AT FIRST glance, it seems scandalous: The FBI can't find enough Washingtonians -- despite a 6.4 percent unemployment rate -- to fill clerical jobs, in the District , so it hires about a thousand workers who live in Baltimore. The D.C. Labor Department says the FBI has not got in touch with it about a need for workers since 1978. But in 1979, the FBI says, it had to go to Baltimore to fill more than 400 to 650 typist and clerical openings. D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy says he is investigating this "outrageous" situation to see whether any racial discrimination is involved.
An FBI spokesman is quick to deny discrimination: 70 percent of those of those who commute from Baltimore are black. The problem is, he says, that it is hard to find unemployed Washingtonians who have high school diplomas, who are U.S. citizens, who do not have criminal records, who read well enought to pass a basic skills test and who can obtain recommendations for the job. The bureau likes to hire local residents, the spokesman said because they tned to keep their jobs longer. For that reason, it recruiting in local high schools and advertising the jobs, which pay $8,952 to $10,049. This year the bureau hopes most of 2,500 clerk/typist job openings will be taken by Washingtonians.
This situation has no easy remedy. The D.C. school system's adult education division reports that more than a third of persons over 18 in the District lack high school diplomas. And reports of Washington high school graduates who cannot read well enough to take basic tests come from private employers as well as from the FBI. Politics may also play some part in the bureau's hiring practices. A congressman or senator can make a persuasive call on bejalf of job-seeking constituents, but District residents have no true federal government representative to make such a powerful request on their behalf.
The FBI, as a federal agency, has no clear responsibility to hire District, or even metropolitan area, residents But as the main employer in the area, the federal government does have some obligation to help with local problems, like unemployment, when it can. The FBI can reasonably be asked to step up its local recruiting efforts and, when possible, increase its advertising. All federal agencies will be doing the community a service if they make every effort to hire Washingtonians first.