Council buckles down on Hispanic hiring in federal workforce

A grim progress report is prompting the Hispanic Council on Federal Employment to better understand why agencies cannot recruit and retain more Hispanics in the federal workforce.

The Council on Federal Employment voted Dec. 10 to set up a working group or steering committee that will study and ultimately propose how agencies can conduct more comprehensive barrier analyses of Hispanics in the federal workforce.

Hispanics made up 8.4 percent of the federal workforce in fiscal 2014, 0.1 percent higher than fiscal 2013’s numbers, according to the Office of Personnel Management’s latest report on Hispanic employment.

“The data is not showing any progress,” Hector Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda and co-chairman of the Hispanic Council, said during Thursday’s meeting. “Actually, 0.1 percent for me, in comparison with the increase of the population, is not closing the gap. It’s actually increasing.”

Hispanics make up 16.1 percent of the U.S. labor market.

The report found that of the 24 largest federal agencies, all of them reported an increase or no change in the number of Hispanic employees; however, the percentage of Hispanic employees that resigned from the federal government increased from 8.1 percent in fiscal 2013 to 8.5 percent in fiscal 2014.

Though regulations require it, not all agencies are studying the barriers Hispanics and other minorities encounter when applying for and keeping jobs in the federal government, members of the Council said.

“We know from talking to our colleagues, few agencies are doing an accurate barrier analysis,” said Georgia Coffey, deputy assistant secretary for diversity and inclusion at the Veterans Affairs Department. “They’re looking at the numbers and that’s all they’re doing. That’s not a barrier analysis. Before we can attack the problem, we have to know where the problem is. Is it the outreach? Is it at the career development? Is it at the promotion level? We don’t know.”

The council largely agreed. It might set itself up for failure if it established specific quotas or numeric goals for improving Hispanic federal employment.

A former administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service said he once told the 16 members of his senior executive service core that he expected to see better representation among Hispanics in his agency’s workforce. Their annual performance bonuses, which ranged from $12,000-20,000, depended on their success.

“He didn’t set quotas, he didn’t establish percentages, he just said, ‘I’m going to call staff meeting and look around the room and see how we’ve done.’ Hispanic representation increased substantially at that agency,” he said. “My question for cabinet secretaries, sub-cabinet members and agency administrators is, how often do you tell your teams that you expect to see greater improvement in Hispanic representation, and how do you hold them accountable?”

Office of Personnel Management Acting Director Beth Cobert reminded the council that agencies have more flexibility within existing hiring authorities than they might think.

“One of the key elements where people have misperceptions is the ability to be more targeted in reaching out to people and encouraging them to join federal service,” she said. “You can do that in a way that is consistent with Merit Systems principles [and] Title V. There’s some things you have to do to do it right, but it’s absolutely doable.”

Through its upcoming Hiring Excellence initiative, Cobert said OPM will educate agency hiring managers about existing hiring authorities and how they can best use them.

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