For more than a year, the message has been clear: NIH needs to revamp its Equal Employment Opportunity efforts. In 1994, the Task Force on Minority Employment made its recommendations and the private consulting firm, Alexander & Associates, presented its conclusions to NIH Director Harold Varmus. Public interest groups, including Blacks in Government and the NAACP, have urged swifter action, as have members of Congress. Now, guided by Naomi Churchill, the new Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity , NIH is responding by drafting a new affirmative action plan. As The NIH Catalyst prepared to examine the new plan, it became clear that it is a work in progress. Thus, we present a view of the plan's evolution -- snapshots from the journey rather than a final diorama. We begin with the preface to the latest draft, followed by a summary of the Scientific Directors' recent discussion of the plan. The next steps will be finalizing the plan sometime this spring, seeking approval from the NIH Director, and drafting and implementing institute-specific plans mandated by the NIH-wide plan.

Affirmative Action Plan Preface
As a federal agency, NIH has been tasked with reengineering inefficient processes, streamlining its supervisory and overall work force, and furthering its equal opportunity goals. At the same time, NIH has been cited by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and charged with moving aggressively to improve representation of minorities and women at all levels. These mandates have been viewed by many as contradictory because NIH is committed to accomplishing both streamlining and improved-diversity goals.

NIH is responding with a new streamlined affirmative action planning process that is designed to focus the energies of all managers and supervisors toward ensuring that all individuals have an equal opportunity to work at NIH and to advance to their full potential once they become NIH employees. This effort is a significant departure from prior affirmative employment planning at NIH. The new process places more responsibility on the people that hire and promote, and especially on the Directors of institutes, centers, or divisions (ICDs). It includes, for the first time, establishment of ICD hiring and promotion goals, timetables, and direct accountability for accomplishment of goals.

The plan also establishes a realistic and more accurate baseline of the availability of minorities and women for scientific occupations, as well as for administrative, technical, clerical, blue collar, and temporary positions. The plan is inclusive of all individuals associated with NIH whether they are employed in permanent, temporary, trainee, contractor, or volunteer positions.

The leadership of NIH is committed to making a diverse work force a reality at all levels of NIH and to managing diversity in a way that ensures the capabilities and potential of all employees are realized.

Adapted from Minutes of Jan. 4, 1995, Meeting of NIH Scientific Directors
Michael Gottesman, Deputy Director for Intramural Research, welcomed Naomi Churchill and Sharrell Butler from the NIH Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) to discuss the draft Affirmative Action Plan. The plan was subsequently characterized by Churchill as a workable one to replace the "dinosaurs" of the past. She added that the new plan provides both control at the ICD level as well as flexibility; it is driven by results rather than process and places heavy responsibility on each ICD to reach the goals it sets.

Churchill highlighted several differences between the old and the new plans. For calculating affirmative action goals, the old plan used the minority representation calculations based on Civilian Labor Force Data, which consisted of large numbers not applicable to biomedical research, while the new plan uses availability data consisting of smaller and more specific numbers based on the 1990 census. She added that OEO is also looking at National Research Council and National Science Foundation data to determine reasonable numbers. Another change dealt with the number of elements monitored to gauge the success of affirmative action efforts, from eight in the old plan, to only four in the new plan with special focus on hiring and promotions. Finally, Churchill told the Scientific Directors that the OEO only sets broad parameters within the new plan, while the ICDs develop their own affirmative action goals. Guidance will be available soon as to which items of the Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program (FEORP) are no longer in effect ...

Many Scientific Directors applauded the direction of the new plan and commented on its strengths. They also expressed certain general and specific concerns about the draft plan. One such general concern focused on the rather severe punitive tone of the document, in terms of its holding ICD Directors accountable for its implementation. Churchill felt the step-by-step instructions can be redrafted to include a softer, more reasonable philosophical approach.

Edward Korn, Scientific Director of NHLBI, expressed concern about the size of the [recruiting] pools for both small ICDs and small groups of research specialists, for example, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopists. Churchill responded by saying that the ICDs will help determine these pools and that there is room for redefinition. She also commented that once an ICD identifies underutilization of minorities, it is that ICD's responsibility to figure out the best way to solve the problem.

Arthur Levine, Scientific Director of NICHD, asked specifically what must be accomplished by September 1996. In response, Churchill emphasized that an ICD's best efforts count and that their responsibility is to do the best possible job for the ICD, within a downsizing environment.

Henning Birkedal-Hansen, Scientific Director of NIDR, asked that areas be described where the affirmative action goals have been met NIH-wide. Churchill emphasized that each ICD is accountable and stands on its own. She also mentioned that not only are full-time permanent employees covered under the new plan, but also part-time employees as well as postdoctoral fellows and even contractors and special volunteers. It was pointed out that intramural research training awards (IRTAs) are referred to in the document as employees, and this will be corrected. It was suggested that, in some instances, where ICDs are small and recruitments very specialized and made infrequently, the achievements of NIH as a whole may satisfy the goals of affirmative action. Churchill emphasized that primary responsibility for affirmative action resides with the ICDs, but that the OEO will be involved with institutional monitoring, recruitment assistance and assistance with goal setting where necessary.

Concern was expressed about the lack of data on employee separations from NIH and the difficulty of retaining excellent minority postdoctoral fellows because NIH cannot compete with outside salaries. Churchill responded that she and Stephen Benowitz, Director of Human Resources, are working on separation issues, and they will collect data on why people leave NIH. She urged the Scientific Directors to share with OEO information on how they would deal with this problem.

The plan was critical of the practice of considering recruiting pools that are perhaps too constricted, and it urged ICDs to consider both physicians and research scientists when "seeking a senior research scientist." Gottesman concurred with several Scientific Directors that this concept should refer to recruitment of entry-level postdoctoral scientists, since physicians often lack research experience. The point did underscore the need to develop a broad pool of interested people for entry-level postdoctoral jobs by means of the summer programs, among other approaches.

Bruce Chabner, Scientific Director of NCI, noted that while the ICDs are held responsible for recruiting, this represents an NIH-wide problem as well. Churchill responded that the draft plan is not intended to be a recruitment document, and Benowitz agreed. He added, however, that we need to refocus on this issue, and there may be some techniques that should be addressed by the Office of Intramural Research, Office of Education, etc. Churchill concurred that NIH needs good scouting efforts and NIH-wide recruitment. Gottesman said he has endorsed one position for recruitment within the Office of Education.

When asked about a possible increased salary band for minority scientists, Churchill was not in favor, nor did she favor a separate tenure track for minority scientists.

George Uhl, Scientific Director of NIDA, asked if a professional search firm might assist in an NIH-wide recruitment effort, and Benowitz responded affirmatively. Edward Lakatta, acting Scientific Director of NIA, informed the Scientific Directors that the results of a feasibility study on the use of such a firm conducted by NIA will be presented at a future meeting of the ICD Directors. Gottesman suggested that the Scientific Directors share information about qualified people identified, but not selected, as a result of a search.

Korn asked if the draft plan applies to foreign nationals at NIH too. Churchill responded that affirmative action plans traditionally exclude foreign nationals; the application of affirmative action to foreign nationals cannot legally be required. Nevertheless, Gottesman argued that Visiting Fellows and other foreign nationals bring diversity into the intramural programs and that the Scientific Directors might wish to reconsider at some future time whether principles of affirmative action should be applied to foreign nationals.

Other suggestions included the use of central resources (such as the Director's transfer authority) to recruit minority scientists, or the possible creation of a reserve through the Resource Allocation Group (RAG) that could be used by ICDs that do not have flexibility to hire. It was also felt that the use of Title 38 would be very helpful in meeting affirmative action goals.

In conclusion, Churchill reported that she will address the philosophical tone of the draft Affirmative Action Plan, as well as begin to address other global issues such as separations, recruitment, and tracking. Gottesman thanked Churchill for both her time and dedicated efforts in developing the new draft Affirmative Action Plan.

Office of Equal Opportunity at a Glance
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