New EO from Obama to push diversity in the federal workforce
posted at 6:10 pm on August 18, 2011 by Tina Korbe
The president won’t present a jobs plan until September (as Ed says, he’ll be working on that while on “vacation” in Martha’s Vineyard), but he today issued an executive order to tackle another top national priority: increasing diversity in the federal workforce.
Like all EOs, the order out-and-out accomplishes little: It merely establishes a “coordinated government-wide initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce.”
The details of the initiative have yet to be worked out. Instead of creating a new administrative body, as did Obama’s 2009 executive order on veterans’ employment, the diversity initiative will lean on a council of deputy agency chiefs, along with the Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
That group will be responsible for creating a government-wide plan within 90 days. According to the order, after the government-wide plan is released, each agency must present its own specific plan for diversity within 120 days. The plans must reflect initiatives on a number of issues, including recruitment, training and promotion.
In other words, the EO demands plans — first a government-wide plan from the council of deputy agency chiefs, then agency-specific plans. Funny how Obama would like to see ideas to increase diversity on paper, but seems to think a speech will suffice for ideas to address the debt, deficit and job creation.
This order represents the highest-profile response to concerns about a lack of diversity in the federal workforce — and, as such, tells us something about Obama’s priorities at the moment. In fact, that seems to be the entire point of the order — to demonstrate that Obama has not forgotten his commitment to this all-important cause (sarcmark) (interesting, given the Congressional Black Caucus’ disappointment with the president’s lack of attention to the fact that unemployment has hit some minorities particularly hard). John Berry, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, said the order ensures efforts to increase diversity won’t fall by the wayside.
The emphasis on diversity-for-diversity’s-sake has always perplexed me. The EO repeatedly states the new diversity-improvement plans must be “consistent with merit-based principles,” but a system to explicitly increase diversity cannot possibly be a system to reward merit and only merit, unless it’s true that various markers of diversity add to an individual’s ability to perform a given job well. Based on the executive order, the president seems to think this.
“Our Nation derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all. We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society, and our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspectives are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges,” the executive order states. “To realize more fully the goal of using the talents of all segments of society, the Federal Government must continue to challenge itself to enhance its ability to recruit, hire, promote, and retain a more diverse workforce.”
Certainly, I can think of any number of tasks that would be best tackled with a team made up of people from all different backgrounds — but I can also think of tasks in which it doesn’t matter whether the person who performs it hails from one part of the country or another, comes from one race or another, operates from one political ideology or another, etc., etc., etc. Mail delivery, for example, requires only that the carrier be efficient.
This order is extraneous and distracting from what should be the government’s role: providing certain basic services that cannot otherwise be provided (like national defense!) as efficiently and effectively as possible.
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