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DOJ Watchdog Finds Women Underrepresented In Top Federal Law Enforcement Posts

Women are underrepresented in senior leadership within federal law enforcement agencies and many say they've experienced discrimination, according to a report released Tuesday by the Justice Department's internal watchdog.

The report from Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz examines gender equity at the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It also looks as perceptions of discrimination based on sex.

Women accounted for just over 39 percent of the workforce across those four agencies in fiscal year 2016. But the IG found that women accounted for only 16 percent of criminal investigators — an umbrella term that includes special agents at the ATF, DEA and FBI and which describes deputy U.S. marshals.

Women also held only a small number of top leadership posts in the field and at headquarters in the period covered by the report: fiscal years 2011 to 2016.

When women were in top jobs in the field, the IG says, they were rarely in charge of large teams. At headquarters, meanwhile, women rarely oversaw operational work.

"At FBI, for one year, one woman held one headquarters executive leadership position that was responsible for overseeing operational work," the report says. "ATF did not have any women in a headquarters leadership position during this time."

There were also vast differences between male and female employees in perceptions of gender discrimination.

A majority of men felt their agency treated both men and women equally or was improving on that front. A minority of women felt that way.

That was particularly the case among female criminal investigators, according to the report.

"A significant number of women across agencies and position types" reported having "experienced gender discrimination and differing treatment in some form, including in promotions and other workplace opportunities," it said.

The report also noted what it called a "troubling" finding: that all types of employees perceive that personnel decisions were based more on personal relationships than on merit.

Horowitz's report was based on interviews, focus groups and an anonymous online survey that the agencies' employees were asked to fill out. The IG says more than 8,000 employees — about 15 percent of the total staff across the four agencies — responded to the survey.

The IG makes six recommendations to improve equality between the genders in the four law enforcement agencies, including changes in how the agencies recruit, hire and retain staff members.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.