By Patricia Guadalupe
The U.S. Commerce Department and other federal agencies are not doing an adequate job of recruiting and retaining Hispanics, according to those who monitor Hispanic employment in the federal government.
"It is really dismal, just absolutely terrible," says Rudy Arredondo, a former federal official whose work involved monitoring Hispanic employment. "The 10-point plan is not working. There is this facade that they want Hispanics, but they don't seem to be interested in us. Nothing is happening."
The "10-point" plan was developed in 1998 by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) developed last fall to increase Hispanic federal employment, with particular emphasis on top-level positions – those known as the Senior Executive Service. Of the 5,238 people who hold SES jobs, less than 4 percent are Hispanics.
Among other things, the plan seeks to improve relationships with academic institutions that can serve as an employment pipeline, and it provides for increased mentoring of and professional development for current Hispanic employees, who are then encouraged to stay with the federal government.
Each federal agency – including Commerce – has a Hispanic Employment Program (HEP) manager to coordinate recruitment and retention of Hispanics, yet Hispanics continue to be the only underrepresented group in federal employment.
Nearly 70 percent of Hispanics employed by the federal government are concentrated among six agencies, excluding the Commerce Department. With Hispanics accounting for only 2.9 percent of the agency's work force, the Commerce Department ranks near the bottom of federal agencies with regard to Hispanic employment. An even smaller proportion of executive positions at Commerce are held by Hispanics. According to OPM figures, Hispanics hold just 2 percent of the 380 senior positions at the agency.
Commerce Secretary William M. Daley was unavailable for comment on the matter.
"A common excuse used by non-Hispanic managers is that they cannot find Hispanics who meet the qualifications of their vacancy announcements. This does not hold true for managers at the U.S. Department of Commerce," Roland Roebuck, an HEP manager, recently editorialized in a Washington, D.C., newspaper.
"Several Hispanic applicants have recently made it to the interview stage for SES jobs at Commerce, but non-Hispanic applicants have been selected. Hispanics are applying for jobs and are ready, willing, and able to work for the U.S. Department of Commerce, but Commerce managers are not hiring them."
Adding to the problem, some say, is the way the federal government has been handling recruitment.
"When they go out looking for people, they never send anyone with on-site hiring authority to any of the career or employment fairs. They have people who don't have the power or the interest to bring people on," says Mr. Arredondo.
There is a growing gap between the number of Hispanics employed in the federal government and those in the civilian work force. Currently, Hispanics constitute 6 percent of the federal work force, compared to 10 percent of civilian employees. The current Hispanic federal work force of 102,775 would almost double if Hispanics were employed in federal agencies in proportion to their presence in the civilian work force. While the number of Hispanic civilian workers has increased almost 3 percent in the past few years, Hispanic representation at the Commerce Department has inched up only 0.2 percent.
Department officials say they are working hard to recruit qualified Hispanics, but some in the Hispanic community accuse federal agencies of a lack of sincerity in their recruitment efforts. They point to what they say is the removal without notice last year of Armando Rodríguez as director of the OPM's Diversity Office. Among other things, Mr. Rodríguez initiated programs at Hispanic-serving institutions (colleges and universities with a student body that's at least 25 percent Hispanic) that would increase access to federal employment opportunities, and he helped develop an employment initiative to increase the number of Hispanics working for the federal government. OPM officials say Mr. Rodríguez was merely transferred to another position and reassigned other duties, but Hispanics remain unconvinced
"How can one take what they say about Hispanic employment seriously when they remove Rodríguez for no apparent reason," comments Mr. Arredondo. "There is a systematic mistreatment of Latinos. The federal government has put up a brick wall against Hispanic employment. There really isn't the commitment they say there is."
Federal officials contend the booming economy is hampering their efforts to find talented Hispanics. Many qualified applicants, they say, are opting to work in the private sector for more money.
"Yes, it is difficult, but one of the things I try to do is look long-term and explain that there is more job security in the federal government than in some aspects of the private sector," says Jorge Ponce, vice-chair of the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives. "And there are many opportunities to make an impact. Agencies do need to do a better job of outreach, particularly in the middle-management level where most of the Hispanics in professional positions are."
Hispanic professionals say that the Commerce Department and other federal agencies need to reassess their commitment to hiring Hispanics, including holding department officials accountable and reassigning them for failing to meet recruitment levels.
"What they need to do is be more serious about their efforts to recruit Hispanics, and at the very least, send out people who have the power to hire. They need to stop just talking about doing something and actually do it," says Mr. Arredondo.
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