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LULAC Slams U.S. Government's Hiring Practices

By Kelly Brewington | Sentinel Staff Writer

June 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

Hispanic employment in Federal agencies.

The nation's oldest Latino civil-rights group released a scathing report Tuesday in Orlando that criticizes federal agencies for doing a poor job hiring and retaining Hispanics.

The League of United Latin American Citizens called for a more serious commitment to a federal work force that represents the changing U.S. population at its 74th annual convention held at the Wyndham Palace Resort at Walt Disney World.

"You have a president saying we need to have a federal work force that reflects our community, but the federal agencies don't seem to be doing anything about it," said Brent Wilkes, LULAC national executive director. "The word is not getting down to the people doing the hiring."

The organization invited Christie Whitman,outgoing Environmental Protection Agency administrator, to address the hiring gap because it is especially acute at her agency.

Whitman agreed the EPA should do more to improve its rate of hiring Hispanics and highlighted the outreach work under her tenure, from internship programs to partnerships with LULAC and other civil-rights groups.

"We have made a conscious effort to place impressive Hispanic-Americans in key roles," she said, adding that the agency's head of environmental compliance is Hispanic.

Although Hispanics are now the nation's largest minority group, making up 13 percent of the population, they comprise only 6.7 percent of federal employees, according to 2001 figures from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

At the EPA, Hispanics comprised just 4.6 percent of the agency's work force.

Organizers at LULAC applauded the federal agencies for participating in their job fair this week, but said the efforts are not enough.

As the U.S. Hispanic population soared in the 1990s, the number of Hispanics employed by federal agencies inched up slightly. In 1990, Hispanics comprised 9 percent of the total population and 5.4 percent of federal employees. Though the Hispanic population grew to 13 percent by 2001, Hispanics held only 6.7 percent of federal jobs.

Wilkes said Hispanics are often left out of the loop when job opportunities are spread by word of mouth, he said.

"A lot of times, it's really a matter of who you know," Wilkes said. "Hispanics are underrepresented because they tend not to know many people in government."

Wilkes doesn't blame Republicans or Democrats -- pointing out that both have struggled to hire and keep Latinos in government jobs for years.

"The Clinton administration also said it wanted a government that looks like America, but Clinton actually had fewer Hispanic Cabinet appointments than Bush," Wilkes said.

President Bush signed an executive order in 2001 creating a task force working out of the Office of Personnel Management to find ways to increase the number of Hispanic federal employees.

In its first semiannual report last year, the task force cited that in 1995 Hispanics made up 7.2 percent of new hires in federal agencies and that in 2001 they comprised 8.2 percent. It calls the increase a "promising trend."

While welcoming that increase, LULAC insists the task force has a huge challenge ahead.

Civil-rights groups such as LULAC bemoan the lack of minorities in the private sector, as well, but argue that minority representation in federal employment is essential.

Federal employees make spending decisions, including which government programs are funded or discontinued, Wilkes said.

"It's more important in federal agencies because these are the people who control the billions of dollars in these agencies and decide who the grant money goes to," he said.

Hispanic employees might also provide community outreach, encouraging people to take advantage of programs available to them.

Wilkes points out that some federal agencies already have made significant improvements. The Social Security Administration, for instance, increased its percentage of Hispanic new hires from 13.6 percent in 1995 to 23.8 percent in 2001.

"They went from being one of the worst to one of the best," Wilkes said. "They put Hispanics in key positions. They realized many of their customers were Hispanics and made it mandatory that new hires are bilingual. It can be done."

The LULAC Exposition and Job Fair will run from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 7 p.m. today, 9 a.m. to noon and 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday, and 9 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. Friday at the Wyndham Palace Resort at Walt Disney World.

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