Reorganizing for the Biden agenda at OPM

OPM is beefing up its diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility office as part of an agency reorganization in support of a wide-ranging executive order covering the federal workforce.

Mini Timmaraju, senior advisor to the director on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, Office of Personnel Management

Mini Timmaraju, senior advisor to the director of the Office of Personnel Management on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. (Photo courtesy: OPM)

The diversity shop at the Office of Personnel Management is currently implementing President Joe Biden's wide-ranging executive order on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce.

At the same time, OPM is in the process of reestablishing its own standalone office to lead governmentwide diversity efforts.

This "infrastructure" challenge and need to beef up staffing might be mirrored in other diversity and inclusion agency shops at smaller agencies, OPM's Senior Advisor to the Director on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Mini Timmaraju said in an interview with FCW.

The executive order set Oct. 3 as the deadline for agencies to finish a preliminary assessment of human resources practices and agency workforces.

Agencies will have to submit those assessments to OPM, along with the Office of Management and Budget and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy.

Timmaraju's team is focused on supporting agencies as they work on their internal assessments.

"We're standing up resources, a learning community for agencies, supporting agencies diversity, equity inclusion and accessibility teams. We're staffing office hours, we're starting to develop webinars and other learning content for agencies on how to do assessments, and we're starting to convene working groups on these different policy areas outlined in the executive order," she said.

They're also working on standing up an assessment tool, something OPM hopes will also help agencies with their strategic planning, due March 22, 2022. OPM and OMB will issue a four-year, governmentwide strategic plan by Nov. 22.

The executive order directs agencies to take an "evidence-based and data driven approach" for this preliminary assessment, where they're instructed to look at agency HR practices ranging from recruitment to pay. They're also instructed to look at whether practices cause inequitable employment outcomes, assess current agency DEIA initiatives and see where more evidence might be needed.

Pending agency feedback, OPM might build on the new tool in the future, Timmaraju said.

This isn't the first executive order targeting diversity and inclusion issues in the federal workforce.

In 2011, former President Barack Obama signed an executive order targeting diversity, equity and inclusion in the government workforce, which prompted governmentwide and agency-specific strategic plans. Since 2016, whether agencies have continued revising and republishing those plans has varied, she said. But the assessment piece is new.

"There's never been an assessment done the way we're asking this time," she said. "So we really wanted to further assess the current state of DEIA, track progress and results over time, and see what's been working in the federal sector and what's not been working. That was a big missing piece for us."

OPM reorganization

At the same time, OPM is working on its own reorganization, which will reestablish an Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility as a standalone program office that reports directly to the OPM director.

It was absorbed into the Employee Services Center during the Trump administration, and its workforce has been "reduced" over the last four years, Timmaraju said.

Internal DEIA work at OPM is also moving from the agency's Equal Opportunity Employment to Human Resources.

The new office will focus on governmentwide initiatives, according to OPM. It'll have three sub-organizations, focused on policy and development, analytics and accountability and outreach and technical assistance.

The goal is to rightsize the team back to similar levels seen during the Obama administration, Timmaraju said. The office had 12 full-time equivalent employees in fiscal year 2016, according to budget documents.

OPM is also recruiting a Senior Executive Service-level director for the office. The job listing on USAJobs says that the agency is currently reviewing applications.

"We are adding resources and team members because, frankly, this governmentwide work is very ambitious, and we need more DEIA subject matter expertise in the organization, so we're building that up," she said.

Governmentwide, OPM has been meeting with agencies and hearing that many diversity leaders are excited for "an opportunity to examine how their work has been progressing." Many agencies have robust programs already and have been doing excellent work, Timmaraju said.

But other, smaller agencies might be facing the same infrastructure challenge as OPM.

"There are some real infrastructure challenges," she said. "I think the biggest challenge is just teams probably aren't as robust as they used to be and agencies need, especially small agencies, you might have one person leading all of this work, right? So we're hoping that this executive order will give agencies the chance to regroup and think about how they staff this work."