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Diversity In Action

DTRA's agenda puts diversity right up there with security

A course on equal opportunity is mandatory for supervisors and a module on diversity is part of the agency's leadership training

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Debbie Walls, chief of staff, talks with a diversity workshop attendee.

Debbie Walls, chief of staff, talks with a diversity workshop attendee.

Chief of staff Deborah Walls says that senior leaders at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) consider a diverse staff "highly important." The previous director, she recalls, listed it right up there with safety in the agency's mission.

DTRA's diversity programs manager MiChele Stevenson notes that the current director is following this lead. "After accomplishing our mission, our number one goal is to respect the differences we all bring to the table," she says. A two-day course on equal opportunity is mandatory for supervisors and a module on diversity is part of the agency's leadership course.

DTRA has additional programs to get its employees more involved in diversity awareness. This fiscal year, ten employees were selected worldwide as collateral-duty special-emphasis program managers. During their two-year terms, "They continue to do their regular jobs but spend about 20 percent of their time working on affirmative employment plans and special observances," says Stevenson.

Special emphasis programs promote equal opportunity in the hiring, advancement, training and treatment of each targeted group. They focus on removing barriers that restrict equal employment opportunity, Stevenson explains.

Each special-emphasis manager has one of DTRA's affinity groups as a specific area of responsibility. There are programs for women, people with disabilities, Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders and more. The managers meet quarterly to develop strategies for increasing awareness and diversity within the agency.

"We team with the program managers to ensure that our special recruitment needs are met," says Stevenson. For instance, the managers help the DTRA human capital office by attending job fairs.

MiChele Stevenson

The groups and special emphasis program managers are also involved in eight annual ethnic observances that take place across the Department of Defense. DTRA designs its events to "enhance cross-cultural awareness and promote harmony among all military members, their families and the civilian workforce," says Stevenson. The events are considered extensions of equal opportunity education and training objectives.

DTRA's technical people are primarily electronics, civil, structural and nuclear engineers, physicists and physical scientists and, most recently, chemists, biologists and pharmacists.

DTRA takes advantage of a workforce recruitment program geared toward people with disabilities offered by the Department of State and the Department of Labor. "We bring people in for the summer and it frequently turns into a permanent position," says Kimberly Loder-Albritton, deputy director of EEO and diversity programs.

Four years ago DTRA put in a formal mentoring program. Chief of staff Walls, who participated as a mentor during the first year, was matched with Stevenson. Walls helped Stevenson make a smooth transition from a long-term job in the contracts department to her current work as diversity programs manager.

"Mentoring is a passion with me," Walls says. "I believe it's my duty to bring people along because others have done that for me."

The program begins with an outside expert coming in once a year to identify mentors and mentees in the agency. Matches are made based on the mentee's needs and mutual interests with the mentor.

Kimberly Loder

Kimberly Loder-Albritton

Then there's a kickoff meeting to introduce the participants and help them develop a formal mentoring plan, like frequency of meetings and hoped-for outcome. Later the expert returns to review progress and make necessary adjustments. "We have a graduation at the end of the formal program, but most pairs continue the process on their own," Walls notes.

Informally, senior leaders are encouraged to work with less experienced folks. They mostly talk about how to navigate within the agency and the federal workforce as a whole.

A specific diversity group is highlighted each month at the agency. A guest speaker is invited to the monthly senior leadership luncheon to discuss issues that particular group may have. For example, a staffer from Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition participated in a panel for African American history month, Walls notes.

There's also a leadership forum for women, where senior leaders can discuss issues or simply network.

DTRA offers work/life balance solutions like job sharing and telecommuting. Some techies work at alternative secure sites to save commuting time.

Fort Belvoir is currently anticipating an influx of people and opportunities over the next few years as a result of base closures. As a result, two new boards have been established to help direct the flow.

The first is a career development council to help folks learn about opportunities to move higher in the organization. "People see that we're taking an interest in developing them personally," Walls says.

The other is a human resources policy board that tackles issues like strategic workforce planning. The board reviews demographics, does benchmarking and monitors progress on achieving diversity goals.


Defense Threat Reduction Agency
Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Headquarters: Fort Belvoir, VA
Employees: 1,750
Mission: Consolidates a variety of U.S. Department of Defense functions to deal more effectively with threats posed by nuclear, chemical and biological weapons


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