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Special Emphasis Programs

Special Emphasis Programs (SEP) were established in the Federal Government to remove barriers to equal employment opportunity for groups that were traditionally not represented or subjected to discrimination in the workforce. Special Emphasis Programs were strengthened by two Executive Orders. In 1969, Executive Order 11478, Equal Employment Opportunity in the Federal Government, established the Equal Employment Opportunity Program, and implemented the policy of the Federal government to provide equal opportunity in employment to all individuals regardless of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or age.

Then in 2011, Executive Order 13583, Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce, enhanced several Executive Orders, including EO 11478, by establishing that as the Nation's largest employer, the Federal Government has a special obligation to lead by example in attaining a diverse, qualified workforce. Our Nation derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all.  Therefore, a commitment to equal opportunity, diversity, and inclusion is critical for the Federal Government as an employer.

What are Special Emphasis Programs?

Special Emphasis Programs are employment related programs which focus special attention on certain groups that are not represented or have less than expected participation rates in specific occupational categories or grade levels within the agency’s workforce.

Special Emphasis Programs are an integral part of the Equal Employment Opportunity and Civil Rights Program. Their purpose is to ensure that agencies take affirmative steps to provide equal opportunity to everyone in all areas of employment and eliminate discriminatory practices and policies. Through various initiatives, the programs address the unique concerns of specific groups in achieving diversity, inclusion, and equality of opportunity in recruitment, hiring, development, training and advancement.

Special Emphasis Programs at the Department of Commerce

Special Emphasis Program observances are an important aspect at the Department of Commerce. These observances include activities designed to provide cultural awareness, debunk stereotypes and recognize the contributions and achievements of diverse groups represented in our workforce. The events/activities are educational and employment related. While the origin of some of the observances is the result of spontaneous generation by employees, most observances are established by proclamation of the President or Congress.

The primary objectives of an observance are to:

  •          Promote diversity awareness and cultural sensitivity;
  •        Demonstrate an interest in the history and culture of employees and their contributions to society and the Department;
  •         Reflect sensitivity to the growing diversity of the workforce; and
  •          Offer opportunities for employees to gain experience in leadership and program planning.

The following are special observances that the Department has traditionally recognized:

  •          National African American History Month (February)
  •          National Women’s History Month (March)
  •          Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May)
  •          LGBT Pride Month (June)
  •         National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 - October 15)
  •          National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October)
  •          National American Indian Heritage Month (November)

Special Emphasis Program Committees

Currently, these committees are available to employees from bureau's located at the Herbert C. Hoover Building or Ronald Reagan Building in Downtown DC only. If you wish to start one in your bureau, please contact your respective Bureau EEO Officer for more information. 

Special Emphasis Program Committees (SEPCs) are comprised of federal employee volunteers who collaborate with the Special Emphasis Program Managers (SEPMs) to plan and execute special monthly observances, educational workshops/seminars, “lunch and learns”, and more. SEPC members can have a wide range of duties, such as:

  • Advising the SEPM on matters affecting the employment, retention and advancement of special emphasis groups.
  • Serving as a liaison to their organization/bureau to ensure that Departmental activities are free from discrimination and that barriers to the recruitment, employment, and advancement of special emphasis group members are addressed.
  • Maintaining close contact with community organizations, Employee Resource Groups (ERG), and affinity groups for possible job referrals of special emphasis group applicants and to stay attuned to concerns/needs of the special emphasis group.
  • Serving as a communication link between employees and SEPM, keeping employees aware of SEP activities and developmental opportunities through email, memos, broadcast, newsletters, and other appropriate means.
  • Performing other duties related to the SEP as identified by the SEPM.

If you are a Department of Commerce employee interested in becoming a part of an SEPC, contact us at ocr@doc.gov with subject line "SEPC Interest."