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.
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.