Affirmative Action in Federal Employment: Good Intentions Run Amuck?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Affirmative action programs have been a mainstay of efforts to obtain equality of opportunity for minority employees in the federal government for more than 40 years.

Since the early 1960's, considerable efforts have been made by Congress and the executive branch to ensure that all people have equal access to employment and advancement in the federal government regardless of race. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy took forceful action to correct imbalances in the employment of minority group members in the federal government. By issuing Executive Order 10925, Kennedy not only reaffirmed the previous policies of equality of opportunity regardless of race but also required affirmative action to achieve equality of opportunity for employees in the federal government. President Lyndon B. Johnson strengthened President Kennedy's efforts by issuing Executive Order 11246 in 1965 that required the identification of underrepresented racial minorities in the federal government and the formulation of specific programs to eliminate this under-representation via affirmation action. President Richard Nixon further strengthened affirmative action by issuing Executive Order 11478 in 1969 requiring that equal employment opportunity be an integral part of every aspect of personnel policy and practice in the employment, development, advancement, and treatment of civilian employees of the federal government.

Legal Requirements of EEO

Equal employment in the federal government regardless of race has been codified into law. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis or race, color, sex, religion, or national origin, did not originally apply to federal employment, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include federal employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 basically combined Title VII and Executive Order 11478 into law establishing the requirement that all personnel actions in the federal government be free from discrimination.

Fine tuning of equal employment opportunity requirements in the federal government has continued through the 1990s. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 required special recruitment programs to eliminate under-representation of minority group members in the federal workforce. The Act established diversity in the federal government as a requirement to ensure that the government's workforce reflected the diversity of the nation as a whole. The Act, which was implemented by Executive Order 12067 in 1978, also changed responsibility for equal employment opportunity in the federal government from the U.S. Civil Service Commission to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Civil Rights Act of 1991 provided for monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination and entitled a complainant to a jury trial once their case reached a court. In 1999, the EEOC issued a Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity Final Rule addressing the continuing perception of unfairness and inefficiency in the complaint process. (1) Thus by 2000, Congress and the executive branch had provided sufficient legislation and directives to eliminate under-representations of all minority group members in the federal workforce.

Minority Demographics

As can be seen in Table 1, the percentage of minority population in the United States has risen since 1960. Naturally, early EEO efforts were focused on the employment of African Americans, rather than all minority groups. In the past 20 years however, the population of African Americans has grown by only 28 percent, while the Asian population has tripled and the Hispanic population has doubled, suggesting a need for the federal government to continually adjust its affirmative action priorities.

Since the federal government is a national employer, studies of the effectiveness of equal employment opportunity programs in the federal government must include all positions funded by the federal government in all regions of the United States. …