The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Meeting of July 22, 2008 - Issues Facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the Federal Workplace

Statement of John M. Palguta, Vice President, Policy Partnership for Public Service

Chair Earp, Vice Chair, Commissioners, Colleagues, and Friends,

I am John Palguta, Vice President for Policy of the Partnership for Public Service. Prior to joining the Partnership in December 2001, I was a career member of the federal senior executive service as Director of Policy and Evaluation for the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the culmination of a federal career spanning almost 34 years in federal human resources management and public policy issues. I appreciate your invitation to provide some perspectives on Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the federal workplace.

The Partnership has two principal areas of focus. First, we work to inspire new talent to join federal service. That includes diverse talent at all levels, from new college graduates to seasoned workers seeking encore careers. Second, we work with government leaders to help transform government so that the best and brightest will enter, stay and succeed in meeting the challenges of our nation. That includes all aspects of how the federal government manages people, from attracting them to government, leading them, supporting their development and managing performance; in short, all the essential ingredients for forming and keeping a world-class workforce.

We know that good government starts with good people. We also know that achieving a truly diverse workforce at all levels of government is not only a good business practice but for the federal government it is an imperative. To govern effectively with the consent of the governed, it is important that American people see the nation’s diversity reflected in the federal workforce. This value was incorporated into the first merit system principle enacted into law as part of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978,1 which requires federal agencies to recruit “from appropriate sources in an endeavor to achieve a work force from all segments of society, and selection and advancement should be determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills, after fair and open competition which assures that all receive equal opportunity.” In short, federal agencies have a dual obligation to operate a true merit-based hiring and promotion system in a manner that also results in a representative workforce.

Current Status:

So, how good a job have federal managers and HR staffs done in meeting this dual obligation when it comes to AAPIs? Overall, it would appear they have done quite well. But when we move beyond the big picture and look at some of the component parts, it is clear that the progress has been uneven. For example,

Grade Level % AAPI in 2000 % AAPI in 2007
GSR 1-4 5.1 6.4
GSR 5-8 3.7 4.2
GSR 9-12 4.2 5.0
GSR 13-15 4.6 6.0
Non-GSR NA 6.2
Senior Pay 2.1 5.7

It would appear that several large federal departments – Navy, Commerce, HHS, VA, Defense, DHS, and Treasury – have been successful in attracting, hiring, developing, and retaining Asian AAPIs and their success has masked the lesser success of the other departments. Similarly, the independent agencies that have been successful in this regard, such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and the General Services Administration have overshadowed the fact that 13 independent agencies employ AAPIs at a rate below their representation in the RCLF.

Looking Ahead:

Whether it classifies as a tsunami or not, there is definitely a surge occurring in the rate of retirements within the federal government. The federal workforce is graying and within the next five years, more than half a million (500,000) full-time, permanent federal employees will leave the federal service, the majority due to retirements.

We are fortunate to have a civil service that is extraordinarily capable and committed. But the existing talent pool within government is simply not large enough to fill expected vacancies with the needed talent, especially in government’s most senior ranks. Hiring freezes through much of the 1990s left skills gaps across agencies and a thin bench of mid-career talent. Even with fairly tight budgets, federal departments and agencies will still need to fill “mission-critical” positions as they are vacated. Over just a two year period, federal agencies have projected a need to hire over 190,000 highly talented individuals to fill “mission-critical” full-time, permanent positions.2 Almost 80 percent of these projected new mission-critical hires will be in five occupational areas:

  1. Security, Protection, Compliance and Enforcement (62,863 new hires)
  2. Medical and Public Health (35,350 new hires)
  3. Accounting, Budget and Business (21,248 new hires)
  4. Engineering and Sciences (17,477 new hires)
  5. Program Management/Analysis and Administration (14,305 new hires)

Compared these numbers to earlier projections published by the Partnership in 2005, we found several trends worth noting:

Meeting government’s talent needs will also require agencies to think creatively about developing current federal employees and retaining them as long as possible. AAPIs both within the government and in the CLF constitute a rich source of needed talent. While a number of federal agencies have clearly demonstrated that it is fully possible to tap that talent pool, too many other agencies have perhaps overlooked this source or there are unintended or unrecognized barriers that have resulted in underutilization of AAPIs in some parts of the federal workforce.

We applaud the EEOC’s interest in ensuring that the federal government benefits from the skills and expertise of all segments of the labor force, including AAPIs. While the current economic downturn may have delayed some of the talent exodus from the federal government, it has not stopped it. Further, all indications are that the demand for well-educated and highly skilled talent in the nation will exceed the supply going forward. While this will create some serious challenges for the federal government, it also creates some real opportunities to meet those challenges in a way that addresses both skills gaps and diversity goals.

Addressing Barriers:

The Partnership’s research has identified a number of barriers that have the potential to adversely affect the employment and advancement opportunities of AAPIs and others in at least some federal departments and agencies. They are:

  1. Inadequate or incomplete workforce planning that overlooks the pool of experience and diverse talent outside of government at the mid-level and above. In particular, there are many Americans representing diverse candidate pools who are age 50 and above who have retired from successful private sector or other careers with needed skills and who plan to continue working beyond their 65th birthday.3 Attracting experienced applicants from outside government to replace some of the approximately one-third of all SES employees who will leave over the next three years also provides an opportunity to accelerate the increase in diversity among this group.
  2. Many federal agencies do a poor job recruiting, assessing and hiring external candidates. A common impediment to the hiring of outside talent is the closed nature of the federal hiring process. Approximately half of federal job opportunities are not even open to external candidates; of those that are open, external recruiting often consists of little more than posting job announcements on USAJobs, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) federal jobs website.
  3. A lack of information about federal jobs is preventing some Americans from considering these opportunities. Our research has shown that the more knowledgeable workers are about federal employment, the more likely they are to consider it. Unfortunately, many federal agencies currently do little to advertise and market federal jobs to experienced workers.
  4. The federal hiring process is broken. Long a source of frustration for agencies and applicants alike, the federal hiring process is broken and discourages talent from all sources from pursuing federal service. A Partnership review of hiring at selected agencies revealed that the process for hiring a single employee can include more than 110 steps. Some federal job applicants wait a year, or longer, before receiving a job offer. And some potential workers do not wait at all because the job announcement discourages them from applying in the first place. Also, agencies generally do not do a good job of keeping applicants informed of the status of their applications – a basic courtesy that should be afforded to all job seekers. The end result is a difficult, lengthy and complex process that discourages many highly skilled workers from pursuing federal service.
  5. Transitioning into the federal workplace can be a bumpy experience. Integrating new employees into the existing workforce is a challenge when current employees perceive new hires as being uninformed about “how things are done” in government, and those coming from private sector workplaces assume that the government and the private sector are completely different. Current employees can also perceive new hires as a threat to their career prospects, especially if their agency is not investing in their professional development. Lack of a comprehensive “onboarding” process exacerbates the situation.4
  6. Negative perceptions of government hinder recruitment. We know from survey data that there is a link between perceptions of government effectiveness and interest in federal service.5 We also know that Americans’ attitudes about government tend to be negative unless provided with accurate information to the contrary.
  7. Inadequate use of existing human resources flexibilities, coupled with statutory and regulatory barriers, hinder the flow of talented, experienced workers into government. The Office of Personnel Management and Congress could aid the recruitment and retention of highly skilled Americans in government by providing more federal agencies with the authority to determine when to use direct hire authority for hard to fill positions (with guidance and oversight by OPM), allowing phased retirement of current employees and enabling federal retirees to return to part-time, temporary service without a reduction in their retirement annuities. For the most part, however, agencies do not need additional authorities to improve the recruitment, hiring and retention of skilled workers; they need to make better use of the authorities they already have.
  8. Lack of clarity regarding diversity goals may make diversity a non-factor for federal supervisors and managers. Federal managers typically focus on filling their jobs as quickly as possible with qualified workers. A concomitant focus on achieving a representative workforce is unlikely to be a consideration unless top management clearly communicates that it should be. The clear progress that has been made over time in increasing the diversity of the federal workforce at all levels demonstrates that federal supervisors and managers can rise to the challenge of meeting the dual goals of (1) merit-based hiring and advancement and (2) a representative workforce. However, unless it is clear that diversity in the workforce remains a desired outcome, that progress may be lost.
  9. Current federal employees will have many increased advancement opportunities over the next five to ten years but may be disadvantaged by lack of training and development opportunities. Approximately one out of every three current full-time, permanent workers will leave government in the next five years. The employees who stay should be a rich source of talent but could be disadvantaged by a lack of training and developmental opportunities which decreases their ability to successfully compete for higher level positions and responsibilities. While each federal employee is responsible for his or her own growth and development both on and off the job, it is in the federal government’s own self interest to provide as many training and development opportunities as possible and to actively encourage employees to take advantage of those opportunities.


1 5 U.S.C. 2301(b)(1)

2 Partnership for Public Service, Where the Jobs Are (2007).

3 Partnership for Public Service, A Golden Opportunity: Recruiting Baby Boomers Into Government (2007).

4 Partnership for Public Service, Getting on Board: A Model for Integrating and Engaging New Employees (2008).

5 A Golden Opportunity, page 11.

This page was last modified on July 22, 2008.

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