnering with the General Services Administration to ask agencies to participate in a training evaluation study. Agencies that already have DEIA programs and funding, should implement trainings in a phased approach and share outcome data, such as employee retention by demographic with OPM’s research team, the report said.

Biden’s executive order on DEIA, additionally, tasked OPM with creating more equitable healthcare coverage for LGBTQI+ individuals covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program.

In an effort to make progress on the requirement, OPM said, its 2022 FEHB guidance “reiterated that FEHB plans must provide benefits for all covered services when medically necessary … and directed FEHB carriers to include a gender-affirming care services category in the plan brochure index … to make it easier for enrollees to review gender affirming care coverage and select a plan to best fit their needs.”

Another recent advancement, OPM said, was launching the Chief Diversity Officers Executive Council, which meets regularly to consider different ways to approach improvements to DEIA in the federal workforce.

The council is tasked with outlining strategies, benchmarks and metrics for DEIA standards at agencies, as well as, collaborating on DEIA-related projects and policies across agencies. But the council is still in its early stages, with only two meetings under its belt so far. Governmentwide Chief Diversity officer Janice Underwood, the first person to hold the OPM position, leads the efforts of the council.

“Looking ahead, my goal is to establish DEIA work as a necessary part of the public service mission of the federal government, because DEIA work is everyone’s job,” Underwood said in the report. “This includes supporting chief diversity officers in all federal agencies.”

To measure how federal employees perceive agencies’ efforts to advance DEIA in the governmentwide workforce, OPM also launched a new DEIA index , as part of the 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). The data is significant now, but will become more telling over time, once OPM can graph trends and changes in employees’ perceptions over a number of years.

For the 2022 FEVS, 69% of respondents said they had positive perceptions of agency’s DEIA-related practices.

“We are using that baseline to say, ‘OK, here’s our line in the sand. This is what the federal workforce is telling us. And now we need to grow from there. Now it’s time to show progress,’” Underwood told Federal News Network in January.

Additionally, OPM’s ODEIA plans to add professional development opportunities and enhance agency communications and partnerships, according to the report. ODEIA will also, hold more summits over the coming year, to expand on a December 2022 summit on how to improve accessibility in the federal workforce. Roughly, 1,700 federal employees attended the first virtual DEIA conference.

A lot still lies ahead for advancing DEIA in the federal workforce and making progress on the requirements of Biden’s executive order. Prioritizing efforts like, paid federal internships, collecting more demographic data and reducing employment barriers for individuals with disabilities, will be key for agencies going forward.

“There is more work to be done to ensure our federal workplaces consistently embody and model all DEIA principles,” Ahuja said. “However, the Biden-Harris administration is deeply committed to achieving that goal.”


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