Obama to NatSec Agencies: Increase Diversity, Train on 'Implicit or Unconscious Bias'

WASHINGTON -- President Obama issued a memo to heads of government agencies today on increasing diversity in the national security workforce to make the diplomacy, development, defense, intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security complex "more effective at problem solving than homogeneous groups."

The national security workforce in the federal government consists of more than 3 million workers from agencies such as the Intelligence Community, USAID, Treasury Department, State Department, Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Obama said data collected on the departments "indicate that agencies in this workforce are less diverse on average than the rest of the federal government," and in 2015 only the State Department USAID Civil Services "were more diverse in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity than the federal workforce as a whole."

The president reminded agency heads of his 2011 directive to "promote diversity and inclusion" in the federal workforce as a whole, and directed national security leaders to "ensure their diversity and inclusion practices are fully integrated into broader succession planning efforts and supported by sufficient resource allocations and effective programs that invest in personnel development and engagement."

Agencies will be required yearly to provide their demographic breakdown to the general public. Applicant data will be analyzed for "fairness and inclusiveness" in the recruitment process and "agencies shall develop a system to collect and analyze applicant flow data for as many positions as practicable in order to identify future areas for improvement in attracting diverse talent, with particular attention to senior and management positions." Agencies will expand the categories of voluntary information current employees can provide to include details "such as information regarding sexual orientation or gender identity."

Obama directed interviews with current employees and exit interviews to be studied by leaders for "if and how the results of the interviews differ by gender, race and national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, and other demographic variables" with any resulting policy recommendations.

National security agencies were also told to "prioritize resources to expand professional development opportunities" and "consider the number of expected senior-level vacancies as a factor in determining the number of candidates to select for such programs."

"Agencies shall track the demographics of program participants as well as the rate of placement into senior-level positions for participants in such programs, evaluate such data on an annual basis to look for ways to improve outreach and recruitment for these programs consistent with merit system principles, and include such data in the report."

Obam added that "for agencies in the national security workforce that place assignment restrictions on personnel or otherwise prohibit certain geographic assignments due to a security determination, these agencies shall ensure a review process exists consistent with the Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information, as well as applicable counterintelligence considerations."

"Agencies shall ensure that affected personnel are informed of the right to seek review and the process for doing so," he wrote.

Senior leadership and supervisors, the president directed, should "reward and recognize efforts to promote diversity and inclusion... consistent with merit system principles, such as through participation in mentoring programs or sponsorship initiatives, recruitment events, and other opportunities."

"Agencies shall expand their provision of training on implicit or unconscious bias, inclusion, and flexible work policies and make implicit or unconscious bias training mandatory for senior leadership and management positions, as well as for those responsible for outreach, recruitment, hiring, career development, promotion, and security clearance adjudication," he added.

That training "may be implemented in a phased approach commensurate with agency resources" and "should give special attention to ensuring the continuous incorporation of research-based best practices, including those to address the intersectionality between certain demographics and job positions."

The first progress report on the new guidelines will be due to the president in 120 days -- when there will be a new occupant in the Oval Office.