Senior Ranks at DHS Face Scrutiny for Lack of Diversity

Rep. Bennie Thompson is worried about the lack of diversity in the executive ranks of government, including the Homeland Security Department.
Rep. Bennie Thompson is worried about the lack of diversity in the executive ranks of government, including the Homeland Security Department. (Rogelio Solis - AP)
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By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The career senior ranks at the Department of Homeland Security are less diverse than in the government overall, and less diverse than the department's own workforce, according to a congressional report.

African Americans, for example, made up 8.5 percent of the career Senior Executive Service in the government last year but were 6.5 percent of the career SES at Homeland Security.

The report was prepared by the Democratic staff of the House Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). "The makeup of the department's senior leadership must be reflective of the face of America," Thompson said when releasing the report.

The Senior Executive Service is the top rung of the civil service. There are about 6,400 career members of the SES, who help manage a federal workforce of nearly 2 million. At Homeland Security, there were 446 career executives as of March 2007, out of a workforce of more than 168,000 civilian employees.

Many SES members help run the government's day-to-day operations, filling the top non-political jobs in agencies and assuring continuity during presidential transitions.

Diversity is a somewhat sensitive issue at Homeland Security these days. Last Wednesday, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee pointed out that none of the 10 aides accompanying Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at a hearing were African American or women.

Russ Knocke, a department spokesman, called the House report "outdated and opportunistic" and said it was "a little too coincidental" that "this report suddenly pops up" at the Judiciary Committee hearing. Knocke said he did not have a "point-by-point analysis" to challenge the data.

A spokeswoman for Thompson, Dena Graziano, said that the timing of the report's release was not connected to the hearing and that it had been in the works since the summer of 2007.

The report explains that it uses a March 2007 snapshot of the Homeland Security workforce because it was the most current information available to the Government Accountability Office and the best match for data pulled from the Office of Personnel Management and the Transportation Security Administration, a part of Homeland Security.

Thompson is not the only House chairman to be paying attention to diversity issues. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) and Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairmen of the House and Senate federal workforce subcommittees, have introduced legislation aimed at promoting diversity in the government's executive ranks.

According to the Thompson report, the bureaus at Homeland Security vary considerably in terms of race, ethnicity and gender.

African Americans ranged from a high of 21.5 percent in the TSA to a low of 5.5 percent in the directorate for science and technology. Hispanics ranged from a high of 30.7 percent in Customs and Border Protection to a low of 2.7 percent in the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. Women made up 60 percent of the Citizenship and Immigration Services workforce and 24 percent of Customs and Border Protection.

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