By Karen Rutzick | Govexec.com
Hispanics continue to be substantially underrepresented in the federal workplace, according to 2005 data published by the Office of Personnel Management Wednesday.
Hispanics account for 7.4 percent of federal employees, but 12.6 percent of the general workforce, the figures show.
These numbers are new, but they tell an old story: For years, the percentage of Hispanics in the federal government has been much lower than that in the broader civilian labor force. Even as the percentage in the federal workforce climbs, so does the Hispanic population and its representation in jobs around the country.
Hispanic representation in federal employment is up just slightly from 2004, when it was 7.3 percent. Hispanics represented 7 percent of federal employees in 2003, 6.9 percent in 2002 and 6.6 percent in 2001, marking a five-year increase of 0.8 percent. In the same five-year period, Hispanic representation in the general workforce rose 0.7 percent, from 11.9 percent to 12.6 percent.
Hispanics account for only 3.5 percent of senior-level federal employees and 4.6 percent of GS 13-GS 15 managers. Those numbers rose slightly this year from 3.4 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.
In comments accompanying the statistics, OPM Director Linda Springer recognized the underrepresentation of Hispanics.
“Overall, minority groups are better represented in the federal workforce than in the civilian labor force with one exception—Hispanics,” Springer said. “Despite a trend of increasing Hispanic representation in the federal workforce, Hispanics remain underrepresented in the federal government compared to the civilian labor force.”
There is no single reason, said Professor Harry Pachon, professor of public policy at the University of Southern California and president of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, which conducts research on key issues affecting Latino communities.
Pachon, a former federal employee himself in what was the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, identified a number of reasons for Hispanic underrepresentation, including a lack of federal recruitment in the West, where many Hispanics live. He also said the U.S. citizenship requirement for federal employment disqualifies some Hispanics who are able to work with green cards elsewhere in the general workforce.
Hispanics historically have not benefited from affirmative action to the same extent as other minority groups, Pachon added.
“Affirmative action in the 1970s and 1980s was not really addressed primarily at Latinos, it was addressed at African Americans, with good reason,” Pachon said. “Latinos in the affirmative action program were almost an afterthought rather than a forethought.”
Advocates for Hispanics are working to make underrepresentation a forethought. In 2004, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of civil rights groups, called for Congress and President Bush to address the gap. In 2001, government leaders convened the Interagency Task Force on Hispanic Employment in the Federal Government after President Clinton issued an executive order to improve representation.
Springer said the Bush administration “will continue our efforts with agencies, stakeholders and working groups to make federal job opportunities known and available to every interested man and woman.”
The trend of underrepresentation is not the same throughout the federal government. OPM’s numbers show that Hispanics made up 18.5 percent of the Homeland Security Department’s employees in 2005.
“If Latinos are good enough to defend the country and fight the drugs and stop undocumented immigration, why aren’t they good enough to be a GS-15 in the Department of Education?” Pachon asked.
The overall lack of Hispanics in federal agencies has implications for the broader Hispanic population, advocates argue. In May 2004, Manuel Mirabal, then chair of the NHLA, wrote letters to the leaders of House and Senate government oversight subcommittees making this point.
“We believe Hispanic representation at all levels translates into government access and the ability to influence public policies,” Mirabal said.
Pachon said Hispanics in the federal government provide an awareness of issues other employees cannot.
“What does it mean when you have 50 percent of the kids in Texas and 50 percent of the kids in California who are Latino in the first grade and you have  percent representation in the Department of Education?” Pachon asked. “A lack of awareness of the bilingual, bicultural issues that are facing America.”