Skip to content

Senators Menendez, Cardin Discuss New GAO Report on Lack of Diversity in the State Department

WASHINGTON – Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) today convened a Congressional briefing on the public release of a new GAO report titled “State Department: Additional Steps are Needed to Identify Potential Barriers to Diversity.”

As co-requesters of the report, Menendez and Cardin addressed a room of government officials and other interested parties about the challenges to building and maintaining a State Department workforce that reflects the diversity of America’s citizens. The senators were followed by an expert panel discussion addressing the major findings of the GAO study and recommendations for additional steps that the Department can take to address diversity issues in its workforce. 

GAO Report 2


“The results of this important report unfortunately show that despite some laudable efforts, the Department of State has yet to cultivate the kind of diverse and representative national security workforce we need. Whether we are talking about the boardrooms of the Fortune 500 or the upper echelons of government, something is wrong when most of those occupying our most powerful positions are overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly pale,” said Senator Menendez. “Today’s GAO report tells us is that, by the numbers, the State Department remains less diverse than the rest of the Federal Government. That is simply unacceptable. The American people deserve – and our national security demands – a Department of State that reflects the full richness of our citizens.”

 “Diversity is part of the richness of America. Unlike most other countries, we have a population pool that represents a global community. We asked for this GAO report because it was obvious that we were not taking advantage of opportunities we had to advance American values globally, specifically because of the lack of true diversity within our State Department – ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation and all of the richness of America,” said Senator Cardin. “The stakes could not be higher today. If our nation is to have the type of influence globally that we need to have, America’s diplomacy needs to be front and center and at full strength during these challenging times. Have we made progress over the years? Yes. Are we were we need to be? No. Can we do something about it? Yes. We just need the commitment of our leaders to make this happen.”

GAO Report


 Joining the Senators for a Congressional briefing to unveil the report findings were Jason Bair, Director of International Affairs and Trade at GAO, Ambassador (ret.) Mari Carmen Aponte, Ambassador (ret.) Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley; and Julie Nutter, former career Foreign Service Officer and the Director of Professional Policy Issues at the American Foreign Service Association.

A decades-long proponent of strategically capitalizing on the diversity that makes America exceptional to the benefit of our foreign policy and national security, Senator Menendez announced that he will follow the publication of the GAO’s report by introducing the State Department Inclusivity Act of 2020, new legislation to comprehensively address diversity issues in and with the State Department workforce.  The State Department Inclusivity Act of 2020 would push the Department of State to develop recruitment, retention, and promotion strategies and mechanisms to grow a more diverse workforce. The legislation also recognizes the wrongful termination of State Department employees in the 1950’s and 1960’s for alleged homosexuality and requires the Department to convene senior-level boards that address issues faced by the LGBTQI community. 

Key Findings of the GAO’s - State Department: Additional Steps are Needed to Identify Potential Barriers to Diversity.”

· Hispanic/Latino representation in particular continues to hover around 7% of the Department of State’s workforce, while representing approximately 17% of the total U.S. population.

· Additionally, while the report finds that the proportion of racial and ethnic minorities at the Department of State has, as a whole, grown between 2002 and 2018 from 28% to 32%, the proportions of African Americans and women have declined.

· The Foreign Service still remains significantly less diverse than the Civil Service.

· Furthermore, promotion outcomes remain generally lower for minority groups and women, with relatively few members of these traditionally underrepresented groups currently employed at the top salary grades. These trends have been similarly noted in field missions as well as partnership organizations