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The new head of the Senate Democratic diversity hiring initiative faces a daunting task in making a dent in the overwhelmingly monolithic staff demographics of Capitol Hill.
In her first interview since taking the job two weeks ago, Maria Meier said she wants to strengthen the pipeline of minority hiring created by Majority Leader Harry Reid more than three years ago and do more to retain the staffers who move through it.
“I think every Democratic office understands that their leader is committed to this,” she said of the Nevada Democrat. “It’s one thing to say, ‘We’re going to do this.’ It’s another thing to commit the resources to institutionalize an office and put a senior level person in charge of it.”
Martina Bradford, the former head of the program, said she helped staff more than 200 minority employees in Senate offices since she was hired in 2007.
“These numbers are not big. These numbers are not strong. But they are improving,” said Bradford, now the deputy Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. “Not nearly quick enough, but important strides are being made.”
Neither the House nor the Senate releases a tally of how many minority employees work among the ranks of about 7,000 Congressional staffers on the Hill. But House Assistant Leader James Clyburn, the highest-ranking black legislator in Congress, said a formal report would hardly confirm their absence.
“It doesn’t take much more than eyeballing to see that diversity is very lacking here on this Hill,” the South Carolina Democrat said. “It’s been that way for a long time.”
Nevertheless, Meier uses the same metrics to gauge the Senate diversity initiative’s success: “You simply have to look around and you see there are more people, more diverse staff on the Hill,” she said.
Working out of Reid’s office, Meier maintains a database of résumés from thousands of minority candidates. She interviews them to make sure they are qualified, and when offices come to her, she connects them to applicants.
The country is seeing steady growth in Hispanic and Asian American populations, and minority staffers can help tap into those communities, said Brown University professor John Logan, who has been studying the 2010 census.
“Everyone’s constituency is becoming more diverse,” Logan said. “An African-American or an Asian staff person will find out different things and be aware of different things than a non-Hispanic, white staff person.”