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Lawmaker focuses on executive diversity

The Baltimore Sun

Rep. Danny K. Davis leads a House subcommittee that has long arms -- control over federal employee issues, the Postal Service and the District of Columbia.

The subcommittee's legislative agenda has not been set, but Davis announced one benchmark this week: Increase the number of women and minorities in the Senior Executive Service, the most elite segment of the federal bureaucracy.

"When I leave as chairman of this committee, I don't intend for the numbers to be the same as they currently are," Davis said in an interview. "The base of the pyramid should look like the top of the pyramid. And I know it does not."

Davis held a hearing on executive diversity in May and met with leaders of six employee groups this week to discuss proposals. Janet Kopenhaver, Washington representative for Federally Employed Women, said Davis' commitment to diversity is not surprising.

While he was the ranking member of the subcommittee, Davis, an Illinois Democrat, worked with former Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Cole James to start a new executive training program for women, minorities and the disabled.

Demand for the program has been high, but access is slim. In 2004, the most recent year data are available, 4,704 people applied and about 50 were accepted. Only 21 agencies participate in it, according to Federally Employed Women. The organization wants Congress to mandate it.

"It's not being implemented to my satisfaction," Davis said. "I have not seen the kind of movement across the board that I'd like to see."

The government, however, has improved.

From October 2000 to September 2006, the percentage of women in the Senior Executive Service rose from 23.6 percent to 28.4 percent, according to a Government Accountability Office report. During the same period, the percentage of minorities rose from 13.8 percent to 15.9 percent, according to the same report. The percentage of minorities and women in the pool from which these executives are recruited also increased.

Davis said that his subcommittee will draft legislation with "some rapidity." But he has not set a deadline or decided on a course of action.

"Training dollars have shrunk to truly unbelievably low levels over the last couple of years," Rhonda Trent, president of Federally Employed Women, told Congress in May. "When funding is tight, training is one of the first things cut, and yet it critically impacts the quality of our federal work force."

Davis said that he views executive diversity as not only improving government operations but also preventing conflict. The Social Security Administration, for instance, is facing lawsuits from black women and disabled employees over alleged discrimination in promotions.

"I hope this committee's work will reduce the number of people feeling mistreated or injured," he said.

A GAO analysis of minorities and women in the Senior Executive Service at large agencies can be found at http:--federalwork force.oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1309. Click on the "Stalcup Statement" link near the bottom of the page.

Parental leave

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer introduced legislation this week that would give all federal workers eight weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child.

The federal government has long been known for offering Cadillac benefits, including health care for life, a pension and a well-managed 401(k) plan with a match on some contributions.

However, parental leave has languished under budget realities. OPM Director Linda Springer has stated her support for a short-term disability package that would cover pregnancy.

This is the second year that Hoyer, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat, and Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, have introduced the legislation.

Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate that would give women eight weeks of paid leave and men five days.

Automatic savings

Newly hired federal workers and members of the military would have 3 percent of their pay automatically deposited in a retirement savings account under a proposal sent to Congress this month.

If the plan is approved, newly hired workers and those in the military would have 90 days to opt out of the program and get their money back from the Thrift Savings Plan, the federal government's version of a 401(k). The plan's board approved the draft legislation by a 4-1 vote.

The bill would further increase the plan's size and participation rates, which are among the best in the country.

"If we only increase participation by 1 or 2 percent, that's 20,000 to 40,000 more employees better prepared for retirement," said Tom Trabucco, legislative director for the TSP. "We are not trying to grow the plan in dollars. What we are trying to do is address the inertia" among workers.

Membership in the savings plan has grown by more than one-third in five years, from 2.8 million in 2002 to 3.8 million in 2007. During that time, members of the military became eligible to join, and many employees who left federal service left their savings in the plan, Trabucco said.

The reporter can be reached at melissa.harris@baltsun.com or 410-715-2885. Recent columns can be read at baltimoresun.com/federal.

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