The Face of DHS Looks a Little Pale

US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff turns to look at his staff who were asked to stand by a member of the House Judiciary Committee as Chertoff testifies March 05, 2008 on oversight of the Homeland Security Department in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff turns to look at his staff who were asked to stand by a member of the House Judiciary Committee as Chertoff testifies March 05, 2008 on oversight of the Homeland Security Department in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Mandel Ngan - /AFP/Getty Images)
By Al Kamen
Friday, March 7, 2008

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff apparently forgot the adage "When you're in a hole, stop digging."

On Wednesday, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee were reviewing a report that said Chertoff's department lags behind others in hiring women and minorities to senior positions.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) asked all the Chertoff aides sitting behind him at the hearing to stand up. Men in ties and jackets, all of whom appeared to be Caucasian, stood up. Without comment, Scott moved on to ask Chertoff about another issue.

But Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.) returned to the diversity question. "You brought 10 staff people with you," he said, "all white males. . . . But I hope you've got more diversity in your staff than is reflected here. Please reassure me that is the case."

"I think that is definitely the case," Chertoff said.

"Okay," Watt said, and appeared to begin moving to another question.

But Chertoff continued: "I wouldn't assume that the ethnic background of everybody behind me is self-evident."

Watt replied: "I wouldn't assume the ethnic background of everybody behind you is self-evident, but I think I know an African American when I see one. . . . If anyone wants to stand up and volunteer and tell me they are an African American, I hope they will do that right now."

No one stood. Some in the audience began laughing.

"If anybody is a female that's sitting back there and wants to stand up and volunteer to tell me that," Watt continued, "I hope they will do that right now. And I want the record to show clearly that nobody stood up to volunteer in either one of those categories.

"So if you want to make that point and be cute about it," Watt said, "let me be explicit about it. . . . If we are going to do law enforcement in this country . . . we need to understand that there is an element of diversity in our country that is not represented here."

Watt concluded: "I'll take your word that it is represented more effectively in the composition in the rest of your department, and move on to what I'd like to really ask about," which involved the power of immigration officers to detain people.


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