Equal Employment Opportunity in State and Local Governments:

Improving the Federal Role

HRD-80-74: Published: Jun 25, 1980. Publicly Released: Jun 25, 1980.

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The fair treatment of applicants and employees in all aspects of personnel administration without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, political affiliation, age, handicap, or other nonmerit factors is a general requirement for state and local governments receiving grants or financial assistance from federal programs subject to the Standards for a Merit System of Personnel Administration. The standards are intended to help state and local governments improve personnel administration, and include criteria for: establishing and maintaining a systematic approach to employing, advancing, and retaining employees; providing proper safeguards for fair treatment of employees; ensuring compliance with federal equal employment opportunity requirements; ensuring effective employee management relations; and sustaining proper administration of the standards through evaluation, technical assistance, and when necessary, enforcement. To determine the effectiveness of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal agencies' administration of the federal merit standards, GAO undertook a review of selected financial assistance programs.

Even though minorities and women have made progress in recent years in gaining employment with state and local governments, GAO found that the improvements have been in lower level occupational categories where women and minority employees tradionally have been concentrated. As a result, the increased employment opportunities have not significantly changed the occupational distribution of minorities and women, but have perpetuated past imbalances. Additionally, GAO found that there are insufficient criteria for determining whether a personnel system is in conformity with merit standards. Accordingly, OPM has not been able to fully ensure that equal employment opportunity is adequately provided for in the administration of financial assistance programs subject to the standards. Moreover, state and local agencies receiving federal funds are uncertain about what is necessary to comply with equal employment opportunity requirements. Further, GAO found that there has been a general lack of coordination and cooperation between OPM and other agencies in reviewing the personnel administration activities of state governments, and federally assisted programs have not always been promptly corrected.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should: (1) develop, after consulting with state governments, more clearly defined guidance on what constitutes substantial conformity with the standards in the operation of a merit system; (2) provide guidance to the OPM regional offices, federal agencies administering financial assistance programs, and state and local governments receiving funds or administering merit systems for financial assistance programs subject to the standards; (3) reemphasize to OPM regional offices the need for obtaining and analyzing data on the minority and sex characteristics of state agency work forces during the conduct of qualitative evaluations; (4) reaffirm the need for including the results of such analyses in the regional offices' evaluation reports; (5) issue instructions that clearly describe the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies that administer financial assistance programs in carrying out the provisions for evaluating compliance with the merit standards and obtaining corrective action on identified deficiencies; and (6) instruct OPM regional offices to expand their coordination efforts with other federal agencies and to fully involve them in gaining corrective action when state agencies do not resolve deficiencies promptly.

    Agency Affected:


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