Over the past four years, white employees working at the Department of Veterans Affairs stood a much higher shot of being promoted into a management position than their Black counterparts, according to data obtained by the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents approximately 265,000 workers at the agency.
Between 2017 and July 2020, approximately 3.6 percent of applications for management positions were selected for promotion. But that chance for promotion was not evenly distributed among all employees, according to the data that was obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
White employees who applied for management positions at the VA had an average 4.6 percent chance of being selected, whereas Black employees had an average 2.4 percent chance.
And while the VA has more than double the number of white employees as Black employees, according to Office of Personnel Management employment data, the promotion percentages were based on the number of successful applications each for Black and white employees, not calculated based on the total workforce demographics or total number of applications.
“These troubling statistics point to an underlying bias at the VA against Black workers and validate the complaints our members have shared regarding the systemic racism they face every day while simply trying to serve our nation’s veterans and war heroes,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said in a news release.
A VA spokesperson took issue with the quality of the data used to calculate such percentages, however, telling Federal Times that, “AFGE is referencing data in which many applicants chose not to submit any demographic information, making the data incomplete and not definitive.”
The official also noted that the management positions had “50 percent or more white applicants,” which was responsible for the 2 percent difference.
“VA does not tolerate harassment or discrimination in any form,” the spokesperson said.
“As a result of VA’s commitment to fair and equal treatment of all employees, the department has boosted its rating from 17th to 6th among large federal agencies in the Partnership for Public Service’s annual ‘best places to work’ survey of federal employees.”
Nevertheless, allegations of racial discrimination and harassment at the agency have made headlines recently and caught the attention of Congress and agency watchdogs.
A recent AFGE survey found that many employees had experienced or witnessed widespread, systemic racism at the VA, a revelation that ultimately led the Government Accountability Office to agree to conduct an official investigation into the allegations.
The challenges at the VA also come at a time when the Trump administration has come under fire for halting all diversity and inclusion training pending a review by OPM.
According to December 2019 Office of Personnel Management data, the most recent on record, Black employees make up far lower percentages of the upper GS positions than the lower GS positions at the VA.
For example, Black employees made up approximately 37 percent of employees in GS-4 to GS-7 equivalent positions, but only 16 percent of employees in GS-12 to GS-15 equivalent positions.
Meanwhile, white employees made up approximately 47 percent of employees in GS-4 to GS-7 equivalent positions, and 69 percent of employees in GS-12 to GS-15 equivalent positions.