Walking The Walk

When it comes to hiring more Latinos in the Federal government, the Obama Administration may be “talking the talk.” But some say it’s not “walking the walk.”

In Obama’s fourth year in office, the numbers of Hispanics working in Federal agencies is dismally low, even as the president has implemented new rules aimed at boosting those numbers.

That exasperates advocates for Latinos in the Federal workplace like Jorge E. Ponce, the co-chairman of the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives.

He said boosting the numbers of Hispanics in the civil service is still not a priority for hiring managers at federal agencies: “In order for anything to happen, there has to be a buy in by the top leadership.”

When the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) releases its Tenth Annual Report to the President on Hispanic Employment in the Federal Government in April, it’s expected to say Latino employment in the government is stubbornly stuck at the same level it has been for several years---about 8 percent.

Yet Hispanic employment outside the government is more than 13 percent, and it’s growing at a much faster pace than employment in the general population.

According to new projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2010 to 2020, Hispanics are expected to account for 74 percent of the growth in the nation’s labor force. But the Latino employment growth rate in the Federal workforce is virtually nonexistent.

Some agencies have a better track record than others when it comes to hiring Hispanics. According to OPM’s 2010 count of the Federal workforce, the Department of Homeland Security, which had a 19 percent Hispanic workforce, had the most diversity. At the bottom of the pack were the Department of Health and Human Services, which had a 3.4 percent hiring rate, and the Commerce Department, whose workforce was only 3.9 percent Latino.

“There is room for improvement in fully drawing on the talents and energies of America’s Hispanic citizens at all levels of Federal government,” noted the OPM report.

Ponce said the prospects for improvement are dim and that things are going to get even worse for prospective Hispanic employees as budget concerns impose a hiring freeze and Baby Boomers working in government retire.“If we have a policy that for every three that retire, we can only hire one, we are not going to make much progress raising the percentage of Latinos in the Federal government,” Ponce said.

Yet Obama said he is committed to increasing the number of Latino Federal workers. In August he executed an executive order “Establishing a Coordinated Government-Wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce.” That executive order mandated all Federal agencies to develop strategic plans “that identify and remove barriers to fairness and equality that may exist in the Federal government’s recruitment, hiring, promotion, and training policies and practices, with a focus on Hispanics where appropriate.”

The Obama administration also established a Hispanic Council on Federal Employment. Liz Montoya, OPM Chief of Staff, and John Sepulveda, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration for the Department of Veterans Affairs, serve as co-chairs of the council, which is comprised of Federal executives and representatives of Hispanic organizations.“We have a whole different support system in the Federal government now,” Montoya said.

In December, Montoya’s council issued three recommendations. They called for more accountability by Federal agencies, educating managers on the importance of hiring Latinos and encouraging Hispanic students to seek jobs in the government through internships and fellowships. In addition, every agency has to submit to OPM their plan to promote diversity.Montoya said the culture of the Federal government, which historically has shut Hispanics out, is changing. But even she is not certain the new attitude will be reflected in the latest hiring numbers.“I’m hopeful they are going up,” she said.

The Obama administration has also revamped the Federal government’s job website USAJobs.gov, in the hopes it is now easier for minority applicants to apply. But Ponce said the administration’s efforts are falling short.“Just announcing a job on USAJobs.gov and saying that’s all you need, that’s not targeting Hispanics.” He said the administration should establish a budget for outreach and spend money on hiring fairs, advertising in Hispanic media and more aggressive outreach.

There’s another problem when it comes to the civil service and Hispanics – those who are hired have a tough time making it to the top, the federal government’s Senior Executive Service. A report released last year by the Center for American Progress said that in 2030 Hispanics will compose only 6.8 percent of the SES, a little better than the current level of about 4 percent.

A 30-year civil servant who is Hispanic and has tried to make it into the SES for more than 10 years said the reason there are so few Latinos in the top ranks of the government is because managers “like to hire and promote people who look like them.

We have to be very tenacious because we are not at the decision making table.”

But this longtime civil servant is optimistic. “People are realizing Latinos are a great source of talent,” he said.

There are signs some agencies have stepped up efforts to recruit Latinos. Among them is the CIA. “CIA is committed to forging strong and dynamic partnerships within the Hispanic American community,” said agency spokesman Preston Golson.

He said the agency’s outreach includes recruitment at colleges and in regions of the country with high percentages of Hispanics.“And Latino agency officers regularly interact with potential recruits to discuss career opportunities and dispel myths about the organization,.” Golson said.

Still, Ponce is frustrated. “No more councils, no more reports, no more studies,” he said. “We want action and we want solutions now.”


Ana Radelat