The Washington-area Coalition of Federal Hispanic Employee Organizations, a group representing 1,300 Hispanics in the federal government, last week awarded the Hispanic Service Award to former Republican presidential hopeful Benjamin Fernandez.

Fernandez, 56, the son of Mexican immigrants and a self-made millionaire, was selected because he is the first Hispanic to run for president and has represented the "positive public image of a Hispanic" throughout his career, according to Francis D. Gomez, deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs and president of the coalition. Fernandez's presidential try and personal success have won great respect among the nation's Hispanics, Gomez added.

"He was the first Hispanic to say, "'I can,'" Gomez said as he introduced the silver-haired former candidate to the crowd of about 170 persons attending the coalition's annual dinner-dance last Thursday at the Fort McNair Officers Club.

Fernandez's name was on the ballot in 18 states and he received between 1 and 4 percent of the vote in those states, Gomez said.

A Kansas native who resides in California, where he has a successful management consulting firm, Fernandez is the founder of the National Economic Development Association, a nonprofit corporation that has secured $1 billion in loans for Hispanic businesses in the past 11 years.

The federal employes' organization represents 15 Hispanic groups in various federal agencies. It was formed in November 1979 so Hispanics might "speak with one voice in the government," coalition officials said. The nation's 16 million Hispanics represent only 2 percent of the federal work force, and the coalition intends to work toward bringing more Hispanics into government positions, according to coalition officials.