– Executive Summary –
In fatal law enforcement shootings of minorities—such as Philando Castile’s (2016) and George Floyd’s (2020) killings in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor’s (2020) in Kentucky, to name a few—the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is often called upon to review potential civil rights violations by local police. Despite the FBI’s role in these matters, the agency faces its own accusations from minority communities of racial and gender discrimination, raising the question of whether it can effectively investigate such deaths. Internally, Black special agents and others have also called into question the FBI’s ability to investigate matters involving race, given its lack of diversity.Such accusations undermine the FBI’s legitimacy and ability to help provide justice.
Historically, the FBI’s external relationship with the public and internal obstacles—a history of discriminatory practices as revealed in lawsuits, actual and potential retribution against employees, subjective merit-based promotional practices, and a lack of cultural communication within the agency—obstruct the FBI’s ability to recruit a more diverse workforce. A lack of internal minority representation adds to the perception that the FBI does not represent minority communities despite attempts by the organization to address this problem. A glance at the FBI’s personnel statistics reveals that it does not reflect the American population’s diversity. According to statistics posted on the FBI’s hiring website, 83.4 percent of special agents are white, 4.5 percent are Black or African American, 6.5 percent are Hispanic or Latino, and 4.5 percent are Asian. Across all racial lines, women only make up approximately 20 percent of the special agent workforce. The American population, in contrast, comprises 39.6 percent ethnic and racial minorities and over 50 percent women.
In 2015, former FBI Director James Comey acknowledged a correlation between the lack of community trust and the FBI’s lack of diversity among its special agent ranks. Studies also show that when an organization is diverse and inclusive, its employees can solve complex problems more efficiently, increase innovation and creativity, and improve engagement and cultural understanding—in other words, be a legitimate organization. Therefore, the FBI’s and law enforcement’s ability to maintain credibility and connect with the American people may depend on minority communities’ perception of law enforcement and its ability to reflect the diversity that makes America. The FBI’s diversity numbers clearly reflect the need for more diversity among its special agent ranks.
This thesis addresses the problem of a lack of diversity in the FBI by examining its policies and procedures related to recruitment and hiring by asking the question how can the FBI recruit a more diverse special agent workforce? To answer this important question, this thesis employed Bardach and Patashnik’s policy analysis framework: defining the problem, assembling evidence, constructing alternatives, selecting criteria, projecting outcomes, confronting trade-offs, making decisions, and sharing the results of the process. Based on the findings, it also makes recommendation for addressing internal recruiting challenges that are essential for building community trust.
As part of the framework, this thesis examined current FBI recruitment and hiring practices, as well as internal and external factors that impact diverse recruitment; explored alternatives to fixing the diversity issues; and proposed solutions, with the goal of increasing gender and racial equity among the FBI’s special agent workforce. This thesis relied heavily on information from the FBI’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion; the FBI’s external career website, FBIjobs.gov; various FBI policy guides; reports on diversity from the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Management and Budget; public sources of information from books, journal articles, and newspaper articles; and congressional testimony and reports.
The FBI currently lacks diversity in its special agent workforce despite the fact that improving diversity has been a priority at the FBI for the past decade. In the late 1980s to mid-1990s, a hiring surge and focus on minority recruitment increased the ethnic and racial diversity of the FBI’s workforce. However, minority retirement has outpaced minority hiring, resulting in overall declining of diversity to percentages well below those of the civilian labor force. In 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Office of the Inspector General issued a report acknowledging that “fostering a diverse, highly skilled workforce” was a top management challenge for the FBI and other DOJ components.
Despite the FBI’s efforts, workforce composition has largely remained the same. The FBI’s prohibition on women as special agents until the early 1970s and its compliance with Executive Order 13583 today suggests that past hiring practices laid the foundation for the FBI’s current gender gap. In 2016, former FBI Director James Comey recognized the FBI’s special agent workforce was becoming more homogeneous, despite the U.S population becoming more diverse. Notably, minority special agents had dropped from 18.9 percent in 2006 to 17.9 percent in 2016. As a result, Director Comey charged the FBI’s Human Resources Division with fixing the issue. An internal study revealed the FBI’s diversity hiring process had several issues with outmoded processes and attitudes, a lack of planning, and limited access to recruitment data. The review also found that women and people of color were more likely to drop out of the application process before completing the first phase.
Despite its internal and external challenges, in recent years, the FBI has taken various steps to improve diversity across the FBI workforce including the special agent ranks. Currently, the FBI has approximately 35,000 employees spread across 56 field offices, FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC, and around the world at legal attachés. Approximately 13,500 of those employees are FBI special agents. In 2020, 79.1 percent of special agents were male and 20.9 percent were female—a slight improvement from 2010, when 79.6 percent were male and 18.8 percent were female. The proportion of ethnic minorities as special agents also increased slightly, from 17 percent in 2010 to 18.4 percent in 2020. In May 2021, the FBI appointed its first chief diversity officer and issued a press release touting FBI Director Christopher Wray’s selection of the most diverse executive leadership team in the bureau’s history. The executive assistant director’s appointments consisted of an Asian American woman to oversee the Human Resources Branch and two African American men to each oversee the Intelligence Branch and the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch, respectively. Furthermore, according to the Office of Personnel Management, minority representation among the FBI workforce as a whole improved over the past five years, increasing from about 24.4 percent in 2016 to approximately 25.8 percent in 2021. The FBI received recognition for its efforts; in 2020 and 2021, the FBI was named a top employer by DiversityJobs. In 2020, Woman Engineer magazine and Equal Opportunity Magazine both listed the FBI among the top 20 government employers based on the bureau’s efforts to increase diversity and equality in its workforce.
Despite these efforts, the research here finds that external community challenges and internal obstacles—such as the FBI’s history of discrimination, merit-based promotion process, and bias embedded within its culture—have challenged the bureau’s recruitment of a diverse special agent work force. Simple recommendations that the FBI improve its strategies to recruit a more diverse special agent workforce is not enough as racial minorities and women remain underrepresented despite all previous efforts and progress over the last few decades. This thesis offers four recommendations for the FBI to increase diversity in the special agent workforce: develop a national recruitment strategy; foster strategic partnerships to increase the special agent candidate pool; develop and utilize data analytics tools to drive diversity targets/benchmarks; and engage a third party to review and evaluate the FBI’s special agent selection process and develop an action plan to make necessary improvements.
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