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No Excuses, No Results

President Obama certainly got Hispanics to vote for him, so why can’t he hire them? As his second term begins, the low percentage of Latinos in the federal government is not expected to change much from last year. It has also grown little during the years the president has been in office.

According to reports on Hispanic hiring from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Latinos represented 7.9 percent of the federal workforce in 2008, the last year of President George W. Bush’s term. That percentage only crept up to 8.1 percent after Obama’s first three years in office. In comparison, Hispanics made up 13.6 percent of the national workforce in 2011.

“The federal government still faces challenges with regards to full employment of Hispanics…” OPM’s latest report on minority hiring said. The agency’s next report, which is expected to be released in July and will cover employment of minorities in the civil service in 2012, isn’t expected to show much of an improvement.

The stagnation in the rate federal agencies hire Hispanics is causing simmering discontent among those who for years have heard promises from the Obama administration that it would do better. “Hispanics don’t need more excuses. They need solutions,” said Jorge E. Ponce, former Co-Chair of the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives.

Ponce, who has battled to increase the number of Latinos in the federal workforce for years, said there are several reasons Uncle Sam has few Hispanics working for him. One is the retirement of Latino Baby Boomers, which is taking workers of all backgrounds out of the federal workforce. Latinos have also quit the civil service because their pay has been frozen for more than two years, Ponce said. These disillusioned workers know a raise won’t be in the offing anytime soon as lawmakers in Congress, especially Republicans, target the federal workforce in their efforts to cut the federal budget. Budget cuts have also resulted in hiring freezes or partial hiring freezes that allow agencies to hire only one person for every three who leave. Those freezes also hurt efforts to hire more Latinos, Ponce said.

Hispanic labor advocates also say there’s also a fourth reason Hispanic hiring has stagnated: There are few Hispanics in Cabinet or sub cabinet positions who would be press their agencies to hire Latinos. The two Hispanics in Obama’s Cabinet, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, have resigned. Obama has promised to appoint two new Cabinet level Latinos to his administration, but Ponce fears that as the president enters his second term “there’s not going to be as much emphasis in recruiting Hispanics as there was before. ... It’s very depressing,” he said.

But when it comes to Hispanic hiring, not all federal agencies are equal. A full 21 percent of the workers at the Department of Homeland Security are Hispanic, OPM said in its last report. That’s one out of every five employees. Ponce believes that’s because certain HHS agencies, including the Border Patrol and other immigration-related agencies, are overrepresented by Latinos. “The Department of Homeland Security is doing so good because they are recruiting Hispanics to chase other Hispanics,” he said.

Other agencies that have the best records of Latino employment include the Justice Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Treasury Department and the Labor Department, headed by Solis. NASA has a strong record, too. But to Ponce “even the [agencies] that are doing good are not doing good enough.” The agency with the most dismal hiring record is the Department of Health and Human Services. Only 3.2 percent of HHS employees are Latinos. The State Department, Pentagon, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce and Interior Department, headed by Salazar, also have weak Latino employment.

In some agencies, Latino employment actually appears to be dropping. In 2010, 5.4 percent of the State Department’s employees were Hispanic. A year later, that figure dropped to 5 percent. “Latinos are the most underrepresented people in the federal government,” said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy. “And if we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu.”

Meanwhile, blacks and Asians are overrepresented in the federal workforce, according to OPM’s latest report on minority hiring. As of Sept. 30, 2011, Asians represented 5.6 percent of the federal workforce compared to 4.4 percent of the general workforce. Blacks made up 17.8 percent of the civil service, compared to 10.1 percent of the general workforce.

Veronica Villalobos, OPM Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said progress is being made to hire Latinos at federal agencies. She points to a 1/10th of one percent rise in Hispanic employment between 2010 and 2011 as evidence things are getting better. “Overall, we’ve seen the agencies make the right efforts,” Villalobos said

Obama has signed a number of executive orders aimed at boosting Latino employment. One established the “Pathways Program” that sends federal recruiters to Hispanic-serving institutions to urge graduating students to work for the federal government, even though they may only be interns. Another Obama initiative urges federal hiring managers to reach out to Latino leaders at the National Council of La Raza and other groups to recruit Latino applicants.

But a lot of Obama’s outreach efforts have been curtailed by cuts to the federal budget. There is little or no use of Latino media and a reluctance to host or attend recruiting events in reaction to several scandals. Perhaps the best known involve the General Services Administration‘s spending of $822,000 for an elaborate training conference at a Las Vegas. But another directly impacted the administration’s efforts to boost Hispanic employment. It involved Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration at the Veterans Affairs Department, John Sepúlveda.

The Obama administration appointed Sepúlveda to head the Hispanic Council on Federal Employees, or HCFE, which was tasked with identifying barriers to Hispanic hiring in the civil service and finding solutions. “By bringing together leaders from across the nation, the HCFE provides me with quality insight on matters involving recruitment, hiring, and advancement of Hispanics within the federal workforce,” OPM Director John Barry said last summer.

But Sepúlveda was forced to resign in October after the Veterans Affairs Office pf Inspector General determined that $6.1 million was spent on two conferences in Orlando. In a detailed report, the inspector general identified $762,000 in “unauthorized, unnecessary, and/or wasteful expenses” during the conferences, including nearly $50,000 to produce a parody video of World War II hero Gen. George S. Patton.

Villalobos admits “this is not the best picture to make quick progress” in growing Hispanic participation in the federal workforce.

Besides scandals that prompted skittish managers to cancel or cut back on outreach events, budget cuts and the constant threat of deeper cuts, has prevented many agencies from filling open positions, much less expanding its workforce. “It’s not ideal, but this is where we are,” Villalobos said. “We have to do the best with what we have.”

In 2011, Obama signed executive order 13593 which required all federal agencies to develop diversity hiring practices. “Our nation derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all,” Obama said. “We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society…” But even then, a strategic plan to implement Obama’s executive order conceded “the difficult budget environment and the increased demand for innovation and efficiency present challenges to projecting and meeting future federal human resources needs.”

The plan recommended “casting a broad net in the search for top talent, wherever it may be found.” Not only are there fewer Latinos in the federal government as a whole, they are rarely found in the ranks of the Senior Executive Service. Members of the SES hold key positions in the civil service, just below the top presidential appointees. But only about 5 percent of the SES is Hispanic. The Center for American Progress, a liberal, Washington-based think tank, has determined Latinos will be underrepresented in the SES for decades. The center predicts Hispanics will compose 6.8 percent of the SES in 2030, while representing 23 percent of the total workforce that year.

Villalobos said the numbers don’t tell the whole story. She said a requirement that most federal workers be U.S. citizens has prevented many from working in the federal government. According to U.S. Census, only 9.9 percent of the Hispanic workforce are U.S. citizens who are eligible to apply for government work. So the fact only 8.1 percent of the federal workforce is Latino is not that bad, Villalobos said. “There’s still a discrepancy but it’s not as steep.”

Another barrier to Hispanic employment in the civil service, Villalobos said, is the scarcity of Latinos with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM.) “Educational attainment has a lot to do with how communities are represented in the federal government,” Villalobos said. “We need more Latinos going into engineering and math.” About 7.1 percent of those in STEM fields are Hispanic. And they are likely to prefer working in the private sector, where salaries are higher and the future more secure than in government. “We’re fighting for that talent with all the IBMs and Apples of the world,” she said.

But for now, Hispanics who do work for the federal government are concentrated in the lower grades and technical, clerical or administrative positions. Only 5 percent are classified as professionals. The lack of Latinos in the top echelons of federal agencies and in management positions is considered a big reason so few Hispanics work for the federal government, since Latino managers are apt to be more likely to consider Latino applicants.

Yet Villalobos is optimistic things will improve. So is her boss. “We remain committed to removing any challenges to the employment and advancement of Hispanics in the federal workforce,” the OPM’s Barry has said. Villalobos said federal managers will continue their outreach -- and are trying new ways to get the message to Latinos that federal agencies are good places to work. “Latinos use social media quite a bit, so were trying to reach Hispanics through social media,” she said. Google and other search engines will be employed to pitch government jobs to Hispanics, and new videos aimed at Latinos will be produced.

Meanwhile, advocates like Ponce are becoming more frustrated. In a recent blast email, or “JorgeGram” Ponce said it’s almost impossible to find the annual Hispanic Employment reports required by Obama’s 2011 executive order: “Well, the only place where you’ll be able to find the Hispanic Employment Program reports is by clicking on the newly revised OPM webpage at , scrolling down to the bottom of the page to the category listings, finding the Policy category, and clicking on Diversity and Inclusion, then clicking on Reports under the Diversity and Inclusion category on the left side of your screen, and, finally, clicking on Hispanic Employment Program in the middle of your screen,” Ponce wrote

Ponce concludes if it’s this difficult to find the report that gauges the administration’s progress on Latino hiring, which he says requires the use of a a Hubble telescope, “how would federal managers get the impression that the Hispanic challenge was taken seriously by the upper echelons of the federal government? Rather than progress, we find the same apathy that has brought anemic results in the past.”


By Ana Radelat