The vice president of the National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives has resigned in protest over an award that the group presented to the president's chief civil service adviser.

Gilbert Sandate, a charter member and organizer of NAHFE, said he resigned because NAHFE's board of directors was not asked to approve the Distinguished Federal Service Award, presented this month to Kay Coles James, director of the Office of Personnel Management.

Sandate, in a letter to NAHFE members, said the decision by the group's president, Manuel Oliverez, to honor James was a "blatant partisan political action" that violated the group's bylaws to operate as a nonpartisan organization.

Telephone messages were left for Oliverez yesterday, but the calls were not returned.

Although Hispanics are courted by the major political parties and this year's presidential campaigns, Democrats and Republicans in recent years have found it difficult to sharply increase the percentage of Hispanics working in the government.

Hispanic groups contend the government needs to improve recruitment and hiring programs to address what they call a "crisis of underrepresentation." About 7 percent of civil service employees are Hispanic, compared with 13 percent of the private-sector labor force, OPM data show. Hispanics are the only minority group underrepresented in the government, according to the OPM data.

In fiscal 2003, the federal workforce included 115,600 Hispanics, up from 113,418 the year before, the OPM said in a June report to President Bush.

Sandate said that, "at this hiring rate, Hispanics will never reach parity with" the private-sector percentage.

He also noted that the number of Hispanics in the career ranks of the Senior Executive Service has remained at 2.1 percent over the last two years.

In his letter, Sandate said the OPM "is among the four worst agencies in terms of Hispanic underrepresentation" and faulted Oliverez for honoring James.

Doris Hausser, a senior adviser to James, said that "Hispanic employment is something we take seriously" at OPM and that "our managers understand it is important." The OPM actively recruits Hispanics and ensures that Hispanic employees are considered for promotions, she said.

Across government, she said, agencies are reviving their recruitment programs and rethinking how they reach out to Hispanics and other minorities. "Keeping diversity on the screen is something we want," Hausser said.

James, in accepting the NAHFE award, said, "My desire is for the federal government to be the model of diversity for all of America." In a news release issued by the OPM on the award presentation, James also said, "Progress has been made, but much more remains to be done, and OPM is committed to working in partnership to achieve results."

NAHFE is not the first employee group to honor James. The OPM issued a news release in March that said the president of Blacks in Government, Gregory Reeves, had awarded James with the Blacks in Government Presidential Award.

James heads the Interagency Task Force on Hispanic Employment, which monitors agency efforts to abide by an executive order, issued in 2000, that directs federal agencies to develop plans for hiring Hispanics.

Sandate said the executive order lacks teeth and should be amended to hold agencies accountable for their hiring decisions.

Sandate called his resignation "a very bittersweet action for me to take," in part because he has been a NAHFE member for 20 years. To focus on "infighting . . . does a disservice," he said. "There are many, many individuals and organizations who are completely united behind this issue."

Retirements

Paul Chistolini, deputy commissioner of the Public Buildings Service at the General Services Administration, retired Sept. 10. He joined GSA in 1974 and served in several management jobs here and in New York.

Paul Ciatti has retired after 39 years of government service, including 20 years as a special agent with the Secret Service and 14 years in the office of the OPM inspector general.

Mark Pitzer, a senior counsel at the IRS, retired July 31 after 31 years of service.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com.