The roster of the current Congress would T suggest unprecedented black power on Capitol Hill. For the first time, four black representatives are committee chairmen, and 13 are subcommitte chairmen. But a look at the staff lists paints a dirrerent picture.
Only two of the 27 House committees have staff directors who are black, and four of the subcommittees chaired by blacks lack a single black professional staffer (though one employs an Asian-American and another an Hispanic).
While black legislators have begun to put a dent in the lily-white monopoly that existed for centuries, there's still a long way to go -- too long, it would seem, for a time when there are so many blacks in postions of power on the Hill.
"If we had our druthers," said Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) of the 18-member Congressional Black Caucus, "We would prefer to have many more black professionals on those committees with us, but we have to be given time to try to correct this problem."
The staff is an integral part of any congressional committee. Staff members often write the legislation, investigate the problems and interact with the lobbyists. They help decide who will be invited to testify at the hearings, write the questions and in some instances conduct the interviews.
To say that black leadership has a special responsibility to hire blacks is not to excuse from their obligation white legislators, who beg for black votes but often ignore blacks when it comes to staffing congressional committees and subcommittees.
But there were special expectations in the black community that increasing political clout would have a trickle-down effect and blacks would get a bigger share of the powerful positions long held by whites. That has not happened, and black legislators must take a good deal of the blame.
The congressional committee structure is a complex one, and much depends on what the chairman feels should be the amount of integration or, indeed, how much integration is politically feasible.
Congressman Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.), for instance, chairman of the Committee on Small Business, has a black staff director and a professional staff that is nearly 50 percent black. It reflects his position that he would give a formerly excluded black a first opportunity if he got the chance.
When Stokes was chairman of the now defunct House Select Committee on Assassinations, he had a well-integrated staff. As chairman of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, he has an all-white staff, including the director.
The difference, he said, is that the select committee was not a long-standing panel. The ethics committee is. "There would be no way that I would see politically where at this point I should have fired the staff director who had been there 13 years and hired a black staff director," he explained.
An aide to Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) added, "The subcommittees are changing so rapidly that new members are keeping most of the staff. The rationale is that most of the staff has been there for some time and they know the inner workings . . . You keep people on and by attrition, you make changes."
Rangel, chairman of the oversight subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, has only one black among his five professional staffers. "One of the problems we found here when the caucus first addressed the problem of minorities was that we not only had to place but to train. How hard could you push for professionals to be hired in committees and subcommittees when they had no experience?"
That's an interesting explanation. It sounds a lot like the excuses offered by corporations, universities and government agencies that have practiced job discrimination against blacks.
Still, it should be noted, the Congressional Black Caucus has set up a foundation to establish an internship program to provide training, experience and job opportunities for black professionals to move into staff and committee positions.
Clearly, getting more black aides on the Hill will not be easy, but black legislators have the greatest responsiblity to bring qualified black professional staff onto the congressional committees and subcommittees they head.
How this problem could be solved won't be on the agenda of the caucus's annual legislative weekend gala, which is now in progress.
It should be.