Federal Employment Examinations:

Do They Achieve Equal Opportunity and Merit Principle Goals?

FPCD-79-46: Published: May 15, 1979. Publicly Released: May 15, 1979.

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Each year about 1.5 million applications are made for competitive civil service positions and about 150,000 to 200,000 people are hired from civil service job registers. By law, selection and advancement should be determined on the basis of ability, knowledge, and skills following fair and open competition which ensures everyone an equal opportunity. A survey was made to see whether examining procedures for competitive civil service positions are achieving this policy goal. The review focused on the Professional and Administrative Career Examination (PACE), Junior Federal Assistant, and Account-Auditor and Social Worker examinations.

Black applicants passed the written tests at a substantially lower rate than whites and other racial minorities and few blacks who passed scored high enough to have a realistic chance of employment consideration. Blacks scored somewhat better on the Junior Federal Assistance tests than on PACE. However, the proportion of blacks who scored in the certifiable range was still far lower than that of whites; 15 percent of whites in the certifiable range, compared to 5 percent of blacks. On the Accountant-Auditor and Social Worker examinations, of those who passed, proportionately as many blacks as whites scored within the certifiable range. No conclusion was reached concerning the question of adverse impact. The courts ultimately must decide this question, but guidelines on selection procedures indicate that usually the impact of the total selection process for a job will be considered rather than impact of one component. Selection guidelines for federal agencies require that records be kept to determine the impact of tests and other selection procedures on specific groups. However, appropriate records have not been maintained.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Personnel Management should: (1) increase efforts to comply with the Uniform Guidelines requirement for collecting and maintaining records which will disclose the impact of tests and other selection procedures on the employment opportunities of minority group members and females; (2) reevaluate the PACE evaluation strategy to ensure that it conforms with Uniform Guidelines; (3) reconsider using the predictive design or consider performing a research study in which all applicants selected for a PACE occupation by some other merit procedure are administered the test and followed up at a later date; (4) ensure, to the extent possible, that research participants are representative of the relevant labor market; and (5) investigate the fairness of the test for race, sex, and ethnic subsamples.

    Agency Affected:


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