The Environmental Protection Agency will begin collecting sexual orientation and gender identity information on its employees this fall, according to an internal email.
The email sent last week by EPA Chief of Staff Matt Fritz announced a "ground-breaking" pilot program that will allow employees to answer survey questions about their sexuality.
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"A professional, productive, and inclusive workplace is essential to our mission of protecting human health and the environment," Fritz wrote. "Today EPA is taking a crucial step forward and playing a leadership role for the federal government in equal employment opportunity and diversity and inclusion by piloting the collection of voluntary, self-disclosed sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) workforce data."
"When collected, safely stored, and analyzed along with other demographic information, SOGI data serve as an important resource for developing workforce engagement strategies and improving organizational performance," he said.
The purpose of collecting the information is to make LGBT employees "feel included" at the agency.
"Despite protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, nationwide statistics show that employee engagement and productivity are undermined because a substantial number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees do not feel included in workplaces and feel compelled to lie about their personal lives at work," Fritz said. "Collecting and analyzing SOGI data can help us better understand this situation, and give us a sound basis to explore solutions that enable every employee to be fully engaged at work."
The pilot will begin in September, and at first only data from employees in Midwestern states and those who work in the general legal office will be collected. These employees can take a confidential survey that will test the effectiveness of the agency’s questions on sexual orientation and gender.
All EPA employees will be able to enter their gender and sexual orientation into a database by this winter. Sexual orientation and gender will be added to the already existing "Employee Express" system that collects data on race, national origin, and disability.
By 2017 the EPA will also collect LGBT and gender identity information from individuals applying to the agency.
Fritz said the agency hopes to "serve as a model for the rest of the federal government by testing the effectiveness of collecting SOGI data in the workplace."
"This pilot is not only about the LGBT community," he said. "We all have a sexual orientation and gender identity, and participation in the pilot by a diverse set of people will enable better analyses."
"As an employee, your participation can help ensure a robust data set, which is vitally important to the success of this pilot," Fritz said. "Your participation in the pilot is completely voluntary. No one else will be able to provide SOGI information on your behalf, and the data will be collected in a manner that protects the privacy of all respondents."
The EPA did not respond to request for comment.