WASHINGTON UPDATE

Federal Official Pushes for More Diversity in Government In an exclusive interview with Diverse, hiring leader talks about federal government plans to boost diversity hiring, especially among disabled individuals.

As the incoming deputy director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Christine M. Griffin is anxious to begin the process of developing a blueprint to improve federal government work-force diversity.

The Obama administration appointee seeks to expand minority college recruitment efforts, break the glass ceiling for African-Americans in government seeking advancement, attract under-represented groups such as Asian-Americans and Latinos, and tap into the large pool of educated and qualified disabled workers.

“Borrowing a phrase from President (Barack) Obama, ‘We want to make working in the federal government cool again,'” Griffin told Diverse. “I hope to put plans in place that can continue (past Obama’s term) and can make the federal government an employer of choice. … There is an urgency to get things done. We want it to be a model employer that reflects the society that we serve.”

Griffin, the acting vice chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), will work under OPM Director John Berry and have responsibility for recruiting, hiring and setting benefits policies for 1.9 million federal civilian employees. She will take her post at OPM once her replacement at EEOC, Jacqueline A. Berrien, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, is confirmed by the Senate.

Since joining the EEOC, Griffin has been vocal in her support of increasing diversity in the federal work force, as well as promoting greater efficiency and fairness in the federal hiring process. She has also been a strong advocate for women’s rights and the rights of individuals with disabilities. In June 2006, Griffin launched the LEAD Initiative — Leadership for the Employment of Americans with Disabilities — to address the significant underemployment of individuals with severe disabilities in the federal government.

“They are the only group that is not only not gaining ground, but actually losing ground with 0.88 percent of the federal work force being people with severe disabilities,” Griffin said, referring to EEOC data on federal employees who require wheelchairs, are blind or live with any other severe disability. “That number has gone down steadily every year for the last 15 years. We don’t really know why except that there is not any urgency on the part of any agency to do it. (Former) President (Bill) Clinton tried to get it going in his second term, but no one ran with anything. It was something I found extremely frustrating. The new administration renewed focus on this issue. That’s what it takes. If we don’t have leadership, it won’t get done.”

In her new role at OPM, Griffin said her focus will be to develop a unique diversity strategy that includes interagency collaboration.

That diversity strategy includes developing a comprehensive college recruitment plan targeting students at minority-serving institutions as well as other institutions that graduate significant numbers of minority students. In addition, Griffin said she wants to target universities training and educating returning veterans, as well as those graduating large numbers of disabled students.

Griffin also pointed out that the strategy will also address complaints about the ability of African-Americans to break into leadership roles. Recruitment efforts will target the vast pool of unemployed workers, as well as work to shorten the sometimes lengthy process of entering the federal work force. “We are diligently working with agencies to shorten the time period it takes to hire. We lose good people who can’t afford to wait around.”

According to an article by the Society for Human Resources Management, government estimates state that nearly 550,000 employees, or one-third of the federal work force, will retire over the next five to seven years and, within the next 10 years, 60 percent of the government’s work force will hit retirement age.

Griffin said replacing retirees creates an opportunity for more diversity.

“Whenever you see a large number of the work force retiring, you are concerned about the expertise that walks out of the door, but it also creates an opportunity to advance people into those positions and bring less experienced people into the federal government.” Among the fields that will most be in demand are science and technology, human resources and acquisitions specialists, Griffin said, based on the large amount of government work contracted out over the last eight years. “Is it still the best value for the dollar or should it really be a service performed within the agency,” she said. “There are a lot of agencies taking a look at this as well.” She is optimistic that broad plans for diversity and inclusion will also extend to corporate America.

“When it comes to diversity some companies are doing an amazing job,” she said. “We can learn from them. If you look at us as a large corporation in the U.S., if we can do something sustainable it can go a long way in showing other private sector employers how to do this, especially in hiring people with disabilities.” D