WASHINGTON -- A "glass ceiling" in the federal government is preventing women and minorities from being promoted to high-level, high-paying jobs, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is not doing enough to shatter it, congressional investigators and civil rights groups have charged.
The term glass ceiling "has come to describe the existence of invisible, yet insurmountable barriers which thwart the advancement opportunities of women and minorities in the workplace," Jean Christiansen, president of Federally Employed Women, recently told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "Few deny its existence. It's hard to dispute facts."
Seventy percent of women who are federal workers are concentrated in the lowest pay brackets, Christiansen told the committee, chaired by Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio.
According to a study done by the General Accounting Office, Congress' non-partisan investigating arm, departmental affirmative action plans required by law are being submitted up to a year late without penalty and are being approved by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission without required information.
Bernard L. Ungar, director of federal human resource management issues for the GAO, said some approved plans failed to include key data such as the designation of "major occupations" within the agencies. Major occupations are usually the ones which lead to further advancement, he said, so it is critical to see whether minorities and women are placed in these slots.
Commission officials said approval of the incomplete plans was done to speed up an already-delayed process. They acknowledged problems with the process, but said they were making progress.
Commission chairman Evan J. Kemp Jr., who is confined to a wheelchair, told the committee of his own discrimination experiences.
"I know how real [the glass ceiling] is, because 15 years ago, I hit it myself. My federal agency -- not the EEOC, but another regulatory agency -- told me flat out: you can't be a supervisor because you're in a wheelchair," he said. "I would like to be able to tell you that in the decade and a half since I filed my case, the federal government has made tremendous strides in breaking the glass ceiling.
"Unfortunately, I cannot. However, I can tell you that we have made progress," Kemp said.
He cited the increase from 6.4 percent to 10.3 percent of the number of women serving in Senior Executive Service positions, the highest-paying government job bracket.
Kemp argued that the commission has little influence over larger and more prestigious government agencies, leaving it virtually powerless to punish departments that do not turn in their affirmative action plans.