Biden Administration and Racism: Winners and Losers in Changing Face of Federal Employees

A primary focus of the Biden administration is on racism. How is this changing the composition of the federal workforce?

Biden Focus on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Racism

President Biden has been very forthcoming about some of his primary objectives during his administration. In one Executive Order issued early in his administration, he proclaimed:

To further advance equity within the Federal Government, this order establishes that it is the policy of my Administration to cultivate a workforce that draws from the full diversity of the Nation.

This order establishes that diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are priorities for my Administration and benefit the entire Federal Government and the Nation, and establishes additional procedures to advance these priorities across the Federal workforce.

Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce

In an earlier Executive Order, issued on the day he was inaugurated, he emphasized his focus on racial issues:

Entrenched disparities in our laws and public policies, and in our public and private institutions, have often denied that equal opportunity to individuals and communities.  Our country faces converging economic, health, and climate crises that have exposed and exacerbated inequities, while a historic movement for justice has highlighted the unbearable human costs of systemic racism.  Our Nation deserves an ambitious whole-of-government equity agenda that matches the scale of the opportunities and challenges that we face.

The executive orders contend various groups have been denied fair treatment in America. He cites “Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”

With the second executive order, he expanded this list to include “persons who face discrimination based on pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions; parents; and caregivers.  It also includes individuals who belong to communities that face discrimination based on their religion or disability; first-generation professionals or first-generation college students; individuals with limited English proficiency; immigrants; individuals who belong to communities that may face employment barriers based on older age or former incarceration; persons who live in rural areas; veterans and military spouses; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty, discrimination, or inequality.”

Stated differently, the executive orders cite a wide variety of groups and presumably seek to exclude White Americans who have generally been financially successful from coverage of these orders.

The executive orders cited above outline various actions to be taken by agencies to implement the agenda he has laid out including the submission of reports by agencies, establishing new organizations and creating new processes to implement his pursuit of issues outlined in his executive orders.

As President Biden has only been in office for two years, it is not possible to have a long-term historical perspective on how his philosophy will ultimately impact the federal workforce. We do, however, have two years to see how the workforce is changing.

The changes are already apparent.

Winners and Losers in Racism Focus

The latest data available from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) are from the end of September 2022. Looking at data from September 2020, the last three months of the Trump administration, through the end of September 2022, it is now possible to calculate how the workforce has changed under President Biden using the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data.

In effect, the Biden administration would probably conclude that administration policies are working. The number of Caucasian federal employees has decreased while other primary racial categories increased. Also, the number of men in the federal workforce has decreased in these three years by 1.59%.

The largest increase in this three-year time period was for Asian employees which increased by almost 6%. The number of Hispanic employees increased by 3.86% and the number of Black federal employees increased by 0.07%. The number of Caucasian employees decreased by 1.92%.

September 2020September 2021September 2022% Change% of Federal Workforce
Black Employees397,587398,560397,8960.07%18.24%
973, 604
All Employment2,181,1062,191,0112,180,296-0.037%100%
Data from U.S. Office of Personnel Management FedScope

Federal Workforce Changes Over Five Years: 2018-2022

Taking a longer look at five years of how the federal workforce has changed, there are differences. Over this longer period, there was an increase among all racial groups, although the lowest increase was for Caucasians (0.30%) as opposed to a loss of 1.92% during the Biden years.

While the OPM data does not provide a datapoint of average age of federal employees in the various racial categories used, it is likely the average age of Caucasian employees is higher than other groups. The data do show that the average non-minority federal employee has a slightly longer “average length of service” (12.2 years) than minority employees (12.1 years).

September 2018September 2019September 2020September 2021September 2022% Change% of Federal Workforce
Black Employees382,493388,518397,587398,560397,8964.02%18.24%
All Employment2,100,8022,132,8122,181,1062,191,0112,180,2963.78%100%
Data from U.S. Office of Personnel Management FedScope

We’re Not White: We’re MENA

According to the Office of Management and Budget, federal employees who are Middle Eastern and North African are likely to be separated from the category of “White” people under a new proposal.

We do not know how many this will impact but, presumably, it will reduce the overall percentage of those federal employees who are considered “White” as a racial category. The OMB’s proposed change noted many are requesting a new category separate from White people of European descent.

Perhaps there are disadvantages in being considered a federal employee who is considered White when applying for a promotion or a job, or perhaps those requesting the change want to be more clearly recognized. The Federal Register notice states many in the MENA community “do not share the same lived experience as White people with European ancestry, do not identify as White, and are not perceived as White by others.”

Frequently Asked Questions

How many racial categories does the federal government count?

There are approximately 11 different categories but the number is subject to change. In the OPM database used, these are the racial categories listed: White, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, More than one race, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian or Alaskan Native, Hispanic/Latino and Asian, Hispanic/Latino and Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino and White, Hispanic/Latino and more than one race, Hispanic/Latino of more than one race

How many federal employees are there?

As of the end of September 2022, there were 2,180,196 federal employees according to OPM data. This does not include military personnel or Postal Service employees.

Are there more women or men in the federal workforce?

As of the end of September 2022, there were 973,604 women and 1,217,393 men.

Why does this article use the end of September as the time for its calculations instead of the end of the year?

The end of September is the end of the fiscal year for the federal government. Also, September 2022 is the last month available with the necessary data as of the time this article was written.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47