Nasa special Emphasis Programs Background

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NASA Special Emphasis Programs


In 1972, Congress amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to extend the Act’s anti-discrimination protections to Federal employees. Government agencies with responsibility for implementing the Act began to focus increased attention on underrepresented groups in the Federal workforce, such as racial/ethnic minorities, women, and individuals with disabilities, including disabled veterans. One way in which this was done was through the establishment of Special Emphasis Programs (SEPs).

SEPs have been authorized since the late 1960s and 1970s by Executive Branch regulations and Presidential Executive Orders for the purposes of helping underrepresented groups enter into the Federal workforce, develop professionally, and advance within its ranks.1 The basic U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulatory provision on SEPs states that each agency shall:

Designate a Director of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO Director), EEO Officer(s), and such Special Emphasis Program Managers (e.g., People With Disabilities Program, Federal Women's Program and Hispanic Employment Program)… as may be necessary to carry out the functions described in this part in all organizational units of the agency and at all agency installations.2

NASA has designated six special emphasis programs. Each is described below, with its specific authorities, objectives, and areas of concern.

African American Program

The objectives of the African American or Black Employment Program (BEP) are to ensure equal employment opportunity in the hiring, advancement, and training of African American employees and to strive toward the achievement of a civilian work force in which African American employees are represented in every organizational element, occupational series and grade levels, commensurate with their representation in the relevant civilian work force.

The Role of the Black Employment Program Managers (BEPMs)

BEPMs administer the Black Employment Program at NASA, serving as subject-matter experts on employment concerns of Black men and women in the NASA workforce. They help identify barriers that impede the employment and/or advancement of Black employees and applicants and advise management officials on the implementation of actions designed to correct the under-representation of Black men and women in specific career fields and in high grades. BEPMs also interface regularly with local community groups, civil rights advocacy groups, and professional organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).


Specific objective of the BEP include:

  • The identification of NASA positions in which Black employees are underrepresented.

  • Assisting management in outreach/recruitment of Black men and women for positions in which they are underrepresented.

  • Assisting the Agency recruitment teams on recruitment trips and job fairs.

  • Establishing points of contact in various organizations for recruitment and outreach purposes.

  • Providing advice to EEO management as to the climate and attitude in the workplace.

  • Providing recommendations for employee training needs.

  • Representing the Agency and/or EEO Office at local and national meetings and conferences on Black issues.

  • Coordinating educational events, such as speakers’ forums and displays, for the workforce, particularly for Black History Month.

Hispanic Employment Program

The Hispanic Employment Program (HEP) is a SEP that was established by President Richard Nixon on November 5, 1970, to ensure EO for Hispanics in all aspects of Federal employment. It was initially established as the Sixteen Point Program, outlining 16 steps which the then U.S. Civil Service Commission (currently the Office of Personnel Management) and other agencies would undertake to ensure EO in Federal employment for Hispanics. The program was renamed on January 23, 1973, to the Spanish-Speaking Program and on February 28, 1978, to its current name.


The overall objective of the HEP is to ensure that Hispanics have an equal opportunity to compete fairly in all aspects of Federal employment, including recruitment, training, upward mobility, career counseling, developmental details, promotions, and any other aspect of employment.

The major thrust of the HEP is on recruitment. It is an integral part of the Government-wide Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) program under the authority of Executive Order 11478 (1969) on equal employment opportunity; under the provisions of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 (Public Law 92-261, March 1972); President Richard M. Nixon’s official statement of November 5, 1970, establishing the foundation for the HEP; and the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-454), establishing the Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program (FEORP), which requires Federal agencies to conduct affirmative recruitment of minorities and women.

Executive Order 13171, Hispanic Employment in the Federal Government

Executive Order 13171 issued in 2000 by President Clinton, requires Federal agencies to implement strategies to “improve the representation of Hispanics in Federal employment, within merit system principles and consistent with the application of appropriate veterans’ preference criteria, to achieve a Federal workforce drawn from all segments of society.”

Executive Order 13555, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence For Hispanics

President Obama’s Executive Order of 2010 seeks to expand educational opportunities and outcomes for Hispanics in the U.S. More specifically, the Executive Order calls for a White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative), to be housed in the Department of Education (Department). The mission of the Initiative is to help restore the U.S. to its role as the global leader in education and to strengthen the Nation by expanding educational opportunities and improving educational outcomes for Hispanics of all ages and by helping to ensure that all Hispanics receive a complete and competitive education that prepares them for college, a career, and productive and satisfying lives.

In 2011, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) established, by Charter, the Hispanic Council on Federal Employment, under the provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), as amended, 5 U.S.C. App. The purpose of the Council is to advise the Director of OPM on the leading employment practices in an effort to remove unnecessary barriers to the recruitment, hiring, retention and advancement of Hispanics in the Federal workplace.

The Council includes a total of approximately 27 Federal representatives and non-government individuals. Its members represent various perspectives from Hispanic organizations that have experience in working on Federal employee, Hispanic student, and/or employment issues affecting Hispanic communities, while other Council members provide technical expertise regarding strategic human resources management planning and the merit systems principles.

OPM is responsible for providing administrative services and support to the Council.

Federal Women’s Program

Based on recommendations of the Commission on the Status of Women (Commission), established by President Kennedy and chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, the Federal Women's Program (FWP) was established in 1963 as a vehicle to provide opportunities for recruitment, selection, training, and advancement of women in the Federal government. In 1967, Executive Order 11375 added sex to other prohibited forms of discrimination such as race, color, religion, and national origin. In response to this, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) established the FWP. In 1969, Executive Order 11478 integrated the FWP into the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Program and placed the FWP under the direction of EEO in each Federal agency.

OPM regulations implementing the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 (Public Law 92-261, March 1972) require that Federal agencies designate a FWP Manager to advise the Director of EEO on matters affecting the employment and advancement of women. This law also requires that Federal agencies allocate sufficient resources for their Federal Women's Programs.


The primary purpose of the Federal Women's Program is to improve the status of women in the Federal government through education and advising of agency employees and by providing management officials with information on workforce trends.

The Federal Women's Program Manager

The designation of a Federal Women's Program Manager was codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (29 CFR 1614.102) as appropriate for carrying out equal employment opportunity functions in all organizational units of an agency, and at all agency installations. The Federal Women's Program Manager (FWPM) position was established to ensure that agencies meet the requirements of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations. The FWPM advises management of their FWP responsibilities, the status and progress of the program and the concerns of women in their organization. The FWPM is responsible for all women within their organization, regardless of grade level or occupational category.

Executive Order 13506

President Obama issued Executive Order 13506, Establishing a Council on Women and Girls, in 2010. The mission and objectives of the Council, of which NASA is a member, are to work across executive departments and agencies to provide a coordinated Federal response to issues that have a distinct impact on the lives of women and girls, including assisting women-owned businesses to compete internationally and working to increase the participation of women in the science, engineering, and technology workforce, and to ensure that Federal programs and policies adequately take those impacts into account. The Council is also responsible for providing recommendations to the President on the effects of pending legislation and executive branch policy proposals; for suggesting changes to Federal programs or policies to address issues of special importance to women and girls; for reviewing and recommending changes to policies that have a distinct impact on women in the Federal workforce; and for assisting in the development of legislative and policy proposals of special importance to women/girls.

Asian American/Pacific Islander Program

The Asian American/Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (AAPI) Program is an SEP that ensures equal access to all employment opportunities for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander employees within the Agency.

Under the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Directive 15, for civil rights compliance reporting, the appropriate definition of AAPI is as follows:

  • Asian. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.

  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.


The AAPI Program seeks to:

  • Promote and establish effective and equitable participation of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders in the work force.

  • Enhance career development and advancement of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders employees and improve under-representation of these employees.

  • Encourage awareness of the impact of Asian, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander cultures and contributions.

Executive Order 13515

In 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order 13515, Increasing Participation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Federal Programs. This Executive Order initiates another avenue of access to the federal government for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Functionally, the Executive Order reestablished the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (Initiative). The Initiative, co-chaired by U.S. Department of Education Secretary and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary, is housed within the U.S. Department of Education, and led by Executive Director. The Initiative works to improve the quality of life and opportunities for AAPI by facilitating increased access to and participation in federal programs where they remain underserved.

The Initiative focuses on crosscutting priority areas that may reach across all issue areas and agencies, including, for example, advancing research, data collection, analysis and dissemination for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and ensuring access, especially linguistic access and cultural competence, for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and encouraging Asian American and Pacific Islander involvement in public service and civic engagement opportunities.

The Executive Order also established the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the Federal Interagency Working Group. Working in conjunction, the Commission and Federal Interagency Working Group are comprised of individuals, executive branch departments, agencies, and offices representing a broad spectrum of fields and programs impacting Asian Americans and Pacific Islander communities.

The Executive Order directs Agencies to enhance the delivery of services to AAPI communities through individual programs with the development of Agency action plans. NASA’s AAPI Action Plan is focused on Agency programs that relate to AAPI populations and for which measurable progress may be achieved. These include:

  • NASA’s Model EEO Agency Plan development and implementation;

  • Civil rights compliance program for NASA grant recipients;

  • NASA Education Programs; and

  • NASA Small Business Programs.

NASA’s AAPI Plan, issued in 2010 and updated annually, focuses on the following goals:

  • Goal 1: Increase AAPI Diversity/Representation in NASA Workforce.

  • Goal 2: Increase the participation of AAPIs in NASA’s education and research opportunities.

  • Goal 3: Improve Outreach on NASA Business Opportunities with AAPIs within the Small Business Community.

  • Goal 4: Better ensure meaningful access for AAPIs to programs and activities receiving NASA financial assistance.

Each goal has a number of specific objectives associated with it. The AAPI Plan has been incorporated into the Agency’s Model EEO Agency Plan, to better ensure that AAPI goals and objectives are aligned with overall EO strategies and the Agency’s strategic planning. May is Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, and SEPMs across the Agency put on special events in commemoration, such as speakers’ forums and displays.

American Indian/Alaska Native Program

Under the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Directive 15, for civil rights compliance reporting, the appropriate definition of American Indian/Alaskan Native is as follows:

  • Native American or Alaska Native. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.


The American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) Employment Program mission is to increase substantially the representation of American Indian and Alaska Natives in engineering, science and other related technology disciplines.

The AIAN Program seeks to:

  • Support the unique role of American Indians and Alaska Natives within the Federal Government system.

  • Recruit potential American Indian/Alaska Native employees.

  • Develop mentoring processes among American Indian/Alaska Native employees.

  • Build coalitions with appropriate advocacy groups.

The objectives of the AIAN Program are to ensure equal employment opportunity in the hiring, advancement, and training of Native American/Alaska Native employees and to strive toward the achievement of a civilian work force, in which they are represented in every organizational element, occupational series and grade levels, commensurate with their representation in the relevant civilian work force.

Executive Order 13592

On December 2, 2011, President Obama issued Executive Order 13592, “Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Educational Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities.” The Executive Order established the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, to help expand educational opportunities and improve educational outcomes for all AIAN students, including opportunities to learn their Native languages, cultures, and histories, and receive complete and competitive educations that prepare them for college, careers, and productive and satisfying lives.

Another provision of the Executive Order calls on the private sector to assist in the education of AINA students by: providing funds to support the preservation and revitalization of Native languages and cultures; providing funds to support increased institutional endowments; helping schools to develop expertise in financial and facilities management, information systems, and curricula; and providing resources for the hiring and training of effective teachers and administrators.

Individuals with Disabilities Program


The Individuals with Disabilities (IWD) Program seeks to promote understanding and appreciation of the needs and concerns of individuals with disabilities, create full participation in a work environment that capitalizes on creativity and richness, promote understanding of the requirements of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, provide reasonable accommodations and accessibilities, and encourage managers to provide career enhancement and promotions for people with disabilities.

Relevant Laws and Regulations

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines reportable disability as “any self-identified disability reported by an employee to the employing agency.”

Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. Section 791), prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in Federal employment and requires the Federal Government to engage in affirmative action for people with disabilities. The law:

  • Requires Federal employers not to discriminate against qualified job applicants or employees with disabilities. Persons with disabilities should be employed in all grade levels and occupational series commensurate with their qualifications. Federal employers should ensure that their policies do not unnecessarily exclude or limit persons with disabilities because of a job's structure or because of architectural, transportation, communication, procedural, or attitudinal barriers.

  • Requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodations" to applicants and employees with disabilities unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employers. Such accommodations may involve, for example, restructuring the job, reassignment, modifying work schedules, adjusting or modifying examinations, providing readers or interpreters, and acquiring or modifying equipment and/or facilities (including the use of adaptive technology such as voice recognition software).

  • Prohibits selection criteria and standards that tend to screen out people with disabilities, unless such procedures have been determined through a job analysis to be job-related and consistent with business necessity, and an appropriate individualized assessment indicates the job applicant cannot perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation.

  • Requires Federal agencies to develop affirmative action programs for hiring, placement, and advancement of persons with disabilities. Affirmative action must be an integral part of ongoing agency personnel management programs.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. Section 794d), requires Federal agencies to procure, use, maintain, and develop accessible electronic and information technology, unless doing so imposes an undue burden. National security systems are exempt. Federal agencies were required to comply with standards promulgated by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board) that took effect on August 7, 2000. Agencies must biannually evaluate their compliance with Section 508 and must report the results of these self-evaluations to the Attorney General.
The Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended (38 U.S.C. 4212). In order to promote the policy of "the maximum of employment and job advancement opportunities within the Federal Government for disabled veterans and certain veterans of the Vietnam era and of the post-Vietnam era who are qualified for such employment and advancement," this act placed into law the provisions of the Executive Order authorizing the noncompetitive appointment of Vietnam era veterans under Veterans' Recruitment Appointment (VRA). The act also ensures all veterans are considered for employment under merit system rules and requires a separate affirmative action plan for the hiring, placement, and advancement of disabled veterans. Please note, however, this law does not provide any preferences to disabled veterans or to veterans of the Vietnam era.
The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 requires "fair and equitable" treatment in all aspects of personnel management without regard to political affiliation, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or disabling condition.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 covers employers in the private sector and state and local governments. The substantive employment standards of the ADA, which are applicable to the Federal Government through the Rehabilitation Act, can be found at 42 U.S.C. Section 12111, et seq. and 42 U.S.C. Sections 12201, 12202, 12203, 12204 and 12210. The ADA was amended in the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008. With the ADAAA, Congress overturned many Supreme Court decisions that it believed had interpreted the definition of disability too narrowly. The ADAAA makes it easier for an individual to establish a disability within the meaning of the statute. The ADAAA regulations and accompanying Question and Answer documents are available on the EEOC website at
The Veterans Education and Employment Program Amendments of 1991 require expanded job opportunities for veterans and disabled veterans through the (VRA), 38 U.S.C. Section 4314.
The Architectural Barriers Act, enforced by the Access Board, requires buildings and facilities be accessible to people with disabilities if they were constructed or altered by, or on behalf of, the Federal Government or with certain Federal funds, or leased for occupancy by Federal agencies, after 1968. When individuals with disabilities are unable to use a building because there are no accessible parking spaces, no curb ramps, no ramps at the entrance, no accessible rest rooms, no accessible drinking fountains, no raised lettering on signs, or other barriers exist; they may file a complaint with the Access Board.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This amendment requires employers treat pregnancy and related conditions in the same manner as any other short-term disability.
5 U.S.C. Sections 3312 and 3318 require any disqualification, non-selection, or passing over of a veterans' preference eligible applicant for medical reasons be approved by the Office of Personnel Management before the position can be filled. This includes an agency medical disqualification of a 30 percent or more disabled veteran for assignment to another position in a reduction in force. A non-preference eligible who is disqualified for medical reasons also has the right to a higher level review of the determination in the agency as stated in OPM regulation Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 5, Section 339.306.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (5 U.S.C. Section 6382) requires Federal agencies and departments to allow employees to take up to twelve weeks of leave without pay, provided the employee or a member of his or her immediate family (spouse, son, daughter, or parent) has a serious health condition and the employee meets several other statutory criteria. The leave may be taken intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule when medically necessary. Agencies may require the employee to transfer temporarily to another position under certain circumstances.

Executive Orders

  1. Executive Order 13078, Increasing Employment of Adults with Disabilities, established the National Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities (now referred to as the Presidential Task Force). The purpose of the Task Force is to create a coordinated and aggressive national policy to bring adults with disabilities into gainful employment at a rate as close as possible to the general adult population. The Executive Order included actions to ensure the Federal Government is a model employer of adults with disabilities.

  2. Executive Order 13145, To Prohibit Discrimination in Federal Employment Based on Genetic Information, prohibits discrimination in Federal employment against employees based on protected genetic information, or information about a request for or the receipt of genetic services. Executive departments and agencies are responsible for carrying out the provisions of this order to the extent permitted by law and consistent with their statutory and regulatory authorities, and their enforcement mechanisms. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for coordinating Federal policy concerning this Executive Order.

  3. Executive Order 13163, Increasing the Opportunity for Individuals with Disabilities to be Employed in the Federal Government, promotes an increase in the opportunities for individuals with disabilities to be employed at all levels and occupations of the Federal Government. Agencies shall use available hiring authorities; expand outreach efforts; and increase their efforts to accommodate individuals with disabilities. This website incorporates OPM's guidance on the provisions of this Executive Order.

  4. Executive Order 13164, Requiring Federal Agencies to Establish Procedures to Facilitate the Provision of Reasonable Accommodation, requires each Federal agency to establish effective written procedures to facilitate the provision of reasonable accommodation. Agencies shall submit their plans, and any modifications, to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

  5. Executive Order 13217, Community-Based Alternatives for Individuals with Disabilities, promotes community based alternatives for individuals with disabilities; including helping ensure all Americans have the opportunity to live close to their families and friends, to live more independently, to engage in productive employment and to participate in community life.

  6. Executive Order 13548, Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities, signed by President Obama on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (July 26, 2010), makes the Director of OPM (in consultation with the DOL Secretary, EEOC Chair, and OMB Director) responsible for: assisting agencies in implementing strategies for retaining individuals with disabilities in Federal employment including, but not limited to: training; use of centralized funds to provide reasonable accommodations; increasing access to appropriate accessible technologies; and ensuring the accessibility of physical and virtual workspaces. In turn, the Executive Order makes Agencies develop agency specific plan for promoting employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities and for designating a senior-level agency official accountable for enhancing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities and individuals with targeted disabilities and for meeting the goals of the Executive Order.

Congress designated each October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This effort to educate the American public about issues related to disability and employment actually began in 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." In 1962, the word "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to "National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

1 See, e.g., Executive Order 11478 (accessible at; 5 C.F.R. Part 720..

2 29 CFR Part 1614.102(b)(4), available at

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