Gender Pay Differences: The Pay Gap for Federal Workers Has Continued to Narrow, but Better Quality Data on Promotions Are Needed

What GAO Found

The overall pay gap between men and women in the federal workforce has narrowed considerably, from 19 cents on the dollar in 1999 to 7 cents in 2017, but the current pay gap is greater for certain groups of women, according to GAO’s analysis of data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Two trends help explain why the pay gap has narrowed: (1) men and women have become more similar in measurable factors related to pay, such as occupation; and (2) women have earned slightly higher rates of pay increases than men. In 2017, most of the overall pay gap—or 6 of 7 cents on the dollar—was not explained by differences between men and women in measurable factors (see figure). This unexplained portion of the pay gap may be due to factors not captured in the data GAO analyzed, such as work experience outside the federal government, or factors that cannot be measured, such as discrimination and individual choices. In 2017, the overall and unexplained gaps were greater for certain groups. For example, compared to White men, the unexplained gap was greater for Hispanic/Latina, Black, and American Indian or Alaska Native women than for White and Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander women.

Pay Gap between Men and Women in the Federal Workforce, 1999 to 2017

OPM and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have taken steps to analyze data on the pay gap and help agencies address it. From 2014 to 2016, OPM implemented a government-wide strategy to address the pay gap, and officials said their future efforts will include monitoring the pay gap periodically. EEOC annually collects workforce data from agencies and provides related technical assistance, and officials said they plan to expand these efforts. These data include promotions by gender and race and ethnicity, which EEOC and agencies use to identify potential barriers to career advancement, but GAO found these data were not sufficiently complete. Of the 51 data tables GAO requested, 35 were either missing or had at least one incomplete data element. EEOC officials said this is partly due to promotion applicants not being required to provide demographic information. However, EEOC has not fully assessed the reliability of these data and generally does not follow up with agencies about missing data between technical assistance visits. Without taking steps to assess and improve the quality of these data in a timelier manner, EEOC may miss opportunities to ensure equal opportunity for all promotion applicants.

Why GAO Did This Study

As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government employed about 2.7 million workers in 2019. Although the pay gap between men and women in the federal workforce is smaller than it is for the entire U.S. workforce and has narrowed over time, studies show that pay disparities continue to exist. GAO was asked to explore the current status of pay equity in the federal workforce.

This report examines how the pay gap between men and women in the federal workforce has changed since 1999, and what factors account for any remaining gap; and the extent to which OPM and EEOC have monitored and taken steps to address the pay gap in the federal workforce, including assessing potential disparities in promotions; among other objectives. GAO analyzed OPM’s Enterprise Human Resources Integration data on about 2.1 million federal employees from September 1999 to September 2017 (the most recent reliable data available at the time of GAO’s review); reviewed federal agency promotion data collected by EEOC for fiscal years 2015 through 2017 (the most recent available data); and interviewed OPM and EEOC officials and reviewed relevant documentation.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that EEOC take steps to assess the quality of federal agency promotion data and address missing data with agencies in a timelier manner. EEOC neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO’s recommendation.

For more information, contact Cindy Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.

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    Since 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has increased its resources to enforce a prohibition on importing goods made with forced labor, but has not determined its workforce needs. CBP formed the Forced Labor Division in 2018 to lead its efforts, and increased expenditures for the division from roughly $1 million in fiscal year 2018 to $1.4 million in fiscal year 2019. However, CBP has not assessed and documented the staffing levels or skills needed for the Forced Labor Division. For example, the division suspended some ongoing investigations due to a staff shortage and has plans to expand and train its workforce; however, the division has not assessed the number, type, locations, or specialized skills of positions it needs to achieve programmatic results. Without assessing its workforce needs, the division lacks reasonable assurance that it has the right number of people, with the right skills, in the right places. CBP has increased forced labor investigations and civil enforcement actions, but managers lack complete and consistent data summarizing cases. CBP detained shipments under 13 Withhold Release Orders (WRO) from 2016 through 2019, as shown in the figure below. However, the Forced Labor Division uses incomplete and inconsistent summary data to monitor its investigations. For example, data were missing on the sources of evidence collected for almost all active cases. Incomplete and inconsistent summary data on the characteristics and status of cases may hinder managers' effective monitoring of case progress and enforcement efforts. Figure: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Forced Labor Withhold Release Orders, 2016 through 2019 With regard to criminal violations, DHS's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased its resources to investigate allegations of forced labor, including those related to U.S. imports. ICE coordinates criminal investigations of forced labor, conducted in the U.S. and abroad. ICE reported spending about $40 million on forced labor investigations in fiscal year 2019, an increase of over 50 percent since 2016. Forced labor investigations often involve a range of criminal violations, including violations that are not related to the importation of goods. As such, reported expenditures include costs for cases on related issues, such as human trafficking. Forced labor is a global problem in which individuals are exploited to perform labor or services. The International Labour Organization estimates that forced labor generates profits of $150 billion a year globally. CBP is responsible for enforcing Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, which prohibits the importation of goods made with forced labor. CBP has authority to detain shipments when information indicates that forced labor produced the goods. ICE is responsible for investigating potential crimes related to forced labor, and importers may be subject to prosecution. GAO was asked to review the status of DHS resources for implementing the Section 307 prohibition on forced labor imports, following an amendment of the law in 2016. This report examines (1) the extent to which CBP assessed agency needs for the enforcement of the prohibition on forced labor imports, (2) the outcome of CBP enforcement activities and monitoring of such efforts, and (3) ICE resources for investigations on forced labor. GAO reviewed CBP and ICE documents and data, and interviewed agency officials. This is a public version of a sensitive report GAO issued in July 2020. Information that CBP deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO is making three recommendations, including that CBP assess the workforce needs of the Forced Labor Division, and improve its forced labor summary case data. CBP concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Issues Business Review Letter for Proposed University Technology Licensing Program
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    The Justice  Department’s Antitrust Division announced today that it has completed its review of a proposed joint patent licensing pool known as the University Technology Licensing Program (UTLP).  UTLP is a proposal by participating universities to offer licenses to their physical science patents relating to specified emerging technologies.
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  • Department of Energy Contracting: Improvements Needed to Ensure DOE Assesses Its Full Range of Contracting Fraud Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO identified nine categories of contracting fraud schemes that occurred at the Department of Energy (DOE), including billing schemes, conflicts of interest, and payroll schemes. For example, a subcontractor employee at a site created fraudulent invoices for goods never received, resulting in a loss of over $6 million. In another scheme, a contractor engaged in years of widespread time card fraud, submitting inflated claims for compensation. The contractor agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle the case. DOE reported that it identified nearly $15 million in improper payments due to confirmed fraud in fiscal year 2019. However, due to the difficulty in detecting fraud, agencies—including DOE—incur financial losses related to fraud that are never identified or are settled without admission to fraud and are not counted as such. Fraud can also have nonfinancial impacts, such as fraudsters obtaining a competitive advantage and preventing legitimate businesses from obtaining contracts. DOE has taken some steps and is planning others to demonstrate a commitment to combat fraud and assess its contracting fraud risks, consistent with the leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. However, GAO found that DOE has not assessed the full range of contracting fraud risks it faces. Specifically, GAO found DOE's methods for gathering information about its fraud risks captures selected fraud risks—rather than all fraud risks—facing DOE programs. As shown in the figure, DOE's risk profiles for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 did not capture four of nine fraud schemes that occurred at DOE. For example, one entity did not include any fraud risks in its risk profiles, yet GAO identified six types of fraud schemes that occurred at the entity's site. DOE plans to expand its risk assessment process, but officials expect the new process will continue to rely on a methodology that gathers information on selected fraud risks. The Fraud Risk Framework states that entities identify specific tools, methods, and sources for gathering information about fraud risks. Without expanding its methodology to capture, assess, and document all fraud risks facing its programs, DOE risks remaining vulnerable to these types of fraud. Fraud Risks Identified in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 Risk Profiles Compared with Types of Fraud Schemes That Have Occurred at DOE DOE is planning to develop an antifraud strategy in fiscal year 2022 and has taken some steps to evaluate and adapt to fraud risks, consistent with leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. Part of DOE's effort to manage fraud risks includes adapting controls to address emerging fraud risks. Additionally, DOE is planning to expand its use of data analytics to detect contracting fraud, beginning in fiscal year 2022. DOE relies primarily on contractors to carry out its missions at its laboratories and other facilities, spending approximately 80 percent of its total obligations on contracts. GAO and DOE's Inspector General have reported on incidents of fraud by DOE contractors and identified multiple contracting fraud risks. GAO was asked to examine DOE's processes to manage contracting fraud risks. This report examines, for DOE, (1) types of contracting fraud schemes and their financial and nonfinancial impacts, (2) steps taken to commit to combating contracting fraud risks and the extent to which these risks have been assessed, and (3) steps taken to design and implement an antifraud strategy and to evaluate and adapt its approach. GAO reviewed relevant laws and guidance; reviewed agency media releases, Agency Financial Reports, and DOE Inspector General reports to Congress from 2013 through 2019; and reviewed documents and interviewed officials from 42 DOE field and site offices, contractors, and subcontractors, representing a range of sites and programs. GAO is making two recommendations, including for DOE to expand its fraud risk assessment methodology to ensure all fraud risks facing DOE programs are fully assessed and documented in accordance with leading practices. DOE concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Rebecca Shea at (202) 512-6722 shear@gao.gov or Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841, bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers: Observations on the Navy’s Hybrid Electric Drive Program
    In U.S GAO News
    In 2009, the Secretary of the Navy set goals to reduce fuel consumption and, 2 years later, initiated a program to install Hybrid Electric Drive (HED) systems on its fleet of Arleigh Burke class (DDG 51 Flight IIA) destroyers. The HED system draws surplus power from the ship's electric system and uses it to propel the ship. This allows the crew to turn off the propulsion engines and save fuel. Since 2011, Navy officials told us that they have spent over $100 million on the development, purchase, and upgrade of six HED systems. In October 2018, the Navy completed installation of one of the systems on the USS Truxtun (DDG 103). However, the Navy has yet to install the remaining five HED systems and now plans to use them to support another research effort. The Navy issued a January 2020 report to Congress on the HED system installed on the USS Truxtun, but did not include some requested information. For example, while the report included performance information from operations on board the USS Truxtun, it did not include sufficient information to determine the overall performance of the HED system. A comprehensive test and evaluation could have assessed the system's performance, reliability, and cyber survivability to inform program decision-making. Further, the report did not include a summary of planned investment that includes: an assessment of the costs and benefits of the HED system, or a projection of the funding needed to execute the program. The Navy stated that it did not include a summary of the planned investments in the report because the HED program was not included in the President's fiscal year 2020 budget and also due to the need for additional HED data. However, Congress appropriated $35 million in funding for the HED program in 2020, which was available to support ship installation of the five previously purchased HEDs. The Navy stated that it can only use a small portion of this funding before it expires in September 2022 since the systems cannot be upgraded and incorporated into a ship's maintenance schedule in the next 3 years. In summer 2020, Navy requirements officials informed GAO and Congress that they plan to suspend the HED program and send the five surplus HED systems to support research into a new electric motor, known as Propulsion Derived Ship Service (PDSS). Navy requirements officials identified several reasons for suspending the HED program, but these reasons differ from information GAO obtained during the course of this review. For example: Navy officials stated that it is expensive to maintain the HED system. However, the commanding officer and crew of the USS Truxtun and senior Navy engineers stated that the system requires little maintenance. Navy officials also stated that the HED is not used very often in operations. According to the Navy's January 2020 report, the system was designed for low-speed operations (speed up to 11 knots), which comprise more than one-third of a typical DDGs operating profile. GAO did not assess the Navy's decision to use the HED systems for PDSS research because the Navy did not have documentation regarding the requirements, testing, schedule, or costs of the PDSS effort. GAO could not determine the merits of suspending the HED program and using the other five HED systems for the PDSS effort because the Navy has yet to complete analysis that determines the costs, benefits, and performance necessary to support such a decision. If the Navy completes a further assessment—which has been requested by Congress—it could provide the information necessary to inform future decisions about the HED program. This report assesses the Navy's HED program. Senate Report 115-262 accompanying the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 asked the Navy to submit a report on the HED system installed on the USS Truxtun. GAO was asked to review the Navy's report and the Navy's recent decision to suspend the HED program to pursue the PDSS research project. This report (1) examines the extent to which the Navy's report on the USS Truxtun included information regarding the assessment areas as requested by Congress; and (2) describes the Navy's decision to suspend the HED program and use the HED systems for the PDSS research effort. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed the Navy's 2020 report on the HED system, analyzed data and documentation the Navy used to guide investments, and assessed HED performance information. GAO also interviewed relevant Navy officials, such as the commanding officer and other senior crew of the USS Truxtun, and Navy engineers. GAO is not making any recommendations. For more information, contact Shelby S. Oakley at (202) 512-4841 or oakleys@gao.gov.
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    A Newport News, Virginia, tax preparer pleaded guilty today to aiding and assisting the preparation of a false tax return, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia.
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    In Crime News
    The United States filed two civil forfeiture complaints today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida alleging that commercial real estate in Louisville, Kentucky, and Dallas, Texas, both acquired using funds misappropriated from PrivatBank in Ukraine, are subject to forfeiture based on violations of federal money laundering statutes.
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