DHS Identifies Barriers to Equal Employment Opportunities, GAO Wants to See Progress

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found it identified barriers to equal employment opportunities (EEO) and had plans to address them. For example, it investigated a higher-than-expected departure rate by white females. GAO found possible causes, such as lack of advancement opportunities, however, DHS lacks ways of measuring its progress in eliminating these types of barriers. DHS EEO officials said they lack authority to ensure components’ compliance with requirements.

Federal agencies are required to identify EEO barriers in their workforces and deficiencies in their EEO programs, execute plans to address them, and report annually to EEOC. In 2009, GAO reported that DHS had opportunities to better identify and address barriers to EEO in its workforce, and made recommendations which DHS has taken action to address. GAO was asked to provide an update on DHS’s efforts to identify and address barriers to EEO in its workforce.

GAO’s latest review, which resulted in its July 24 report, said DHS has identified barriers to EEO and has plans to address them, but lacks performance metrics for tracking its progress towards eliminating these barriers. DHS identified three barriers from fiscal years 2014 through 2017:

  • Problems with supervision/management, lack of advancement opportunities, and lack of alternate work schedules, among other things, causing higher-than-expected nonretirement separations for white females and several ethnic and racial groups.
  • The geographic location of jobs, which has contributed to low hiring rates of racial groups in certain major occupations.
  • The medical and physical requirements of various law enforcement positions, such as the ability to engage in moderate to arduous physical exertion, which limit the eligibility of some applicants with targeted disabilities.

While DHS reports some improvements in employee engagement and representation of minorities and women, it does not have complete performance metrics, such as the retention rate of women in law enforcement positions.

DHS components did not have action plans to address nearly half (179 out of 369) of the deficiencies self-reported by all components from fiscal years 2014 through 2017. For example, in fiscal year 2017, four DHS components did not have action plans to ensure that their EEO directors report directly to their agency heads.

DHS has plans to address the nine areas of noncompliance in its EEO program identified by the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (EEOC). For example, in its most recent review of DHS compliance with EEOC requirements, EEOC identified that DHS did not provide complete demographic data on new hires and promotions in its report to EEOC in fiscal year 2016. DHS officials told us that the department plans to report the data by collecting complete data from DHS components in fiscal year 2019.

DHS concurred with GAO’s six recommendations and expects to complete the bulk of the work by April 30 2020. The recommendations are as follows:

  1. Develop performance metrics for the department’s EEO program including a mechanism for tracking progress towards eliminating barriers.
  2. Develop policies and procedures to help ensure that their component EEO programs have action plans for addressing deficiencies in their management directive reports.
  3. Develop a formal staffing model for its EEO program.
  4. Develop component formal staffing models.
  5. Develop policies and procedures for responding in a complete and timely manner to EEOC’s feedback letters.
  6. Analyze options for granting additional authorities to the Deputy Officer for EEO and Diversity to ensure DHS components comply with management directive guidance.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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