Heard on the Hill

Congress Doesn’t Report Diversity Because It Doesn’t Have to

While federal agencies must report the diversity of their employees, there is no such requirement of Congress

Kemba Hendrix, director of the House Democrats’ Diversity Initiative, took on her role in November. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 10:30 a.m. with figures for House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s staff | If you ask a House or Senate office to break down the diversity of its staff, chances are it won’t. Because it doesn’t have to.

While the executive branch has to provide data on the racial and ethnic makeup of its staff for the public record, there is no rule mandating that congressional offices do the same.

Kemba Hendrix, the first-ever director of the Democrats’ House Diversity Initiative, pointed to differences in how the federal government collects data compared to the 435 members’ offices.

“I don’t want to call it less structured, but in every federal office, even at a huge agency, they all have the same standard operating procedures,” she said. “That is not at all here.”

An Obama-era executive order issued in August 2011 led the Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to develop a dashboard to report demographic data from federal agencies and companies that do business with the government. 

Roll Call tried to collect similar data on the legislative side, and started by reaching out to the eight top Hill leadership offices for staff diversity numbers.

The offices of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin said they annually collect data tracking diversity among Senate Democratic staff and the new numbers will be released this summer.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer’s office said that while it does not collect specific data on its staff, it does know that about 36 percent identify as minorities and if you include women, that figure is 68 percent.

“Mr. Hoyer is very proud of the diversity of his office, with several talented women leading his team. His Chief of Staff, Communications Director, and Director of Member Services are all women, and his Director of Legislative Operations, the person responsible for running the Floor for House Democrats, is an African-American woman,” Mariel Saez, deputy communications director, said. “In addition, he is dedicated to expanding the diversity of the Caucus and has led a number of efforts to do so, including launching a resume bank to expand access to employment opportunities, and thereby result in more diversity.”

In Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office, 41 percent of the staff is people of color and or LGBT. If you include women, that figure is 77 percent. Pelosi’s deputy chiefs of staff are a LGBT male and a woman and the chief of staff in her California office is Latino.

“Leader Pelosi’s office is, without rival, the most diverse office on Capitol Hill,” Deputy Chief of Staff Drew Hammill said. “Leader Pelosi has always believed in the importance of leading by example.”

The other four offices did not respond.

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Ongoing efforts

While exact numbers aren’t officially available, caucuses have taken steps to promote diversity.

Hendrix has a Democratic counterpart as diversity director on the Senate side. House Republicans have a director of outreach. The Senate GOP conference didn’t respond to a request about its efforts, but Jeyben Castro has been the outreach director of the Senate Republican Task Force on Hispanic Affairs for more than three years.

Hendrix, a former OPM employee, came on board last November after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi established the diversity initiative.  

Her tasks include helping candidates get jobs in Democratic offices.

“The purpose is really focused on increasing the population of the people that are underrepresented here. My role is really putting people in places that they want to be,” she said.

Hendrix said she helps hiring managers “be more focused on integrating their office so it is more seamless and that all people’s voices are equally represented.” 

There have been discussions about collecting data about the Democratic Caucus’ diversity, but the project is not yet in the works.

Republicans aren’t tracking their diversity numbers either, but the House GOP conference has a director of outreach in Rachel Barkley, who works with groups such as the Hispanic Leadership Fund and Log Cabin Republicans, among others, to bring in diverse staffers.

“Her goal is to make sure every perspective is at the table and offering their voices to the debates on Capitol Hill,” said Olivia Hnat, the conference’s national press secretary.

Some offices have their own efforts. For instance, GOP Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado has an internship program for African-American Republicans.

“This program gives conservatives of color the chance to get hands-on experience in Washington, D.C. It allows them to build relationships and prepare to play an important role in the future of the Republican Party,” Buck said.  

A breakthrough

For the first time in Senate history, the Democrats’ Senate Diversity Initiative collected demographic information on Senate staff last year, said director Lorenzo Olvera, who reports to Schumer.

“I’m glad that my boss took leadership on doing that. The problem is that it’s 2017,” Olvera said.

He and his team, which consists of a deputy director, research aide and interns, send out a voluntary survey, which the full caucus agreed to complete and does. Congress does not collect racial information on new hires.

Olvera took over the position last year after Schumer became Democratic leader. The diversity initiative dates back to 2007, but the data collection and establishment of the so-called Rooney Rule — encouraging offices to consider at least one minority candidate when interviewing for an open position just as the NFL does in filling coaching vacancies — was a Schumer mandate.

Olvera, who previously worked on leadership development at the Department of Energy, spends most of his days conducting interviews with candidates “to make an assessment on whether or not I would endorse their candidacy, but more than anything else, where the right fit would be.”

He also advises offices on how to increase diversity.

“We respect the fact that every office is its own enterprise,” Olvera said. “If I’m doing my job correctly, offices may not need to reach out to me because they are doing this on their own.”

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