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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Former Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould

Department of Veterans Affairs Diversity Council
Washington, DC
September 2, 2009

Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a pleasure to join you today. I say that because your charter is about people in Government and promoting the highest values of equal employment opportunity here in VA. Personally and professionally, it’s a subject I have great interest in. Earlier this year, a colleague of mine and I published a book, titled The People Factor, which speaks to some of the concerns of this Council.

Save for Native Americans, we are as we began, a nation of immigrants. And we continue to be a ‘Nation of nations’ as newer and different groups come into our mix. The numbers speak for themselves. Minorities will make up nearly half our population by 2050. Yet many groups—woman and Hispanics, for example—are still underrepresented in Government compared to the civilian labor force.

For confirmation of that statement, we can look at VA’s SES corps: Over 55% are white males; a little more than one-quarter are white females; Black males and females each figure at a little more than 5%; Hispanic males constitute 2.9%, and Hispanic females are less than 1%. The figures for Asians, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, and American Indians are even lower. As the second-largest Cabinet agency in Government, with 288,000 employees, we need to do better.

As the first ever VA-wide council devoted to workforce issues of diversity, your charter represents a major benchmark of our new administration—the principle of inclusion. We see it in President Obama’s drive to have his own leadership team reflect the face of America, in all its diversity.

This administration is working hard to resolve the conflict between diversity and divisiveness, and to transform, once and for all, our founding ideals into practice. It comes down to one thing. What you can “bring to the table.” What you can contribute. What you can do today, and what you can be trained and developed to do tomorrow—whether you’re male or female, disabled, an African-American, Mexican-American, Japanese-American, or any other hyphenated-American.

That’s what this country is all about, and that’s what this Council is all about. And that’s why former Acting Secretary Gordon Mansfield, an impassioned advocate for equal opportunity and workforce diversity, established this blue-ribbon committee. Like President Obama and Secretary Shinseki, he knows we cannot have a truly representative nation—or a truly representative VA—until everyone is represented.

Workforce transformation is a high priority on the President’s to-do list—one that calls for major changes across a range of areas, from recruitment to retirement. But nowhere more so than in maximizing the potential of people who choose to work in Government in order to serve the public good. As the President has said, ”Government must be a force for opportunity. Government must be a force for equality.”

I see this Council as a prime mover in realizing the President’s words within VA. Your work figures prominently as we go about the business of making VA more Veteran-centric, results-driven, and forward-looking—in short, a high-performing agency that harnesses the energy and creativity of a broad and diverse spectrum of employees.

Since our nation’s beginning, our diversity has proved to be our greatest strength—in our military, in industry, science and technology, the arts, education, sports, literature, and so on. Today, the private sector and the military Services ”get it”; Government, not so much.

Most high-performing companies, today, know that greater workforce diversity translates to a competitive edge in the marketplace. They see diversity not just as a nice-to-have theoretical and legal imperative, but as a proven and practical booster to the bottom-line. That’s why private sector, people-focused companies have taken the lead in recruiting and promoting a diverse workforce. They’ve leveraged diversity—our great national strength—and used it to their strategic advantage.

Government-at-large, and VA in particular, need to do the same. The public sector may not be concerned about quarterly P/L statements or dividends, but it also has a bottom line. Instead of shareholders, our customers are American taxpayers. And instead of high profits, our ”corporate” goal is to enhance the value of VA’s programs, benefits, and services to the American Veteran.

We must ensure that our employees reflect the demographics of the taxpayers and Veterans we serve.I am proud—and you should be, too—that VA is the first major Cabinet-level department to issue a strategic plan devoted exclusively to workforce diversity and inclusion.Through that plan and this new advisory body, we have taken the lead in advancing best practices and innovative initiatives on behalf of our workforce.

I want to thank the Council for taking on the critical role of VA’s ”agent for progress” by increasing diversity awareness, promoting a flexible and inclusive work environment, and by serving as a value-added voice for improving both individual performance and our department’s collective productivity.

As VA’s chief operating officer, I look to you for making measurable strides in strengthening and managing our diversity profile by leveraging the cumulative effects of goal-based workforce strategies, business-based strategies, measurement and evaluation, communication and outreach, and training.

On behalf of Secretary Shinseki, I want to thank you sharing your time and talents in this effort. I look forward to working with you over the months and years ahead.