Sen. Kamala Harris presses OPM director nominee on diversity and protecting federal LGBTQ employees from discriminationAround the Nation, Online Only, Top Highlights Thursday, October 19th, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Kamala D. Harris pressed the nominee for director of Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Dr. Jeff Pon, Wednesday on diversity, inclusion and protecting LGBTQ federal employees from discrimination during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing. Sen. Harris highlighted the need for OPM to make aggressive efforts to strengthen diversity and inclusion within the federal government, and secured a commitment that OPM will continue efforts to protect LGBTQ federal workers from non-discrimination in the workplace. To watch video of Harris’ questioning at yesterday’s hearing click here.
Sen. Harris’ questioning on diversity follows:
Harris: I’ll tell you that while minority groups are underrepresented in the federal workforce, this is especially true of the Senior Executive Service, called SES. And when we look at the number of Latinos, African-Americans, Asian, and Native Americans, they make up only 19% of the SES combined. Are you familiar with those numbers?
Pon: I am, Senator.
Harris: And what are your thoughts about that?
Pon: I think it takes time to make sure that we’re doing the right practices so that there is a level of inclusion, not only from selection standpoint but also the candidate pools that we have. I understand if confirmed, studying up on the current initiatives that OPM has in promoting women in STEM and making sure that those programs are featured so that we’re recruiting proper numbers in our source pool so that managers don’t have an excuse for saying there is not a qualified candidate of a diverse background.
Harris: And I’m glad you mention women, which are only 33% of the SES positions in the federal government. So what are your plans, specifically, for addressing this issue and changing these numbers?
Pon: I think, again, it’s the candidate pool that you can start with. We oftentimes just take for granted – we open something up on USA Jobs, an SES position, and just take for granted whatever comes in is the pool that you have. It’s everybody’s job to actually recruit. Every manager has to sell the mission of the organizations and if you go into schools and places where you can source qualified candidates, that makes the government much stronger so that you’re getting a better pool of candidates, a diverse pool of candidates, and the managers eventually will have an opportunity to get the best and brightest based upon their qualifications and merit.
Sen. Harris’ questioning on LGBTQ federal employees follows:
Harris:. On October 4, the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, issued a memo stating that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination, which includes discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity, per se. This is what he said. Including transgender status. This was followed by an amicus brief filed by the Department of Justice under Sessions on July 27, which said that, “Title VII does not reach discrimination based on sexual orientation.” Notwithstanding these pronouncements, the LGBT federal employees in fact have a right to bring claims under sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination through the federal EEO. My question for you is that previously, OPM provided training and resources to agencies and employees on how to prevent and detect and respond to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Do you commit to continuing doing that work?
Pon: If confirmed, I would take a look at what the current practices are and enforce the law. As it stands right now, my job is to make sure that we implement and surround implementation with training and development so agencies can uphold the law.
Harris: Do you understand you would not be in violation of the law to continue the practice of ensuring that federal employees are trained to avoid, to detect, and to report discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation?
Pon: Senator, if confirmed I would make sure that I understand the law and enforce the law.
Harris: What do you believe the law to be right now as it relates to discrimination against people based on gender identity or sexual orientation?
Pon: So as you’ve indicated, training and development for making sure that we don’t discriminate based upon sexual orientation or gender identity is the current law.
Harris: Thank you.
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