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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Inaugural Diversity Strategic Plan Aims to Make USCIS More ‘Inclusive, Accountable’

The strategy is built on six goals: leadership engagement, building a representative workforce, fostering an equitable workplace, nurturing "a culture that prioritizes belonging," accessibility, and a safer workplace.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released a strategy focused on advancing goals of a more diverse workforce at the agency and ensuring equitable resources for employees including those who are transgender, having accessibility issues, or have been subjected to workplace harassment.

The DEIA Strategic Plan is the first released by the agency. USCIS Director Ur Jaddou said that “by embedding the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) into our agency decisions and daily activities, we attract, recruit, train, and retain employees who successfully carry out the mission of USCIS, and we achieve our core value of championing people.”

“This empowers employees to bring their best selves to USCIS, in service to the public and the USCIS mission,” she added. “When people of all backgrounds are valued, heard, and respected in an inclusive manner, the nation reaps the reward.”

The strategic plan took shape in response to President Biden’s June 2021 executive order on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the federal workforce. It builds upon the FY2023-2026 USCIS Strategic Plan released by the agency early this year, which emphasized the need to invest in the agency’s workforce with an eye on attracting, recruiting, training, and retaining a diverse, flexible, and resilient workforce.

“USCIS will use this plan as a roadmap to achieve DEIA maturity by cultivating a more innovative, inclusive, accountable, and engaged workforce,” the DEIA Strategic Plan states.

The plan is built on six strategic goals beginning with leadership engagement. This includes conducting “a comprehensive DEIA training needs assessment and benchmarking study,” developing training resources and products to equip leaders, and identifying DEIA training options and vendors that will provide regular training to all senior leaders.

“DEIA will be integrated into leaders’ daily decision-making processes,” the plan states. “These efforts will be monitored, evaluated, and recognized. USCIS will empower leaders to sustain their DEIA efforts and become consistent champions of DEIA.”

The agency intends to “conduct program office and directorate DEIA assessments and engage senior leaders in action planning” and “develop a framework to assist senior leaders in promoting, actively participating in, and communicating support of DEIA activities” while  dedicating leadership awards to DEIA efforts.

USCIS will also establish a chief diversity and inclusion officer, statistician, and DEIA specialists to execute the strategy, along with a DEIA council including senior leadership, union representatives, employee association leaders, and other USCIS stakeholders to “inform, advise, and support DEIA activities.”

The second goal of the strategic plan focuses on attracting a diverse workforce. “Thorough analyses of workforce data and employment policies, processes, and practices will be conducted to pinpoint root causes of lower-than-expected workforce representation, remove barriers to equal opportunity, and cultivate and sustain a skilled, engaged, and diverse workforce,” the plan states.

Efforts to meet this goal will include establishing an “inclusive recruitment and hiring hub with resources for hiring officials,” inclusive outreach and recruitment within each program office and directorate, and partnerships with professional organizations, minority serving institutions, community colleges, universities, and employee associations. The agency will also promote and measure increases in full-time hiring and paid internships, fellowships, and apprenticeships.

The third goal, equity, centers around “robust demographic data” to “allow USCIS to better evaluate career development programs and other employment opportunities, to identify and address any barriers to employee growth and advancement.” This includes developing and implementing a data analysis system related to career development programs and expanding data sources “to track career development program applicants and selections by demographic groups.”

USCIS will encourage career development opportunities including training and mentoring, and plans to “evaluate and enhance leadership and career development programs to increase access to opportunities, including for members of underrepresented groups.”

“USCIS will advance equity by providing all employees, including LGBTQI+ employees, and their families with equitable access to support services aligned to their needs to increase wellness and engagement,” the plan states, adding that WorkLife programs will be evaluated and modified “to encourage culturally competent services that meet the needs of the workforce” while the agency promotes Employee Assistance Programs and other WorkLife programs “including available mental health referral services and resilience programs.”

USCIS will evaluate policies, procedures, and guidance “for gaps in addressing the needs of employees who are transgender and transitioning.”

The fourth goal is inclusion: “Ensuring accommodation requests are efficiently processed will improve the employee experience, productivity, engagement, and retention, by providing employees with the tools and flexibilities needed to perform their duties.”

The agency said it will acquire an interactive IT system “to assist in accommodations tracking, reporting, and analysis” and train staff on the requirements and processes for providing accommodations and increasing accessibility. USCIS said it will “develop and implement religious accommodation policy and procedures” and make the processing of accommodation requests more efficient.

A “Voice of the Employee” program “with a sophisticated, mixed method approach” will be established to collect employee feedback, while the establishment of new USCIS chapters of employee associations will be encouraged. The agency intends to “evaluate, develop, and implement DEIA trainings so that employees are supported and encouraged to promote respectful, safe, and inclusive workplaces and have increased understanding of implicit or unconscious bias.”

The fifth goal is increasing accessibility “by proactively updating and modernizing infrastructure, including its facilities and technology, so employees of all abilities can fully and independently utilize physical and virtual spaces.”

The final goal in the DEIA Strategic Plan is to “maintain a safe and respectful workplace” through “improving the framework for receiving and addressing reports of workplace harassment, while also actively promoting education, training, and prevention programs.”

Current anti-harassment and workplace violence prevention policies, guidance, procedures, and evaluation mechanisms will be evaluated and updated, while supervisors and managers will be trained on how to “prevent, recognize, and respond to conduct that could rise to the level of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.” Employees will receive “ongoing, interactive training on workplace harassment, anti-bullying, bystander intervention, anti-discrimination, conflict management, and implicit bias.” The plan also says support will be provided “for federal employees who have experienced workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.”

USCIS intends to “establish or update workplace policies and resources to support employees who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking” and “analyze existing processes and procedures and implement anti-harassment and workplace violence program efficiencies.” Employees responsible for receiving, investigating, and/or resolving complaints will be “well-trained to perform their functions promptly, fairly, and in a trauma-informed manner.”

“I am pleased with the progress we have made so far, but I recognize that there is much more work to be done,” Jaddou said.

USCIS Strategic Plan Takes Three-Pronged Approach to Building a More Resilient, Efficient Agency

author avatar
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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