House creates task force to increase number of minorities on Capitol Hill

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 15, 2010; B03

House Democratic and Republican leaders established a diversity task force Tuesday that will sponsor training courses, build a résumé bank of potential job candidates and publish regular reports on diversity efforts, following a recent study that found a lack of Latinos on Capitol Hill payrolls.

The Committee on House Administration will lead the new efforts along with the House Chiefs of Staff Association and the congressional Asian Pacific, black and Hispanic caucuses, collectively known as the Congressional Tri-Caucus. Leaders of the Tri-Caucus called Tuesday's announcement an "important first step."

The February report, "Unrepresented: A Blueprint for Solving the Diversity Crisis on Capitol Hill," found that the Senate has one Latino chief of staff and one Latino committee staff director and that Latinos make up 5.6 percent of House staff members.

Latinos also are more likely to serve in lower-level positions, including schedulers and staff assistants, rather than more senior posts, according to the report by the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association and backed by other congressional minority staff associations. The report calls for congressional staffers to better reflect the nation's Latino population by 2020. It also recommended that House and Senate leaders establish diversity task forces and consider adopting something similar to the National Football League's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority for head coaching positions.

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that "diversity is one of America's fundamental strengths, and all of our nation's communities are a rich source of exceptional talent. Drawing from this diverse pool of talent will ensure that the House of Representatives benefits from new and innovative solutions to our complex national challenges."

Pelosi's staff includes deputy communications director Nadeam Elshami, who is Arab American, and Jaime Lizarraga, her director of member services. In 2007, Pelosi also appointed the first House clerk, Lorraine C. Miller, an African American.

The office of House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) includes several women, including Deputy Chief of Staff Amy Lozupone, chief counsel Jo-Marie St. Martin and Republican Page Supervisor Peggy Sampson, who is black. Boehner's longtime chief of staff, Paula Nowakowski, died earlier this year.

The Congressional Hispanic Staff Association and its partner groups applauded Tuesday's announcement and pledged to continue working with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) on his diversity efforts. Reid established a two-person office in 2007 that has helped place about 170 people on the staffs of Senate Democrats in entry- and mid-level positions and as communications directors, said David McCallum, Reid's deputy chief of staff.

"We know it's an issue. We've impressed upon our caucus that it's an issue, and we've established this resource," McCallum said. Reid's office includes senior aide Darrel Thompson and communications staff director Rodell Mollineau, who are African American. The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not respond to requests for comment.

Staff writers Paul Kane and Ben Pershing contributed to this report.

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