Workforce

Biden's executive order on federal workforce equity: What happens next

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President Joe Biden’s executive order targeting diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the federal workforce outlined a dizzying list of priorities. But what exactly do agencies and administration officials have to do under the president’s directions, and when?

Here are the deadlines in chronological order:

  • October 3, 2021: By this date, agencies must submit a preliminary assessment of their human resources practices and workforces in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility to the Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Management and Budget and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy.
  • October 23, 2021: A report evaluating barriers to the employment of formerly incarcerated individuals, and possible actions like a new hiring authority to expand employment opportunities for this population, is due from OPM to the president by this date.
  • November 22, 2021: By this date, OPM and OMB must issue a four-year, government-wide DEIA strategic plan. It will include standards to measure success and a system for agencies to report their progress in implementing agency-level plans.
  • March 22, 2022: Agencies’ DEIA strategic plans, meant to include quarterly goals and actions that can advance DEIA in the workforce and agency culture, are due to OPM, OMB and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. These plans are then due annually.

Agencies also are instructed to annually report to the president on the status of the implementation of agency strategic plans, as well as the government-wide DEIA plan.

The order also contains a host of other directives that do not have specific deadlines, ranging from instructions for OPM to issue guidance on how agencies can track the demographic data of participants in professional development programs, to orders for OPM and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to issue guidance on best practices for DEIA training programs.

Addressing data collection for DEIA issues and creating assessment tools to measure progress are two initial hurdles, said DEIA government stakeholders at a July 13 GovExec event.

Currently, an assessment tool for agencies to use for their preliminary self-assessments is in the works, said Mini Timmaraju, OPM’s senior advisor to the director on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.

“This is really critical because … there isn’t necessarily a uniform strategy or standard for how we evaluate DEIA, how we benchmark it,” Timmaraju said. “Therefore, we have challenges really showing successes and really re-evaluating where we have missteps.”

The executive order stresses the importance of data “to increase transparency and accountability” at several points.

Agencies’ preliminary assessments, for example, are directed to be “evidence-based and data-driven … to determine whether and to what extent agency practices result in inequitable employment outcomes, and whether agency actions may help overcome systemic societal and organization barriers.”

The executive order also includes a section on data collection alone. It directs OPM, EEOC and OMB to review current policies for agencies’ collection of their employees’ demographic data and consider issuing, modifying or revoking guidance to enable the collection of more self-reported demographic data. Any changes should protect the privacy of the information, the order states.

Former Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the State Department’s first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, echoed Timmaraju’s emphasis on data. Data collection and disaggregation are two top priorities at the Department of State, she said.

“We have to know where we are in order to measure our progress, and right now, we don’t yet have the clear understanding of where we are, where our chokepoints are,” she explained.

Legal restraints for what data agencies can ask for from their employees and the uniformity of data collection across the government can be obstacles, she and other panelists said.

Ideally, government-wide processes would facilitate data collection, said Rita Sampson, the Chief of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She and Abercrombie-Winstanley both flagged sexual orientation as a category in which data collection can be complicated by legal restraints.

“You can ask individuals to amend their personnel profiles in their personnel system as an individual, but what we want is to make sure that the OMB processes and the OMB forms enable us to adopt those key data points,” Sampson said.

Timmaraju confirmed that data on sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t currently collected across the government.

“We do not have the data to show how LGBTQ+ federal workers are doing in the workforce,” she said. “We don’t have enough metrics to understand how what inclusion factors are being affected here.”

Ultimately, data collection, combined with survey efforts like the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, will need to be government-wide and intersectional, and they’ll be critical to showing the importance of DEIA issues, Timmaraju said.

“Are there unique challenges for women of color [in government]? I think all of us who are women of color would say absolutely,” she said. “But I need the data to quantify exactly what that is.”

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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