Diversity at GAO: Sustained Attention Needed to Build on Gains in SES and Managers
GAO-08-1156T: Sep 16, 2008
Tonya R. Ford
GAO performs a wide range of work. It conducts audits and evaluations of executive branch agencies, resolves disputes over awards of government contracts, and sets auditing and accounting standards for the federal government. To do this work, the agency has a highly educated, multidisciplinary workforce of around 3,100 employees who work in Washington, D.C., and 11 field offices. It employs analysts, auditors, economists, lawyers, and other professionals, and more than half of the workforce has master's or doctoral degrees. Background The GAO Personnel Act of 1980 gave the agency its own personnel system, separate from that of the executive branch, and it increased the agency's flexibility in hiring, paying, and managing its workforce. The act also created the Personnel Appeals Board (PAB), a body independent from GAO management, to hear GAO employee issues related to discrimination and prohibited personnel actions and to conduct oversight of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) programs. In the past decade, GAO has taken steps toward diversity management, which aims to create and maintain a positive work environment where the similarities and differences of individuals are valued, so that all can reach their potential and maximize their contributions to an organization's strategic goals and objectives. In 2001, GAO created its Office of Opportunity and Inclusiveness (OOI) and gave the office responsibility for: (1) helping to create a fair and inclusive work environment by incorporating diversity principles in GAO's strategic plan and throughout its human capital policies and programs, (2) handling discrimination complaints, and (3) managing the agency's EEO activities. OOI has a total of six staff members, including the Managing Director.
Between fiscal years 2002 and 2007, GAO increased the diversity of both its SES and managerial ranks. Moreover, GAO's SES and managers in fiscal year 2007 were generally more diverse in comparison with executive branch agencies and the civilian labor force. The agency's top management has made a commitment to diversity management, and our review showed that the agency uses a number of leading diversity management practices to recruit, hire, promote, and retain its employees. In addition, the agency has taken recent steps to identify and address potential barriers to the advancement and hiring of women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities. In June 2008 GAO issued its congressionally mandated Workforce Diversity Plan, which assessed the representation of women, minorities, and people with disabilities throughout the agency. GAO's diversity plan did identify representational gaps in the SES, the manager level in certain job categories, and recent applicants for the SES candidate program. In response, the agency is planning to target efforts on the areas of greatest underrepresentation, such as Hispanics, at all levels in the agency, and the Acting Comptroller General has stated his intention to have GAO prepare these plans annually. In reviewing GAO's March 2008 annual report to Congress and its Web posting of complaint and discrimination data reported for fiscal year 2007, we found errors and could not verify the reported average number of days that GAO spent processing complaints. For example, although agency documents show that six employees filed complaints, GAO reported seven in its annual report. In addition, GAO inadvertently posted on its intranet and Web site the wrong data--which were for the first quarter of fiscal year 2008--as if its were for the full fiscal year 2007. The wrong data understated the number of complainants by 4, the number of complaints by 13, and the number of multiple filers by 2. In general, the errors were the result of inadequate procedures for compiling and reporting all complaints and the agency not making full use of its electronic complaint software. GAO's OOI has revised the fiscal year 2007 data posted to its Web site and plans to take steps to address other problems we identified.