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Senior Ranks at DHS Face Scrutiny for Lack of Diversity

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Russ Knocke, a department spokesman, called the House report "outdated and opportunistic" and said it was "a little too coincidental" that "this report suddenly pops up" at the Judiciary Committee hearing.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.

In March 2007, the department's headquarters staff was one of the least diverse offices, with only one African American and one Hispanic among 46 members of the career SES, the report said.

The lack of diversity in the department's career executive corps, the report said, suggests "that relatively few members of minority groups and women rise into the DHS career SES leadership ranks."

African Americans are 14.5 percent of Homeland Security employees but 6.5 percent of the career SES at the department. Asians make up 4.2 percent of the department but 1.8 percent of the career executives. Hispanics make up 16.4 percent of the workforce but only 5.4 percent of the career executives, the report said.

Hispanics, though, are one group where the department is not under-represented. The percentage of Hispanics employed by Homeland Security is more than double the government-wide rate.

The department, created by Congress to help defend the nation against terrorism, celebrates its fifth anniversary this month. As part of an effort to improve management practices, Knocke said the department in fiscal 2007 drafted its first "corporate diversity strategy."

The strategy includes participation in job fairs that focus on minority students and partnerships with the Urban League's Black Executive Exchange Program and the National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives.

This year, officials will launch an intern program in Mississippi, Louisiana and nearby states that will work with high school and college students to ready them for careers in the department.

The department also has an effort underway to recruit more employees with disabilities and veterans with disabilities, Knocke said. Between February 2004 and October 2007, the number of employees with disabilities increased from 50 to 191 at the department's headquarters.

Stephen Barr's e-mail address isbarrs@washpost.com.

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