Center for Strategic Communication

By Patricia H Kushlis

 (Note: This post is based on information collected over a number of years by a WV friend.)    

Pity President Obama whose standing with a key Democratic Party constituency is taking a hit over immigration policy.  Is he deserving of the moniker “deporter in chief” or is he getting a bum rap from Hispanic groups?   One way to measure his solidarity with the Hispanic community is by evaluating his administration’s efforts to increase the number of Hispanics in the federal workforce, and to promote and create opportunities for advancement of Hispanics already in the federal workforce. 

Unfortunately, in this respect, Obama’s record is no better than prior administrations.  The administration has mimicked what previous administration have done, which is to appoint some Hispanic politicians, party activists, and donors to cabinet and sub-cabinet policy positions and ambassadorships, while doing little to hire, retain, and promote Hispanics in the federal workforce.

Starting with an overview of Hispanic federal employment at the moment, in its latest “Annual Report to the President on Hispanic Employment in the Federal Government,” OMB reports that Hispanics in 2012 make up 8.2% of the federal workforce overall, an increase from the 6.5% that were active in 2000.  By agency, the highest representation of Hispanics is the Department of Homeland Security whose personnel is 20.9% Hispanic.  The agency with the lowest representation is Health and Human Services, whose staff is 3.4% Hispanic. 

What about the State Department, the agency nearest and dearest to the heart of WhirledView readers? 

How does State fare in OMB’s annual reports and with the EEOC, which also keeps gender and ethnicity statistics on the federal agencies?  Well, it’s hard to be precise because State, uniquely it seems among federal agencies, does not allow the general public access to its gender/ethnic promotion statistics, classifying them as SBU and hiding them behind the department’s intranet wall. 

Going back to 2000, the only year that State published promotion figures based on gender and ethnicity was in 2012, when they appeared in the June 2012 issue of State MagazineThose statistics disappeared from State Magazine in 2013 and 2014. 

Further adding to the mystery, the statistics that the State Department provides to the EEOC about Hispanic employment do not include the Foreign Service; in other words, for reasons only State management knows, the department refuses to disclose figures for career diplomats and deems itself compliant offering only civil service numbers to the public.

In the interest of showing something positive in an otherwise dismal picture, let’s first lay out the best case scenario for the State Department based on what is publicly known.  OMB reports the department’s percentage of Hispanics in its workforce (minus the Foreign Service) in 2012 was 5.2%, which is a .2% increase from the previous year and an increase of 1.4% from 2001, when OMB first reported State’s workforce as 3.8% Hispanic. 

State Magazine reported in June 2012 that the 2011 Foreign Service promotion rate, broken down by ethnicity and race, was 31.8% for Whites, 15.6% for African Americans, 14.3% for Hispanics, 14.9% for Asian Americans, and 50% for Native Americans.  It is important to note that these figures are not broken down by cone and that, lacking overall numbers of how many competed for promotion in each ethnic group, the percentages may be misleading.  Nevertheless, these percentages appear robust on first impression. 

Finally, the Department has nominated the first Hispanic officer ever to serve as Director General of the Foreign Service, Ambassador Arnold Chacon, and appointed the first ever Hispanic from the career service to serve in the EUR (European Bureau) front office as a DAS. Bravo!  This is progress!

But before we get too excited about ”progress” (remarkable only for how glacial-like changes come to the department), let’s look at the track record going back ten to fifteen years, examining not only available statistics (as imprecise or incomplete as they are) but adding anecdotal evidence that allows a fuller picture to emerge. 

Spoiler alert!  The picture that emerges is not pretty.

We turn first to the statistics that OPM has been keeping agency by agency of Hispanic employment pursuant to Executive Order 13171, issued under President Clinton on October 12, 2000.  (The reports are available at the OPM website:  OPM ranks agencies by the percentage of Hispanics employed in their workforce.  For additional contrast, it compares how the percentage of Hispanics in each agency stacks up vis a vis the Relevant Civilian Labor Force (RCLF). 

Year by year since these records have been kept, the State Department ranks in the bottom quarter of the reporting agencies, not only employing significantly fewer Hispanics than other agencies, but also consistently under performing in comparison with the Relevant Civilian Labor Force.  Here are the statistics from 2001 through 2010:

FY 2001 – State Hispanic employees 3.8%/5.1% RCLF;

FY 2002 – State Hispanic employees 3.8%/5.1% RCLF;

FY 2003 – State Hispanic employees 4.6%/5.1% RCLF;

FY 2004 – State Hispanic employees 4.6%/7.6% RCLF;

FY 2005 – State Hispanic employees 4.7%/7.5% RCLF;

FY 2006 – State Hispanic employees 4.3%/7.6% RCLF;

FY 2007 – State Hispanic employees 4.8%/7.6% RCLF;

FY 2008 – State Hispanic employees 5.2%/7.5% RCLF;

FY 2009 – OMB reports that State did not provide data for this fiscal year

FY 2010 – State Hispanic employees 5.2%/No RCLF data

Records kept by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission similarly point to chronic under representation of Hispanics at State.  In its Annual Report on the Federal Workforce (the reports are available at the EEOC breaks down State’s workforce by gender and ethnicity from FY 2005 through FY 2010:

 FY 2005 –     Total permanent workforce 18,655

                        Hispanics in foreign affairs functions 5.35% (83.63% whites)

                        Hispanics in the Senior Executive Service 2.84% (86.50% whites)

 FY 2006 –     Total permanent workforce 18,831

                        Hispanics in foreign affairs functions 4.11% (85.68% whites)

                        Hispanics in the Senior Executive Service 1.99% (93.98% whites)

FY 2007 –      Total permanent workforce 19,518

                        Hispanics in foreign affairs functions 4.15% (85.45% whites)

                        Hispanics in the Senior Executive Service 1.75% (93.86% whites)

 FY 2008 –    Total permanent workforce 19,922

                        Hispanics in foreign affairs functions 3.50% (87.98% whites)

                        Hispanics in the Senior Executive Service 3.09% (93.83% whites)

 FY 2009 –    Total permanent workforce 21,952

                       Hispanics in foreign affairs functions 3.46% (84.47% whites)

                        Hispanics in the Senior Executive Service 2.63% (87.50% whites)

 FY 2010 –    Total permanent workforce 22,120

                       Hispanics in foreign affairs functions 3.28% (87.17 whites)

                       Hispanics in the Senior Executive Service 1.89% (91.19% whites)

These statistics are significant for at least two reasons: while the total permanent workforce at State has slowly increased from FY 2005 to FY 2010, the percentage of Hispanics in foreign affairs functions has fluctuated from slightly over 5% in 2005 to slightly over 3% in 2010, and back to slightly over 5% in 2012, at a time when the Hispanic population and workforce in this country is booming (Hispanics are now over 17% of the U.S. population). Second, and importantly, the percentage of Hispanics in the Senior Service drops dramatically even from the low percentage of total Hispanics in the State workforce; the downward trend underscores that Hispanics at State are not being promoted in a manner consistent with equal employment best practices.

With regard to the Foreign Service, because State does not disclose Foreign Service statistics publicly, we can only offer snapshots of what Hispanics are facing with regard to promotion possibilities and, something that goes hand in hand with promotion potential, the ability to compete on a level playing field for open assignments. 

Through a friend of Whirledview we managed to obtain a few data points that, while incomplete, taken together with OPM’s and EEOC’s record, paint a discouraging picture for Hispanic FSOs. The numbers we obtained pertain to 2008, and while we cannot claim that every year the numbers have been as dismal, we can extrapolate from there with the help of anecdotal evidence to draw some of the following conclusions.

According to State HR records, in 2008 4.1% of the Foreign Service generalist workforce and 6.5% of the FS specialist workforce was Hispanic.  We do not know the promotion rates for Hispanics in every cone because, as stated previously, those statistics aren’t public. 

We did obtain the promotion statistics for political officers competing for promotion from FS-02 to FS-01 in 2008, which revealed an inexplicable and shocking bias against Hispanic FSOs.  The breakdown is as follows:  278 political officers competed for promotion from 02 to 01 and, of those, 47 were promoted.  Broken down by race/ethnicity, a total of 244 white officers were reviewed, resulting in 43 of them promoted (17.62%); eight African Americans competed and two were promoted (25%); nine Asian Americans were reviewed and two were promoted (22.22%); one Native American was reviewed but not promoted; and 16 Hispanic FSOs were reviewed and NONE were promoted. That out of a sizable group of 02 Hispanic political officers not even one was promoted is shocking.  Absent an official explanation, this is in and of itself circumstantial evidence of institutional bias against Hispanics.

A final data point we obtained has to do with assignments, and points to how Hispanics have been shut out of career enhancing positions in EUR the Department’s largest regional bureau.  In an eight year period, from 2000 to 2008, EUR had zero Hispanics who even served as an office director in any of 17 bureau offices. 

In that same period, of the five to six front office positions available in EUR, one Hispanic officer filled a DAS position on a temporary basis for several months in 2003.  Do the math and it becomes clear there’s something wrong going on here! 

Taking into account an average rotation time of two years for each office director and front office DAS, this translates into nearly 100 vacancies over an 8 year span where no Hispanics were chosen to fill these positions on a permanent basis.  The inability to compete on a level playing field for career enhancing jobs in EUR is a common refrain among minority groups in the Foreign Service; witness the dearth of African American ambassadors in that same bureau.  But to have an entire minority group shut out of a bureau’s most coveted positions for almost a decade is an outrage.

This is the difficult situation facing Ambassador Chacon when he is finally confirmed by the Senate as the new Director General, replacing Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield.  It is the same situation that Ambassador Greenfield and her predecessor Nancy Powell faced.  Has anything been done? Take a look at this exchange between Senator Bob Menendez and Ambassador Thomas at her confirmation hearings in March 2012 for Director General:

 Senator Menendez: Ambassador Greenfield, you and I had a good conversation yesterday….And what ensues is not about you but about the Department.  I believe the State Department has the worst record of the hiring of minorities, particularly of Hispanics.  This is something that I have been pursuing since my days in the House on the International Relations Committee.  This is something I have pursued on this committee, and I do not seem to get anybody’s attention. [I]t …cannot continue this way.

 Ambassador Thomas GreenfieldI had the opportunity to look at these charts on the board, and unfortunately those numbers in those charts reflect the reality.  And what they reflect is the reality of the challenge that is going to be before me….I am concerned that these numbers are so low….  The Foreign Service is not successful if it does not represent the face of America….

Time and again Ambassador Chacon’s predecessors have promised to do better, while leaving the situation unchanged. Behind Senator Menendez’s frustration with the lack of Hispanic progression at State is the building’s failure to view the issue as a priority.

This attitude is perhaps best exemplified by former Director General Nancy Powell who in 2011 told the Hispanic Employees Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies (HECFAA) that while State wanted a better story to present to Members of Congress, “things would not change overnight” and it was important “to manage expectations.”  In the process, she told HECFAA that she would look to them, and not her staff, to originate ideas.  In other words, yes, thank you, we know we have a problem, but why fix it urgently or be proactive about solving it now?

What is particularly baffling about management’s inaction is that, on top of mandates to do better under E.O 13171 and the 2011 Hispanic Council on Federal Employment, the Department’s own Inspector General issued a report in 2008 taking the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) to task for failure to adopt best EEO practices and specifically highlighting serious deficiencies in tracking mandated programs for Hispanics. 

Among the key judgments in the report:

[S/OCR] has been ineffective in ensuring that Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and diversity concerns are properly integrated into the Office of the Secretary’s Bureau Performance Plan (BPP) and the Department’s strategic and performance planning process.

S/OCR’s outreach unit is focusing an inordinate amount of its limited resources on commemorative events rather than devoting its attention to mandated programs for Hispanic and disabled persons and women and to the identification and analysis of EEO barriers.

The report points out that the outreach unit failed a primary mission. It is not giving sufficient attention to – among other things – “monitoring upward mobility programs” and “performing EEOC-required barrier analyses that are critical to identifying and eliminating barriers to equal opportunity.” 

Specifically addressing barrier analysis, the report states: “Although barrier analyses is not a new discipline, S/OCR does not have a comprehensive program to carry out that analysis.  Barrier analysis requires adequate data collection and careful scrutiny of such factors as the human resources programs designed to increase diversity in the Department…and the upward mobility programs for underrepresented employees.  S/OCR has never had adequate staff devoted to this function….”

This Report includes among its formal recommendations:

Recommendation 6: The Office of Civil Rights, in coordination with the Bureau of Human Resources, should write and implement a standard operating procedure for including barrier analysis as part of the Management Directive-715 process.

Among its informal recommendations:

 Informal Recommendation 4: The Office of Civil Rights should compile a list of [EEO] best practices used by other offices of civil rights and gradually incorporate those practices into its operation.

Sadly, that is the present state of Hispanics at State. As HECFAA pointed out to Ambassador Powell in 2011:

The State Department has a unique mandate by virtue of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 to represent the United States in other parts of the world.  Hispanics are America’s second largest demographic group.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2011 the Hispanic population in the United States topped 50 million, accounting for 1 in 6 Americans.  This demographic trend has not translated in greater Hispanic representation at the State Department.  In the 1980s, when Hispanics were 6.4% of the American population, Hispanics represented less than 5% of the Department’s workforce.  Thirty years later, Hispanics make up only 5% of the Department’s workforce according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Despite today’s record number of Hispanics serving in senior positions, most are political appointees.  Hispanics still remain underrepresented at every rank including Deputy Chiefs of Mission (4.1%), Chiefs of Mission (10.6%), the Senior Executive Service (2.9%), and Senior Foreign Service (4.5%).

In essence, the Obama administration’s record is neither worse nor better than previous ones, but that in itself speaks volumes about promises unfulfilled and mandates ignored. Good luck in your new job, Ambassador Chacon, but given the monumental task you face and the decades of neglect and inaction, are you sure you still want it?