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President Wants More Indians in Federal Government

WASHINGTON – On August 18 President Barack Obama issued an executive order that calls for federal agencies to create plans that would increase federal workforce diversity, particularly in leadership positions. American Indian employment in the federal sector, especially in senior-level positions, would be increased if the new presidential mandate goes according to plan.

Indians already serve in a variety of federal positions, especially at the Department of the Interior and the Department of Health & Human Services, but some advocates argue that Indians’ ability to be hired and promoted into senior-level positions has been a long-time shortcoming of the federal hiring process. Many workers toil for years in low-level, lower paying positions, while seeing their white counterparts promoted up the ladder. Government workforce data from 2010 shows that Indians represented only 0.9 percent of all employees at the senior pay level in 2010, yet Natives represented 4.7 percent of all employees working in the lowest grade levels.

Given the federal government’s various government-to-government commitments to tribes and Indians, some believe it would be only right for Indians to hold more positions of power. While some successes have been made at hiring more Indians into higher level positions at some agencies, like the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service, tribal officials say that Indians need to be considered for a broad range of positions to help Indian issues be known more fully in all branches of government and at agencies that might be able to assist tribes that currently don’t do enough.

Since Obama’s election in 2008, minorities of all races have been asking that the president consider adding a diversity initiative to the federal workforce hiring manual in an effort to get more non-whites into senior levels. According to government statistics, whites currently hold more than 81 percent of senior pay-level positions.

Obama’s executive order creates a pathway for addressing the problem by calling on agency heads to create an overarching government-wide plan, which is to be backed up by specific plans in each agency.

According to the Washington Post, the initiative marks the “highest-profile response” to a problem that’s been increasingly on the Obama administration’s radar. The details of the plan are still being finalized, and various agencies could not immediately offer more details on their plans for the future in terms of Indian-specific hiring. What is known is that “undefinednstead of creating a new administrative body, as with Obama’s 2009 executive order on veterans’ employment, this initiative will look to a council of deputy agency chiefs,” the Washington Post reported. “OPM, the Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will participate.”

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The group will be responsible for creating a government-wide plan within 90 days, and after that plan is released, each agency must present its own specific diversity plan within 120 days. The executive order also says that the efforts must reflect initiatives on several fronts, including recruitment, training and promotion.

“The federal government has a special opportunity to lead by example,” John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, said in announcing the plan. “We will only succeed in our critical mission with a workforce that hails from, represents and is connected to the needs of every American community.”

Berry added that the executive order elevates the issue of diversity to a level of attention that should prevent it from being ignored or forgotten, as he admitted has happened with past federal diversity efforts. “Rather than create a new structure, the president has built upon an existing structure at the very highest level that will get attention and scrutiny,” Berry said in the call. “We are trying to say that this is something that should be folded into and a part of everything you do,” Deputy Director Christine Griffin added.

In terms of specific numbers, the 2010 Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program Report found that the federal workforce is 17.7 percent Black, 8 percent Hispanic, 5.6 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 1.8 percent Native American, 0.7 percent non-Hispanic/Multi-racial, and 66.2 percent White. Minorities as a whole made up 33.8 percent of the federal workforce, while men comprised 56.1 percent of all Federal permanent employees and women 43.9 percent.

“Progress has been made with respect to the representation of women and minorities at higher pay level positions in the FW,” according to the report. “The number of women in Senior Pay levels increased by 7.9 percent (from 6,341 to 6,839).” The report also said that minority employees in senior pay level positions increased by 9.4 percent, and it says that representations of women and minorities in professional and administrative positions has also increased: “The representation rate of minorities in these positions rose by 7.4 percent (from 332,934 to 357,468). The number of women represented in professional and administrative positions increased by 5.1 percent (from 505,111 to 531,062).”

Even given the improving numbers in recent times, Berry believes there is still much progress to be made. He said in a conference call that increasing workplace diversity remains one of his top three long-term goals.