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Study: Percentage of Latinos in federal workforce remains flat

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 23, 2010; B03

The percentage of Latinos in the federal workforce remained flat in 2009 compared with the previous year, and the total number of Hispanic hires dropped, according to an annual government report. The results frustrated Hispanic leaders, concerned that the low numbers of Latinos on federal payrolls do not properly reflect their growing numbers nationwide.

Hispanics accounted for 8 percent of federal workers in the year that ended June 30, about five percentage points lower than the 13.2 percent of Latinos employed across the country's civilian workforce, according to a report by the Office of Personnel Management. The percentage of new Hispanic hires dropped to 7.3 percent, down two percentage points from 2008. But the overall number of Latinos in the government climbed to 144,288, up from 137,767 in June 2008. The overall percentage remained flat because the government made other hires and retained a high number of Hispanics, the OPM said.

"The federal government is not fully tapping the talent in the Hispanic community for public service," the report concluded.

National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguia agreed, calling the findings "unbelievable."

"At a time when Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the labor force, the rate of federal Hispanic hiring is actually going down," Murguia said in a statement. "That the numbers are going in the wrong direction is evidence of a deep, systemic failure."

Jorge E. Ponce, co-chairman of the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives, said that years worth of "blue ribbon commissions, tiger teams, work groups and the generation of voluminous reports and strategic plans" have yielded few gains.

"The federal government cannot remain a model employer as long as the largest minority group in the country is not properly represented in the federal halls of power," Ponce said.

Ponce's statement strikes at the heart of a pledge made frequently by OPM Director John Berry to make the federal government the nation's "model employer." In a letter to President Obama accompanying the report, Berry said the new numbers signal that "there is room for improvement." The report said the OPM has established three offices to recruit and retain more Hispanic workers, with a special focus on promoting Latinos into the Senior Executive Service and recruiting Hispanic college students. Berry also noted that Obama has appointed a higher number of Hispanics to political positions than previous administrations.

Murguia applauded Obama's Latino picks but called on him to "demonstrate the same commitment to increasing the Latino federal workforce." NCLR has worked with partner organizations to ensure Latinos are hired for emergency preparedness jobs and other positions where Spanish speakers can increase government efficiency and communication, a spokeswoman said. The groups have also pushed Congress to establish a public-works job program for lower-income Latinos and a youth jobs programs for high school and college-age Latinos.

OPM Deputy Director Christine M. Griffin noted that her agency cannot force or mandate hiring numbers for other agencies but said her colleagues are working on hiring changes with a special focus on disabled Americans, military veterans and minorities.

"Diversity is a piece of all of this. That's one of the things we're making sure we think about and how it permeates everything," Griffin said in an interview.

This year's OPM study follows a February report by congressional staffers that found the Senate has one Latino chief of staff and one Latino committee staff director and that Latinos account for just 5.6 percent of House staffers. Congressional leaders have launched diversity efforts in hopes of hiring more minorities across Capitol Hill.

The OPM's report found that the departments of Homeland Security, Treasury and Veterans Affairs accounted for two-thirds of new Hispanic hires last year. DHS and its 23 components generally hire a larger number of Hispanics, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a higher percentage of Latinos than any other agency. Ten of the 23 major federal agencies increased their percentage of Hispanic staffers as of June, while seven posted declines and six remained flat, the report said.

Hispanics made up 3.2 percent of the Senior Executive Service, up from 2 percent in 2008. The number of permanent hires in higher levels of the General Schedule also jumped 22 percent, the report said.

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