Diversity a Struggle at Homeland Security Dept.
Could behavior like David Letterman's be to blame for the lack of diversity at the Department of Homeland Security?
A Republican lawmaker noted Wednesday that the talk show host’s recent admission of pre-martial affairs with young women who worked for him was greeted more by reluctant acceptance than outrage by his fans and the press. Rep. Daniel Lungren (R-Calif.) said he is concerned that such reactions help promote a belief among women that they have to endure sexual discrimination in order to advance their careers.
“If that message goes out to women that a hostile environment -- as far as a person in authority making it clear how you advance, that is a terrible, terrible message,” he said.
Lungren, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is especially concerned because hiring statistics show DHS is predominantly white and mostly male. The six-year-old department employs more than 170,000 people in roughly two dozen agencies and offices, making it the third-largest federal department. But women account for just 32 percent of DHS employees, roughly 12 points below the government-wide percentage of female federal employees, and 13 percent below the percentage of women in the national civilian labor force, according to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute assured committee members Wednesday that she will not tolerate a "Late Show"-like environment at DHS.
“It is my personal commitment -- it’s certainly the secretary’s personal commitment -- that Homeland Security will not only be a department where diversity can thrive, but where we are the leading edge of best practice in the federal government for a diverse workforce,” she said.
Even though DHS is a male-dominated department, Lute and Janet Napolitano now run the place and seem committed to fixing its gender and racial disparities.
“We don’t need a notice for a Congressional hearing to know that we have a challenge and a problem with diversity at Homeland Security,” she said.
The committee held Wednesday’s hearing to follow up on several reports that highlight the department’s lingering inability to recruit and retain women and minorities.
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) noted it could be harder to attract female recruits because of the male-dominated law enforcement culture that fosters “the same old, same old male-dominated institution building.” She seemed unimpressed by Lute’s assurances that things will change.
“Being a woman in a nontraditional role myself, I just seem to hear the same commentary over and over. Maybe I’m hypersensitive, but it just appears that way,” Clarke said.
In response, Lute -- who said she and Napolitano are also women in nontraditional roles -- told Clarke that “If the culture doesn’t change under our watch, then shame on us.”
There are also concerns about Homeland Security’s ability to attract minorities. The department has the highest rate of Hispanics among top Cabinet-level departments at nearly 20 percent, but Latinos hold only 6 percent of senior level positions, according to statistics provided at the hearing by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Blacks account for 14 percent of the workforce, and 5 percent of senior positions. Asians comprise 4 percent and hold 1.5 percent of the senior posts. Sixty percent of the department’s employees are white, and whites hold 87 percent of the senior-level posts.
A 2007 DHS analysis revealed it relied too much on the Internet and noncompetitive hiring authorities to attract job applicants, lacked effective recruitment efforts aimed at Hispanics and used nondiverse interview panels to question potential hires.
“I do not place blame on you for creating the problems,” committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told Lute and other department officials. “But I am holding you responsible for delivering solutions.”
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate noted that his agency has adopted a more proactive recruitment process by “not waiting for people to know about a job, not waiting for them to apply online.” The agency has done so only because Fugate happened to review a list of applicants for the agency’s federal contracting officer positions.
“Not only did I not see any diversity, I didn’t see any diversity geographically or in skill sets. It seemed to me that we were almost going to central casting and getting live candidates who all looked the same, all had the same backgrounds and were geographically pretty much from the same area,” Fugate said. He vowed that FEMA will do a better job in the future of reaching out to professional associations that represent minority law enforcement and emergency officials.
Though no lawmaker disputed the importance of diversity, a few Republicans members voiced frustration that the panel is not holding public hearings on the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism efforts or its plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
“Obviously the issue of diversity is important, but there's other issues, and probably none is more important than the threat of terrorism,” said ranking member Peter King (R-N.Y.).
“There's a direct correlation and a direct role for this committee to play because of the role that Secretary Napolitano will play in the final disposition of Guantanamo,” he added.
Committee members have received private briefings from government officials about the recent arrests of terrorism suspects and similar matters, according to committee spokeswoman Dena Graziano. Those briefings occur privately due to security concerns, she said.
| October 14, 2009; 5:44 PM ET
Categories: Congress, Oversight, Workplace Issues
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