House Lays Out Diversity Program

Effort to Improve Minority Retention Includes a Résumé Bank

Posted April 13, 2010 at 6:42pm

House leaders announced the chamber’s first formal diversity program Tuesday, launching an effort that will include staff training, résumé collection and new requirements for legislative branch agencies.

Congress has long had a problem retaining minority employees, and a recent survey of House staffers confirmed the chamber’s slow progress in diversifying its workforce. In 2003, for example, 89.5 percent of chiefs of staff were white; by 2009, that number had changed only slightly, to 87 percent.

On Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) outlined a multipronged plan to tackle the issue. House officials will develop a résumé bank, create educational resources for Member offices and require legislative branch agencies to write reports on the state of their diversity. Most of the program will fall under the House Administration Committee.

“Diversity is one of America’s fundamental strengths and all of our nation’s communities are a rich source of exceptional talent,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday. “Drawing from this diverse pool of talent will ensure that the House of Representatives benefits from new and innovative solutions to our complex national challenges.”

But there’s only so far Pelosi and other Congressional leaders can go. Each House office is an individual entity that works much like a small business, where Members have full control over whom they hire. In the Senate, for example, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has created a diversity office specifically to help Senators hire more minorities. His staffers keep a database of hundreds of résumés — but they can’t force Members to consider them.

Keeping statistics on the progress of such programs is also difficult, since Congressional leaders can’t force offices to report on their staff makeup. The Senate has no public statistics on its diversity, but the House may be able to use the Chief Administrative Officer’s biennial House Compensation Survey, which gives a big-picture view of the chamber’s ethnic diversity.

The House program will also have the input of a new advisory panel comprising members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the House Chiefs of Staff Association. Such groups have kept statistics on the House’s makeup in the past — and successfully pressured Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard to include diversity information on the 2009 House Compensation Study.

Kyle Anderson, spokesman for House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.), said the committee realizes that Member offices are “independent employing authorities and have hiring discretion.”

“Within that context, our focus is on providing additional resources focused on helping Member and other House offices realize the benefits of ensuring a diverse workforce,” he added in an e-mail. “We’ll establish measures of success with the assistance of the advisory group but it’s important to acknowledge that this is a long-term effort which will require a long-term commitment.”

The committee will begin by exploring how to best implement Pelosi’s initiative. Unlike the Senate, the House will not be hiring additional staff to handle the program. Instead, Anderson said, existing committee staff will manage résumés, contact candidates and reach out to House offices.

First up: reviewing résumés already maintained by members of the Tri-Caucus. Eventually, the committee hopes to have a database of résumés that House offices can filter by topics such as skill set and experience.

House officers and legislative branch agencies such as the Office of the Clerk and the Architect of the Capitol also have already submitted their diversity plans. As for diversity training, Anderson said the committee will bring in experts and diversity leaders to talk to Members and staffers.

“These sessions will consist of seminars, panel discussions and keynote speeches,” he said in an e-mail. “We will also work with the House Learning Center to develop diversity-based training sessions.”

Leaders in the Tri-Caucus seemed pleased Tuesday with the program, after years of pressure on House leadership. CAPAC Chairman Mike Honda (D-Calif.) called it “an important step forward.”

“For this to work, there needs to be adequate resources for the initiative, including funding for staff,” he said in an e-mail. “I am confident that the Speaker and Chairman Brady are committed to a robust program that engages all Members of the House to hire diverse and qualified candidates.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the CBC, similarly applauded the move. But she also recommended further steps to improve diversity, such as the creation of an office that focuses specifically on diversity.

“Each session the CBC engages leadership and committee chairs in conversation on the importance of recruiting and retaining a diverse staff, often connecting them directly with candidates,” she said in an e-mail. “The CBC looks forward to working with Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Brady, the Congressional TriCaucus and staff associations to advise and implement the proposed strategies.”