GAO: Mixed progress on SES diversity

The percentage of female and minority senior executives increased overall but declined at one-third of major agencies, including the Office of Personnel Management.

The Senior Executive Service did not post the gains in the number of women and minorities in the SES that the Government Accountability Office expected when it last reported on diversity in the SES in 2003, GAO has said. The representation of women and minorities in the SES increased from fiscal 2000 through 2007 in more than half of the 24 major agencies but also varied significantly at those agencies, GAO said in a report released Nov. 26. As of September 2007, women made up 29.1 percent of SES members governmentwide and minority group members were 15.8 percent of the 6,555 SES members,  according to GAO, which used data from the Office of Personnel Management. In 2000, women comprised 23.2 percent and minorities were 13.9 percent of the 6,296 SES members, the report said. Although 15 of the 24 major agencies showed an increase in the percentage of both women and minorities in the SES in 2007 compared with 2000, seven agencies had a decrease in either women or minorities. One agency, OPM, showed a decrease in both female and minority SES members, according to the report. The Homeland Security Department, one of the major agencies, was not created until 2003. Concerning age characteristics, GAO found that SES members on average were about 50 years old when they were appointed and 60 when they retired. Women stayed in the SES longer than men, or an average 11.4 years compared with 8.8 years for men, according to the report. GAO said it conducted the audit from January through last month. GAO did not analyze factors that contributed to changes through the years and did not make recommendations. A diverse SES can add organizational strength by bringing a wider variety of perspectives and approaches to policy development and implementation, strategic planning, problem solving and decision making, GAO said. According to OPM data in 2006, about 90 percent of federal executives will be eligible for retirement during the next 10 years. “Succession planning also is tied to the federal government’s opportunity to affect the diversity of the executive corps through new appointments,” Stalcup said. The two members of Congress who requested the GAO report, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), said OPM must do more to create a diverse corps of senior executives and SES candidates. Akaka chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia Subcommittee. Davis chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Federal Workforce, the Postal Service, and the District of Columbia Subcommittee. “We must do a better job of reflecting our country’s diversity in the senior ranks at all agencies by recruiting talent from a range of backgrounds,” Akaka said. The major agencies have established processes for selecting members into the SES and have programs designed to create pools of candidates from which the new SES members may be selected, the report said. A board administered by OPM reviews candidates’ qualifications before their appointment to the SES, according to the report.
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