Disputing Citizenship's Role for Hispanics in Government Service

By Stephen Barr
Monday, September 25, 2006

Federal employment reports have consistently described Hispanics "as underrepresented in the government compared to the civilian labor force."

The Office of Personnel Management, in a report on fiscal 2005 employment patterns, said Hispanics make up 7.4 percent of the federal workforce, compared with 12.6 percent of the nation's labor force.

But a study by the Government Accountability Office, the congressional auditing agency, questions whether such a gap exists.

The GAO constructed a statistical model, using 2000 census data, to determine whether citizenship and education help explain the disparity in Hispanic workforce representation. The GAO found that:

· After accounting for citizenship, Hispanics were nearly as likely as non-Hispanics to be employed in the federal workforce.

· When comparing citizens with similar levels of education, Hispanics were 16 percent more likely than non-Hispanics to be employed in the federal workforce as opposed to other sectors in the labor force.

The GAO selected the two factors because a 1976 White House order and congressional directives restrict hiring for civil service jobs to U.S. citizens (though there are exceptions for some positions) and because the federal workforce contains a larger percentage of occupations that require higher levels of education.

Hispanic leaders, however, said the GAO had gone down the wrong track with its analysis. Democratic and Republican presidents have called for a government that reflects the diversity of the nation, they said, and the goal should be a federal workforce that matches the percentage of Hispanics in the population, not the percentage who are citizens.

Brent A. Wilkes , national director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, called the GAO report "very disappointing." He said, "It has given the folks in the government who have been reluctant to reach out and hire Hispanics the ammunition not to do so by focusing on citizenship."

Hispanic groups have noted that lack of citizenship is not a bar to military service. According to the Pentagon, about 35,000 green-card holders and other noncitizens serve in the military. About 8,000 permanent resident immigrants enlist every year.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company