The federal government either matches or surpasses other employers when it comes to hiring members of racial minority groups, with the notable exception of Hispanics, a new government report shows.

Minorities made up 31.5 percent of non-military federal employees in 2004, up from 30.9 percent in 2003, according to the Office of Personnel Management's recently released annual demographic profile of the 1.7 million-member federal labor force. In contrast, minorities accounted for 27.5 percent of all workers in comparable occupations in the national civilian labor force.

The federal government "continues to be a leader in providing employment opportunities to minorities," acting OPM Director Dan Blair wrote in the report, which was released late last month. "Overall, minorities are better represented in the federal workforce than in the civilian labor force."

The exception, last year and in previous years, was Hispanics, a group that federal officials have long acknowledged they need to do more to attract and retain. Hispanics made up 7.3 percent of federal workers in 2004, compared with 12.6 percent of workers in similar jobs in the civilian labor force, the report said.

Groups such as the League of United Latin American Citizens have expressed concerns with Hispanics' underrepresentation in the federal government, noting that they are the fastest-growing population group in the nation.

Some experts have suggested that Hispanic hiring lags because many civil service jobs are not in states that have large Hispanic populations and because some Hispanics find it hard to match their skills with federal job requirements. Most federal jobs, for example, require U.S. citizenship, an obstacle for some applicants.

Blair and other federal officials say the government is making progress. Hispanics made up 6.6 percent of the federal workforce in 2000, compared with 7.3 percent last year, according to the OPM.

Other numbers suggest the issue is not that simple. For instance, the new report found that last year three of 18 federal departments -- Labor, Homeland Security, and Housing and Urban Development -- employed Hispanics in equal or greater numbers than Hispanics' presence in comparable civilian jobs. In 2003, the figure was 10 of 18 departments.

The OPM said at least some of the decrease was because, for the first time, the report relied on data from the 2000 census, not the 1990 version, to establish the baseline numbers of minorities in the civilian labor force. The nation's minority population has grown.

"Although many agencies' minority representation may have increased from 2003 to 2004, such increases were insignificant compared to much larger increases" in minorities in the civilian labor force, the report said.

Other minority groups have fared better than Hispanics, with each making up a greater or similar share of the federal workforce compared with the relevant civilian labor pool, the report found.

Blacks, for instance, made up 17.4 percent of the federal workforce and 10.1 percent of the civilian labor force. Asians and Pacific Islanders made up 4.9 percent of federal workers, compared with 4 percent of the civilian workforce. And Native Americans made up 1.9 percent of federal employees, compared with 0.8 percent of civilian workers.

Dan Blair, acting OPM director, lauded federal employment opportunities for minorities.