OPM prods agencies to name chief diversity officers

OPM Director Kiran Ahuja participates in a roundtable discussion, Oct. 21, 2021

OPM Director Kiran Ahuja participates in a roundtable discussion, Oct. 21, 2021 Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Office of Personnel Management followed up on an executive order on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in a letter released Monday on chief diversity officers. OPM is establishing a forum for these officials, it says.

The Office of Personnel Management is encouraging agencies to establish chief diversity officers, according to a Jan. 5 letter.

The effort stems from a Biden White House executive order and resulting strategic plan on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce. Agencies are under a March 23 deadline to finalize plans for agency-specific DEIA efforts sparked by the executive order.

"The federal government must be a model employer for workforce diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA), to perform optimally and to attract, hire, develop retain, and promote individuals who possess the skills and commitment to serve our nation," OPM Director Kiran Ahuja wrote in the letter. "That starts by drawing on the wide variety of backgrounds, viewpoints, and lived experiences that the American people have to offer. Diversity is our greatest strength as a nation, and our greatest asset in the civil service."

The executive order didn't require agency chief diversity officers (CDOs) or diversity and inclusion officers (DIOs), but it urged government agencies to "seek opportunities" to establish such positions. OPM's latest letter follows up on that policy.

"Agencies should seek to establish a CDO or DIO who has the expertise and authority to effectively work with the head of the agency and influence senior officials across the whole of government," Ahuja wrote. "Agencies may prescribe titling for newly established CDO or DIO positions using organizational or unofficial titling."

These officials should be distinct from any existing equal employment opportunity officers, she wrote. Ideally, they should be on the same footing as other key officials in the DEIA efforts, like EEO leaders, and be reporting directly to agency heads, the letter reads.

OPM will be considering if the CDO and DIO positions need a more formal classification series, Ahuja wrote. The agency is also creating a new forum "to engage" CDOs and DIOs, the letter says, and will be providing more technical assistance and learning events to agencies on the subject.

This is one of several DEIA efforts the personnel office is pursuing. It's also working to re-establish a governmentwide initiative on diversity and inclusion with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Management and Budget and to add accessibility and equity to that initiative's focus, Ahuja wrote in the recent letter. 

These diversity efforts also align with the Biden White House's Presidential Management Agenda, she wrote. 

As to what any new top diversity personnel will do in agencies, Ahuja wrote that CDOs and DIOs will play critical roles in closing opportunity gaps in agencies, and they may also "be charged with enhancing existing program effectiveness, driving accountability, and communicating the value of DEIA." 

They can also help implement the executive order by setting up goals and actions in alignment with the recently released governmentwide strategic plan, she wrote.

OPM encouraged agencies to use staffing flexibilities to start for these new officials and eventually phase in long-term budgeting and resources. Ahuja also reminded agencies to use merit system processes and established rules for bringing on new CDOs or DIOs.