The Department of Defense (DoD) – which employs over one-third of the entire Federal civilian workforce – is facing challenges trying to ensure its workforce is diverse and reflects the people it serves, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In a June 21 report, the government watchdog agency found that DoD has lower percentages of women and members of historically disadvantaged racial or ethnic groups when compared to other Federal agencies.

GAO analyzed workforce data from DoD from fiscal years (FY) 2012 through 2021. The agency found that the proportion of women decreased slightly over that period, from 33.0 to 32.1 percent, but that the share of historically disadvantaged groups rose from 31.0 to 32.6 percent.

However, GAO said that women and historically disadvantaged groups remained less represented at upper General Schedule grades, and at the executive level.

While GAO acknowledged that the DoD has been working to identify potential barriers to diversity, “little has changed over the last 10 years. This may be because it is unclear which DOD office is responsible for overseeing such efforts,” the report reads.

According to the report, DoD has developed policies and plans to manage department-wide diversity, and it has taken steps to identify potential barriers to diversity and equal employment opportunities in the military departments and other DoD components.

However, unclear oversight roles and measures for tracking DoD progress to eliminating barriers – a top DoD and Federal priority – may also hinder meaningful progress in overcoming disparities in representation and promotion outcomes.

For example, DoD has developed mechanisms to improve department-wide data analysis, but does not have clear policies for collecting barrier-related data, which may limit their utility.

“Without additional actions, DoD lacks reasonable assurance its many efforts will effectively contribute to achieving its goals,” the report states. To better track DoD’s progress with eliminating barriers to workforce diversity, the department should identify which office is responsible for oversight, GAO said.

GAO made several recommendations to DoD including updating policies to ensure it collects barrier-related data, assigning clear oversight roles, and establishing measures to track progress in eliminating barriers. DoD concurred with these recommendations.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.