My Federal Reserve Memo On Institutional Racism At The Fed And Implications For America’s Future

By Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa, (On Twitter) @c_tamirisa

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Below is a verbatim version of the internal memo that I had written in response to a request to Federal Reserve employees by then Fed Governor Mark Olson in 2003.

I remain the author of the memo. The copyright is non-existent because it is unclassified US government public property available to the public by invoking the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

—– Forwarded by Chandra Tamirisa/BOARD/FRS on 12/23/2009 01:57 PM —–

Chandra Tamirisa
Sent by: Chandra Tamirisa
06/13/2003 10:12 AM
To:        Carol Sanders/BOARD/FRS@BOARD
cc:
Subject:        Re: Some thoughtsLink

Carol,

Thank you for forwarding me Ms. Johnson’s memo. I must apologise that it was not clear to recipients from the email address on my memo whom the memo came from. It was a trivial Netscape mail configuration error on my laptop that caused this and I had realized it after I hit the send button and saw the copy that I had cc’ed to myself. As the memo came together in my mind, I thought I’d write the thoughts down before I woke up the next morning. When I finished writing the memo I felt comfortable with how it turned out and sent it.

The Board is a wonderful place to work and I sincerely appreciate the opportunities afforded to me to contribute to continuously improve its operations.

Chandra Tamirisa
Information Systems Analyst
Fiscal Analysis Section
Division of Research and Statistics
IDEAS-Planning-Budgeting
Sent by: Carol Sanders
06/12/03 05:22 PM
To:        Chandra.Tamirisa@frbog.frb.gov
cc:
Subject:        Re: Some thoughtsLink

Chandra,

Please except my sincere apology for not forwarding the memo below to you sooner.  Ms. Johnson sent it to me as you can see on March 20, 2003 and for whatever reason I did not forward it to you.  We greatly appreciate your taking the time to submit suggestions and trust that you will continue to be looking for way to improve the operations of the Board.

Again, I am sorry for the delay…
Carol A. Sanders,
Manager, Program Analysis and Budgets

***********************************************

BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM

DATE:        March 20, 2003

TO:

FROM:        Jennifer J. Johnson
Chair, Staff Planning Group

SUBJECT:        Ideas Suggestion

On behalf of the Staff Planning Group (SPG), I want to thank you for your input to the Board’s strategic planning process.  We discussed your paper a recent SPG meeting.
We appreciate the time you devoted to presenting your thoughts on the issues you believe the Board should address over the next four years.  We agree that the topics you presented are interrelated, and that each is important to the Board’s commitment to remaining a high-quality organization.  You will be pleased to know that many of your ideas are receiving considerable attention.  For example, diversity (as you broadly defined it), educational outreach, and career development remain important considerations in attracting, retaining, and motivating employees, and will continue to be critical topics as we plan for the future.  Likewise, issues associated with the Board’s work culture, transparency in decision making, and communications have been the subjects of much discussion as the SPG considers the strategic issues that will affect the Board during the planning period and beyond.
Your comments about knowledge management and the role technology can play in increasing productivity and efficiency stimulated much conversation among the members of the SPG.  Although we did not develop a specific knowledge management agenda, many of your concerns complement the issues we identified, particularly with respect to communication and information technology.

Thank you again for your thoughts and interest in the Board’s planning process.

Your Name Here
02/01/2003 03:15 AM
To:        IDEAS-Planning-Budgeting@frbog.frb.gov
cc:        Chandra.Tamirisa@frbog.frb.gov
Subject:        Some thoughts

Date: 02/01/2003

To: CBA/SPG

From: Chandrashekar Tamirisa

As the planning process is for a 4-year period I have outlined my
thoughts as a set of initiatives, with the hope that this could
contribute in at least a small measure to an emerging framework to think
about major objectives. These could be further explored by the planning
group in a series of formal and informal discussions with the staff,
with the understanding and realization that no plan can ever be written
in stone, and that it is always subject as much to the vagaries of (as
the economists would perhaps like to say) the exogenous variables as
much as it is to the endogenous ones. No idea or thought is an island in
itself. I, perhaps, owe these thoughts coming together in my mind as
much to myself as to many of my colleagues here at the Board with whom I
have had the good fortune of interacting over the period of my
employment so far in a variety of roles.

Knowledge Management

The idea that institutional memory can be captured electronically has
significant implications for both learning from experience as well as
from the experienced. It applies as much to thinking about the
complexities of monetary policy as to routine tasks. If the ’90s saw
productivity gains through both IT innovation and application for
business use primarily fueled by a maturing desktop and later by an
inchoate internet, I believe what we have seen, albeit the bubbles of
“irrational exuberance”, is only the tip of a large iceberg that is
congealing below the surface. Undertaking a knowledge management agenda
forces a comprehensive approach to both process (how we do things) and
product (how we execute the process) and inherently has the potential to
both increase productivity as well as increase cost efficiency. Some
project examples at the Board which most of us use every day are  R&S
Information Portal, SDS, BOND and CDTR, FIRMA, WDF, Peoplesoft HR
System, Job Postings and Recruiting databases and ITB. One can easily
envision a melding of all these with standardization and phased
integration and improvements both into a standard set of processes as
well as seamless products. Further, such a convergence can make
knowledge mobile reducing the cost of labor mobility except when most
necessary.

I realize that there are many small steps that need to be taken to
achieve this goal but the proces of thinking comprehensively about it
(i.e., minus the bureaucratic walls) will progressively make interaction
and work life at the Board as seamless and flexible as the envisioned
product.

Diversity

I believe that diversity comes in diverse ways. Diverse job functions,
diverse professional backgrounds and diverse cultural backgrounds not to
mention the more rigid and traditional classifications of racial or
ethnic diversity, which I think I can safely presume may become obsolete
for all practical purposes after two more censuses (next 20 years) in
the United States forcing us to rethink everything from affirmative
action to congressional districting. To me, as a democratic society we
will have failed if some groups fundamentally, for reasons of habit or
history, are not represented in the complexities of democratic decision
making when those decisions affect their lives, for decisions are
(ideally) made based on issues of social welfare (as in well-being) and
not on social divisions. And a major goal of the technology (as defined
by economics) of democratic politics is to reach this ideal, at least in
the limit. The Board (and America) are perhaps well along the way
already but it is easy to slip back especially when times are not good.

I have read sometime ago a newspaper report that particularly in policy
making jobs diversity is difficult to accomplish because the job
function is technical and cannot be diluted to accommodate diversity.
Examples based on observation (using the current classification for lack
of a better one) are many Asians pursue academic and applied
science/technology careers (and could risk being stereotyped as such),
there are many respected Indian economists but none in government policy
making or advisory or political roles, the same applies to some extent
to African-American and Hispanic Americans. I think this reason is
entirely legitimate but still begs the question why? Why are certain
groups not pursuing these careers and the related education? Are there
obstacles to opportunity to acquire the necessary skills? Do some groups
feel that it may not be worth the effort in the end because they may not
make a successful career out of it any way for lack of opportunity in
the workplace? This is an important broad social question as it is an
operational one. I think the only way to achieve this is by “just doing
it” as the Nike ad says, by pushing the envelope, by becoming role
models and creating many more, else there can be no social change.
Institutions force social change as much as the society forces
institutional change.

This leads to the next point on educational outreach.

Education (Board’s outreach-both internal and external)

I have always been very proud to be working at the Board. Thanks to the
academic assistance program at the Board I am taking work related
graduate economics courses at Georgetown. My instructors are practicing
economists from Washington Area institutions and think tanks. Being at
the Board and surrounded by economists who are perhaps among the best
the profession has to offer in important policy-contribution roles in
American government, I began to wonder about the rich resource-both for
intellect and inspiration-we could use for outreach, both inside the
Board as well as outside.

Many people read about the Fed’s decisions in local or global newspapers
and the more curious ones read the tomes written by journalists, but how
many truly have at least a basic insight into how a decision announced
at 2.00 pm on a certain day cascades into their lives. How many children
and high-schoolers do we inspire to become economists or those serving
the market operations functions when  they grow up? How many of those
are minorities? How many are women? If we cannot catch them young we
cannot catch them when they get older. We have to care as much about
what we say to the child, the high-schooler or the lay adult as much as
we care about what we say to the markets. We have Woods for Golf, Powell
and Ferguson for Politics and Economics. We need more and from a broader
spectrum. We perhaps need broader educational outreach both in area
high-schools and colleges (at the Freshman level).  Then there will be a
wider and diverse talent pool without having to “sacrifice” the
stringency of the job requirements.

Internally, employees can use cross-functional education by peers of
each others job functions, so that we can develop a larger talent pool
of employees similar to those serving on the SPG. This can happen using
more cross-functional committees similar to the one led by Mr. Wilcox on
security but at all levels in the hierarchy. The EEO committees are also
an excellent resource for this. This way we can develop specialists who
also see the big as well as the broader picture.

Career Development

I think mobility at all levels in the hierarchy should be the corner
stone of career development. It should become a requirement for career
progression not an option and a part of the HR SOP. Other issues such as
developmental education and timely progression tied to performance are
important but I think the Board is further along on these. Lack of
mobility generates a feeling of scarcity of opportunity, monotony and
other associated unpleasant bureaucratic back-biting, where excellence
and success are resented. The so called “ghetto effect” as experienced
by nerdy high-schoolers who are penalized by peers for just trying to do
better.

Work Life

A work culture across the Board that is team oriented can be induced by
tying performance appraisals and work assignments that emphasize not
only individual display of work skills but goal oriented and sometimes
even ad hoc and less formal brainstorming-based problem solving that
spans hierarchical levels. Such a work culture would be lively and
intellectually stimulating.

Transparency

Another cause of unpleasanteries in work life is cliquishness and lack
of transparency in management decisions and communications. This leads
to an effort to belong to the “right” group rather than do the “right”
thing and turf battles of no consequence. 360-degree performance reviews
in addition to the recent PMP policy changes with the goal of mutual
constructive engagement among peers and between employees and managers
can help in building mutual respect and appreciation and team spirit.

All the above are in many ways interconnected.

I thank you all for this opportunity.

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About Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa

http://www.thecommonera.com/Common_Era/Me.html
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One Response to My Federal Reserve Memo On Institutional Racism At The Fed And Implications For America’s Future

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