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Federal Workforce Diversity: Why Agencies Seek Out Minority Workers

Federal Workforce Diversity: Why Agencies Seek Out Minority Workers

Dan Woog /

Minority representation in the federal workforce continues to outstrip participation in civilian jobs with one exception: Hispanics, who are significantly underrepresented in federal jobs. But all minority applicants face challenges in government hiring and advancement.

The degree of difficulty varies widely based on a number of factors, as demonstrated by the following statistics. They were summarized from the Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program report (FEORP) for fiscal year 2004 that was released to Congress in May 2005.

African Americans make up 17.4 percent of the federal workforce, as compared to 10.1 percent of the civilian labor force. But the percentage of African Americans drops dramatically with each rise in job grade. They hold 27.6 percent of the lowest positions (GS 1-4), 25.8 percent of GS 5-8, 15.7 percent of GS 9-12, 10.9 percent of GS 13-15 and just 6.9 percent of Senior Pay levels.

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Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represent 4.9 percent of federal employees and 4 percent of the civilian workforce. They too are underrepresented at Senior Pay levels, representing 5.9 percent of GS 1-4 pay grades but just 2.6 percent at the Senior Pay grade.

American Indians form 1.9 percent of the federal workforce but make up 0.8 percent of the civilian labor force. Job grade participation ranges from 5 percent at GS 1-4 to 2.9 percent at GS 5-8 to only 0.8 percent at the Senior Pay level.

Hispanics make up just 7.3 percent of the federal workforce versus 12.6 percent of the civilian labor force. They hold about 9 percent of the GS 1-4 and 5-8 job grade positions and 3.4 percent of Senior Pay-level jobs.

Representation Among Agencies and Departments

Minority hiring patterns also vary by government agency and department when representation is compared to that in relevant civilian job roles. According to the 2004 FEORP report, African Americans are well represented at the departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and Treasury.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are similarly represented in the US Navy, Department of Commerce, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

American Indians are concentrated in the departments of Health and Human Services and Interior, the Social Security Administration and the Smithsonian Institution.

Finally, Hispanics/Latinos are prominent at the Department of Homeland Security and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as the Social Security Administration.

Why the Discrepancies?

“The tools are there to hire more Hispanics, but not the will,” says Manuel Oliverez, president of the National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives. “There are no rewards or accolades for hiring and promoting Hispanics and no punishment if you don’t. The government job market is tight, and requirements for hiring are tough.”

For African Americans in government, “it can be hard to move up the ladder, especially into SES [Senior Executive Service] positions, if you don’t have a mentor,” says Farrell Chiles, chair of the National Organization of Blacks in Government. “A lot of African Americans leave government for better opportunities in corporate America, where the only thing that matters is what you can add to the bottom line.”

Chiles notes that while many agencies encourage African Americans to take tests and advance in grade, “we’re often competing against other minorities, or veterans.”

Dan Archuleta, chairman of the American Indian Program Council, a subcommittee of the Denver Federal Executive Board, attributes part of the fact that American Indians are concentrated in a few government agencies to geography and history. “There is a lot of resistance among Native Americans to moving to cities,” he says. “And some people are just not willing to work for the government, because it’s the government.”

Archuleta’s group works on creative ways to encourage American Indians to consider government employment, such as attending powwows to distribute information about 164 federal agencies.

Advice for Minority Federal Job Seekers

Each minority group’s advocates stress the importance of increasing its representation in the federal workforce. “The business of government is to provide services to citizens and residents,” says Jorge Ponce, cochair of the Council of Federal Equal Employment Opportunity and Civil Rights Executives. “People need to participate directly in institutions that affect their lives.”

To enhance your chances of landing a government job, Ponce suggests networking with friends, relatives and associates to discover openings in departments or agencies. Applicants should also be sure to submit all required documents and forms. “With the government, it’s not enough to have nine things if they want 10,” he says.

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