WASHINGTON – The Clinton administration, concerned about the low numbers of Hispanics in the federal work force, is telling managers to close the hiring gap with new recruitment and retention programs.
“Hispanics are the only under-represented minority in the federal government,” said Janice Lachance, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management. “We’ve been making progress but it has been slow.”
Hispanics make up more than 10 percent of the available U.S. labor force, but represent only 6.1 percent of workers in civilian federal jobs, according to the Merit Systems Protection Board.
Only two federal agencies have met the government’s 10.2 percent Hispanic employee target – the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In the Washington region, Hispanics make up 5.8 percent of the available work force but represent only 2.2 percent of civilian federal employees.
Much of the Office of Personnel Management’s nine-point Hispanic recruitment and retention plan prescribes outreach to college-bound and other young Hispanics.
The agency will coordinate a federal internship program for students attending colleges that belong to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, a group of 160 colleges with at least 25 percent Hispanic enrollment.
OPM also will sponsor and encourage other agencies to place self-serve information kiosks on Hispanic Association campuses to let students and faculty learn about government job opportunities.
The plan also encourages agency managers to look for career advancing opportunities, such as new assignments or classes, for Hispanics already on the job.
Manuel Oliverez, president of the National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives, said the career advancement section of the plan is especially important for keeping Hispanics in federal service.
“From my own experience, when I was at the Air Force, I applied three or four times for senior-level training,” he said. Each time, he was passed over.
Oliverez said Hispanic employees need to be aware and take advantage of new opportunities. Hispanics “have not been aggressive enough,” he said.
Maria Mercedes Olivieri, who works in the Environmental Protection Agency’s civil rights office, agreed, saying Hispanic culture does not teach people to be pushy.
“We have a great deal of difficulty questioning authority,” Olivieri said. “It impacts on our ability to straighten out things in the work place.”
She also said the strong emphasis Hispanic culture places on family is not an asset in the federal work place. For example, workers who take time off to see a sick relative are seen as having their priorities backward, she said.
Not everyone is pleased with the recruitment and retention efforts.
“Why should we assume that the proportional distribution of ethnic groups in all occupations and at all levels, that has never existed anywhere in the world, should be the norm in the United States civil service?” John Fonte of the American Enterprise Institute asked a congressional subcommittee.
And not all Hispanic groups support the new guidelines.
Mildred Garcia, vice president of the Hispanic Policy Development Project, said neither Hispanics nor non-Hispanics will likely be comfortable with a program that seeks to recruit a specific minority.
“The one thing that I think we have to do at any point is ensure there is equitable access, and from there move on,” she said.
But the chairman the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said Hispanic-specific efforts are needed.
“If we had a free and liberated system of employing qualified individuals, certainly I think you’d have to say you wouldn’t have a 50 percent disparity in the federal work force,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.
He said the new government guidelines address many concerns that Hispanic lawmakers have raised, but that cabinet secretaries and agency heads must make the plan’s implementation a priority.
“Otherwise, the mid-level managers are just going to take this as just another document that was spit out by the agency,” he said.
Maryland has about 143,000 Hispanic residents, concentrated largely in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
Both Reps. Constance Morella’s, R-Montgomery, and Albert Wynn’s, D-Prince George’s, said they back the plan.
“Real affirmative action is not about filling quotas but about reaching for goals and targets,” Morella said.
Wynn agreed there is a “need for increased diversity among the ranks of mid-level and senior-level personnel in federal agencies.”
The OPM plan, however, does not address what the Merit Systems Protection Board identified as a major hurdle to achieving parody in Hispanic hiring – a prohibition on hiring non-citizens in most federal agencies.
“Because about 34 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. labor force are not citizens … (they) are effectively barred from most federal employment,” the board reported.
The report also said that federal downsizing and geographic dispersion hamper federal hiring efforts.
The board, however, encouraged federal managers to “see these as reasons to exert even more effort to increase Hispanic representation in the federal work force.”