Diversity and Representation in the U.S. Federal Government: Analysis of the Trends of Federal Employment

By Choi, Sungjoo | Public Personnel Management, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Diversity and Representation in the U.S. Federal Government: Analysis of the Trends of Federal Employment


Choi, Sungjoo, Public Personnel Management


Over the past several decades, increased diversity in the workforces of organizations has been highlighted as one of the most noticeable work-related trends. Civil rights legislation and Affirmative Action have changed the demographic composition of the American workforce, leading to unprecedentedly high diversity or heterogeneity within organizations. Especially in regard to public employment, considerable efforts through Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Affirmative Action programs have been devoted to achieve social justice and bureaucratic or administrative accountability by providing the equal access to public jobs for people from diverse social groups and integrating them into the public workforce. (1)

Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the U.S. federal government has played a leading role in diversifying employee populations by significantly increasing the employment of both women and minorities in federal agencies. The federal civil services started programs to achieve equal employment opportunity objectives in the 1940s and have invested considerable resources and energy to correct problems of underrepresentation of women and minorities in federal workforces. (2) As a result, public organizations tend to have more diverse employee populations than those in the private sector, suggesting they have more successfully employed people with different backgrounds, although often not promoting them to higher-level positions, (3) Some relevant studies have shown that U.S. workers, particularly in the public sector, are becoming older and more diversified with respect to race and gender. (4)

A large literature has been devoted to assessing the representation of minorities and women in the public sector. (5) However, scholars have concentrated only limited attention toward developing analytic tools that measure the representativeness of the public workforces, or have focused on aggregate analysis of the federal government or only the limited grade levels across all federal agencies. While some studies have assessed diversity at the agency level (6), they are already out of date and may be irrelevant to describe the current employee populations of federal agencies.

This article reports on the variation of the federal employment at the agency level using the archival data of the demographic profile of federal employees published by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in 2004 and 2006. Scholars have been concerned about the neglect of diversity and representation issues regarding "politically appointed policy leaders--individuals with the authority, resources, and means to influence agency culture and decisions" (7)--in that a top position in a hierarchy and its significant influence over decision making would be a key element in representative bureaucracy. (8) In light of this, the present study examines the variation of employment across grade levels, including the higher-level positions and Senior Pay levels, focusing primarily on the race/ethnicity and gender of employees. This research will contribute to our understanding of the diversity and representation trends of the contemporary federal workforces.

The present study measures the variation of the federal employment in two perspectives: diversity and representation. In the first section, theoretical backgrounds of these two perspectives will be discussed. In the second section, the data will be discussed and the measures of diversity and representation that will be used in analyzing the federal workforces will be introduced. In the third section, the findings will be reported concerning the variation of employment by agency and by rank: the horizontal diversity and the vertical representation. The fourth section will concentrate on assessing the representation of the top level of the federal bureaucracy, or the Senior Executive Services (SES). Finally, the results will be evaluated, and then a discussion of the implications that the results provide will follow. …

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