News Column

A Place for More Hispanics?

The push to get more Hispanics on the federal payroll gains momentum.

By Patricia Guadalupe
January/February 2002

Hispanics continue to account for a minuscule number of senior federal executives, a situation that Bush administration officials vow to fix. “You have my commitment that we can and will do better,” Labor Secretary Elaine Chao told a gathering of the National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives (NAHFE) in Washington, D.C. “The community is indeed underrepresented, but I promise we will work hard to change that. We are committed to realizing Hispanics’ potential.” Hispanics, the only underrepresented ethnic group on the government payroll, account for 6.6 percent of federal employees, compared to 11.8 percent of the civilian work force. The proportion of Hispanics in the highest-ranking Senior Executive Service (SES) is even smaller – just 3 percent. It’s a problem, Hispanic leaders say, that needs immediate attention. “Over the years we have struggled to be effective [in recruiting Hispanics into senior federal positions], with limited success,” says Manuel Oliverez, NAHFE president and CEO. “It’s a long-term process that requires focused effort and, very importantly, accountability.” Jorge Ponce, co-chair of the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives, agrees. “Hispanics are underrepresented in every grade level; there is no parity anywhere. If this continues, it’ll be past our lifetime to see parity,” he says, adding that he is willing to give the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt, up to a point. “The president is very familiar with the Hispanic community, and it’s only fair that one listen to what his administration has to say. We are pleased so far with their efforts, but 18 months from now, we will evaluate the administration’s comments.” The main topic of NAHFE’s fourth annual conference in Washington, D.C., was increasing the number of Hispanics in the federal government, particularly at the senior level. “We are looking at establishing a referral base, a pipeline, of GS-15s [the federal ser vice grade just below SES] that would serve as qualified candidates for SES positions, and we hope to have it operational by April,” Mr. Oliverez says. The NAHFE conference brought together several hundred federally employed Hispanics and senior Bush administration officials, including Ms. Chao and Dan Blair, senior adviser to the director of Office of Personnel Management. “We are deeply troubled that Hispanics are underrepresented,” Mr. Blair says. “[OPM director] Kay Coles James has been meeting regularly with the Interagency Task Force on Hispanic Employment, and we will submit semiannual reports on Hispanic employment to the president.” The Bush administration is making strides, appointing more Hispanics to senior positions (including cabinet and subcabinet spots) than any previous administration, according to Clay Johnson, director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. Hispanics make up 9 percent of those positions under the Bush presidency, and administration officials say they are looking for more. “Between 30 and 40 percent of the federal work force will be eligible to retire over the next few years,” says Mr. Johnson. “We have to attract huge numbers of people, and we can’t do that if only 3 percent of Senior Executive Service employees are Hispanic and if Hispanics continue to be underrepresented in the overall federal work force.” A report by the nonpartisan General Accounting Office found that the percentage of Hispanics decreased as the federal grade scale increased. For instance, while the number of Hispanic GS-14s increased by .74 percent between 1995 and 2000, the number of Hispanic GS-15s and SES employees increased only .55 percent and .18 percent, respectively. “Even the increases are tiny – less than 1 percent,” Mr. Ponce points out. A new NAHFE report on Hispanic employment in the 10 largest federal agencies found that the three agencies with the largest percentage of Hispanics in higher positions (GS-13 through SES) – the departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, and Treasury – are also among those that have signed a memo of understanding with NAHFE. The group works with those agencies to establish referrals, internships, and mentoring programs to recruit Hispanics. For more information on NAHFE and its report on Hispanics in federal employment, visit or For information on federal employment, visit

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

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