Strengthening Public Accountability for DEIA in US Government


Note: This report reflects the views of the authors and should not be viewed as representing Inclusive America nor New York University. Additionally, as this report is a compilation of background research and interviews, the authors acknowledge that there were dissenting views among interviewees about certain policy reforms.

This report seeks to study the accountability mechanisms that exist for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in the US government’s executive branch. DEIA is an important consideration in today’s workplace. Research has asserted that diverse teams are more likely to innovate and to overcome inherent biases. Diverse public sector institutions have been shown to be better at reaching underrepresented or disadvantaged groups with essential services. However, despite these positives, not all United States administrations have pushed for increased diversity in government. Even those which have sought to advance this work were met with resistance and obstacles. Further developing modes of accountability for DEIA in executive agencies is one method of improving outcomes in this area.

Given the body’s performance audit work across the executive branch, the ability for members of Congress to request work, and its practice of making reports public, this paper focuses primarily on GAO. GAO is a legislative branch agency that provides Congress with nonpartisan, fact-based information on government operations and spending using processes defined in the Yellow Book of Government Auditing Standards. GAO’s products on workplace DEIA fall into four broad categories: diversity management; equal opportunity employment; diversity in the Senior Executive Service; and diversity in private sector industries or quasi-governmental institutions where the US government has oversight.

There are challenges with applying audit methods to DEIA concerns. GAO is not an enforcement body, and therefore cannot engage in any form of disciplinary action or punitive measures on agencies that do not meet its standards. With these constraints in mind, this paper argues for three key recommendations on how GAO can improve its work in DEIA accountability. First, the authors suggest a review and update of the criteria the body uses as a benchmark, which were devised in 2005. Since that time, best practices in the approach to DEIA work and national context have shifted. We also advise that GAO expand its use of intersectional analysis in its audits. Finally, GAO should consider embedding performance management throughout recommendations and measures to promote inclusion and equity.

This capstone project was conducted by Varun Banthia, Rachel Fischer, and Anna Quinn, students from NYU’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. It seeks to study the accountability mechanisms that exist for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in the US government’s executive branch.



Strengthening Public Accountability for DEIA in US Government

GAO Assessment

GAO’s Assessment of Workforce Diversity Efforts Compared to Leading Practices for Workforce Diversity Management (i.e. GAO-05-90 and  GAO-21-83)

Leading PracticeDescription of
Leading Practice
GAO Assessment Criteria
A vision of diversity demonstrated and communicated throughout an organization by top-level management.(1) establish new or amend existing policies; (2) policy statements, speeches, and plans; (3) posts, statements, and information on the internal/external website; (4) senior leaders appointed to champion diversity; (5) additional related steps.
RecruitmentThe process of attracting a supply of qualified, diverse applicants.(1) develop a recruitment strategy; (2) establish partnerships with academic institutions that have a diverse student population; (3) establish partnerships with diverse professional organizations; (4) additional related steps.
The contribution of employees in driving diversity throughout an organization.(1) employee resource groups or affinity groups; (2) mentoring/networking programs to retain/develop diverse personnel; (3) diversity and inclusion advisory council; (4) encouragement of employee community outreach/ involvement; (5) additional related steps.
Diversity TrainingOrganizational efforts to inform and educate management and staff about diversity.(1) specialized diversity and inclusion training (e.g. unconscious bias training); (2) teambuilding, communication, conflict-resolution training; (3) mandatory diversity training for new hires, (4) mandatory diversity training for hiring and selection panel participants, and (5) mandatory diversity training for senior leaders; (6) additional related step
PerformanceThe understanding that a more diverse and inclusive workforce can yield greater productivity and improve individual and organizational performance.(1) diversity strategic plan contained a policy statement supporting the value of diversity of employees, customers, or suppliers; (2) diversity strategic plan contained the business case for diversity—that achieving an inclusive organization is a critical business issue; (3) diversity strategic plan contained the business case for diversity— understanding customer diversity; (4) diversity strategic plan contained a strategy designed for a diverse market.
An ongoing, strategic process for identifying and developing a diverse pool of future leaders.(1) documented succession plan to ensure diverse leaders; (2) diverse pool of candidates identified for promotion; (3) diverse evaluators, reviewers, or assessors that comprise promotion panels; (4) additional related steps.
AccountabilityThe means to ensure that leaders are responsible for diversity by linking their performance assessment and compensation to the progress of diversity initiatives.(1) managers have related diversity and inclusion performance objectives; (2) compensation based on achievement of diversity and inclusion goals; (3) additional related steps.
Strategic planningDevelopment of a diversity strategy and plan that align with the organization’s strategic plan.(1) current diversity strategic plan; (2) complete diversity strategic plan that contained sufficient diversity-related objectives, timeframes, and responsibilities.
MeasurementA set of quantitative and qualitative measures that assess the impact of various aspects of an overall diversity program.(1) utilize performance measures in diversity strategic plan; (2) analyze agency/element workforce composition data; (3) assess employee perceptions of diversity and inclusion (e.g. surveys or focus groups); (4) holistically assess agency/element diversity and inclusion programs, plans, policies; (5) gather feedback from employee resource groups, affinity groups, or special emphasis groups; (6) conduct barrier assessment; (7) develop Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program submission; (8) additional related steps/

GAO Reports on DEIA

  • Veterans Affairs: Racial And Employment Discrimination At VA (Forthcoming)

Note: No records were found on Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, the Interior, the Treasury, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs.



Draft GAO Request Letter