USAID: Mixed Progress in Increasing Diversity, and Actions Needed to Consistently Meet EEO Requirements
The U.S. Agency for International Development has tried to increase staff diversity. We reviewed how its workforce changed over 2002–2018.
Overall, the proportion of racial or ethnic minorities in USAID’s full-time, permanent, career workforce rose from 33 to 37%, but proportions of some groups fell. Also, racial or ethnic minorities in the Civil Service were 31 to 41% less likely to be promoted than whites with similar jobs or years of service.
The office overseeing diversity had many staff vacancies that kept it from reporting on USAID’s diversity efforts—and from other duties. We made 4 recommendations to ensure this office can do its work.
What GAO Found
The overall proportion of racial or ethnic minorities in the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) full-time, permanent, career workforce increased from 33 to 37 percent from fiscal year 2002 to fiscal year 2018. The direction of change for specific groups varied. For instance, the proportion of Hispanics rose from 3 to 6 percent, while the proportion of African Americans fell from 26 to 21 percent. The proportions of racial or ethnic minorities were generally smaller in higher ranks. During this period, the overall proportion of women increased from 51 to 54 percent, reflecting their growing proportion in USAID's Foreign Service.
Promotion outcomes at USAID were generally lower for racial and ethnic minorities than for whites in early to mid career. When controlling for factors such as occupation, GAO found statistically significant odds of promotion in the Civil Service were 31 to 41 percent lower for racial or ethnic minorities than for whites in early and mid career. In the Foreign Service, average promotion rates were lower for racial or ethnic minorities in early to mid career, but differences were generally not statistically significant when GAO controlled for various factors.
USAID has previously identified underrepresentation of specific groups in its workforce, but staffing gaps, partly due to a lack of senior leadership attention, prevent the agency from consistently performing required Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) activities. The Office of Civil Rights and Diversity (OCRD), responsible for USAID's EEO program, has been significantly understaffed. Vacancy rates in most OCRD divisions were 50 percent or higher in November 2019 and, despite attempts to hire more staff, remained at 30 to 50 percent as of April 2020. These staffing gaps have limited OCRD's capacity to process EEO complaints and investigations within mandated timeframes and analyze USAID's demographic data. Staffing gaps also prevented OCRD from submitting required reporting on the status of its EEO program in fiscal year 2018. A lack of consistent leadership in OCRD as well as a lack of senior USAID leadership attention to diversity has contributed to OCRD's staffing gaps. As a result, USAID lacks the capacity to respond to allegations of discrimination, identify potential barriers to equal employment opportunity, and submit required annual reports on the progress of its diversity and inclusion efforts in a timely manner—all of which are required EEO functions.
Why GAO Did This Study
USAID has a stated commitment to fostering an inclusive workforce that reflects the diversity of the United States and has undertaken efforts to increase diversity in its Civil and Foreign Services. However, concerns about the demographic composition of USAID's workforce are longstanding.
GAO was asked to review issues related to the diversity of USAID's workforce. This report examines, among other things, the demographic composition of USAID's workforce in fiscal years 2002 through 2018, differences between promotion outcomes for racial or ethnic minorities, and the extent to which USAID has identified workforce diversity issues and worked to address those issues. GAO analyzed USAID's personnel data for its full-time, permanent, career workforce for fiscal years 2002 through 2018—the most recent available data. GAO's analyses do not completely explain the reasons for differences in promotion outcomes, which may result from various unobservable factors. Thus, GAO's analyses do not establish a causal relationship between demographic characteristics and promotion outcomes. GAO also reviewed USAID documents and interviewed USAID officials and members of 13 employee groups.
GAO is making four recommendations to USAID, including three to perform required EEO activities and one to demonstrate senior leadership attention to diversity efforts. USAID concurred with the recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|U.S. Agency for International Development||The USAID Administrator should ensure that OCRD consistently responds to EEO complaints in a timely manner. (Recommendation 1)||
USAID concurred with GAO's recommendation, and in response, USAID increased OCRD's allocation of full-time-equivalent positions from 14 in fiscal year 2019 to 24 in fiscal year 2020. Further, OCRD said that it has filled 19 of the allocated positions as of October 2020 and planned to fill the remaining vacancies by December 2020. According to USAID, this increase grew OCRD's Division of Complaints and Resolution from four to eight positions, including a new Division Chief. Furthermore, according to USAID, OCRD has established new internal timeliness standards and procedures to better process EEO complaints, including use of a database to generate reports and conduct analysis on potential trends in workplace discrimination and harassment. As a result of these changes, OCRD said it has reduced the average number of days to complete final actions of EEO complaints by 59 percent. Furthermore, OCRD data shows it was 100 percent timely in completing all of the phases of the EEO complaints response process during fiscal year 2020, including providing EEO counseling to aggrieved individuals, completing EEO investigations, and issuing Final Agency Decisions. OCRD also noted that it continued to inform USAID management of its capacity to conduct the agency's EEO program through timely submission of USAID's Annual Federal EEO Statistical Report of Discrimination Complaints and the required No FEAR Act report.
|U.S. Agency for International Development||
Priority Rec.The USAID Administrator should ensure that OCRD consistently analyzes USAID workforce demographic data for trends and potential barriers to equal employment opportunity. (Recommendation 2)
USAID concurred with GAO's recommendation, and in response, increased OCRD's allocation of full-time-equivalent positions from 14 in fiscal year 2019 to 24 in fiscal year 2020. According to USAID, sufficient staff has enabled OCRD to conduct analyses of its workforce data and undertake efforts to identify triggers; analyze barriers to EEO in Agency policies, practices, and processes; develop action plans to reduce these barriers; and monitor the Agency's performance to achieve greater EEO. As a result, USAID was able to meet its obligation for timely submission of its fiscal year 2020 MD-715 Report, which identified 16 potential triggers leading to barriers to employment. USAID then initiated an analysis of these triggers to identify barriers to hiring, advancing, and retaining direct hire EEO groups across the Foreign Service and Civil Service within USAID. Methodology for this barrier analysis included quantitative analysis of workforce data, as well as qualitative interviews and focus groups. USAID finalized this analysis in September 2021, yielding several key findings with 12 associated recommendations, as well as action plans for implementation. By developing its capacity to perform self-analysis, USAID is better able to proactively identify and address barriers to diversity in its workforce.
|U.S. Agency for International Development||The USAID Administrator should ensure that OCRD submits required MD-715 reports to EEOC in a timely manner. (Recommendation 3)||
USAID concurred with GAO's recommendation, and in response, USAID increased OCRD's allocation of full-time-equivalent positions from 14 in fiscal year 2019 to 24 in fiscal year 2020. In October 2020, OCRD had filled 19 of these allocated positions and planned to fill the remaining vacancies by December 2020. In May 2021, USAID reported that it had sufficiently staffed OCRD through the creation of an Agency Affirmative Employment Program and other critical positions. According to USAID, sufficient staff has enabled OCRD to conduct analyses of its workforce data and undertake efforts to identify triggers; analyze barriers to EEO in Agency policies, practices, and processes; develop action plans to reduce these barriers; and monitor the Agency's performance to achieve greater EEO. As a result, since the publication of our report, USAID has met its obligation for timely submission of its fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2020 MD-715 Reports to the EEOC by the due dates of June 30, 2020 and April 30, 2021 respectively. With OCRD capacity to consistently submit required reports on the agency's diversity and inclusion efforts, USAID leadership will now possess greater insight into the EEO program to ensure that its activities meet agency goals.
|U.S. Agency for International Development||
Priority Rec.The USAID Administrator should demonstrate senior leadership attention to diversity by ensuring that OCRD has the capacity to perform required EEO functions. (Recommendation 4)
USAID concurred with GAO's recommendation, and in response, USAID has taken several actions to enable OCRD to operate more effectively. First, USAID increased OCRD's operating budget from less than $600,000 in fiscal year 2017 to almost $3.2 million in fiscal year 2020. USAID also increased OCRD's allocation of full-time-equivalent positions from 14 in fiscal year 2019 to 24 in fiscal year 2020. Since these actions, OCRD has improved its capacity to respond to EEO complaints in a timely manner and consistently submitted required reports on the agency's diversity and inclusion efforts. OCRD has also initiated an effort to identify triggers and analyze barriers to EEO in Agency policies, practices, and processes. Additionally, USAID was in the process of hiring a new permanent Director of OCRD when Executive Order 14035 was issued on June 25, 2021, stating that the head of each agency shall seek opportunities to establish a position of chief diversity officer or diversity and inclusion officer (as distinct from an equal employment opportunity officer), with sufficient seniority to coordinate efforts to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within the agency. As a result, USAID halted the hiring process for the SES OCRD Director position, and reported that it will reclassify the position with the Chief Diversity Officer functions removed, and reannounce it. According to USAID, the reclassified position title will be Director, Office of Civil Rights (OCR), with corresponding office name change, and will have executive leadership responsibility over all Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Program functions. Chief Diversity Officer functions will be subsumed by a new Diversity Equity and Inclusion unit within the Office of the Administrator, headed by a permanent Agency Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer. By demonstrating senior leadership attention to OCRD's mission capacity and USAID's agency-wide structure for diversity, equity and inclusion, USAID is better equipped to address its EEO responsibilities, as well as issues of underrepresentation.