Racism Rampant, Group Says

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A coalition of civil rights groups is urging President Clinton to host a White House summit on race to address racism and discrimination in the federal government.

Leaders of groups representing black employees in the federal government joined Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., at the Brookings Institution earlier this month to protest discriminatory hiring and employment practices that the groups say are rampant in federal agencies.

"The government has declared itself a leader in the area of equal opportunity, but African American employees are concentrated in lower levels of government employ," said Oscar Eason, Jr., president of Blacks in Government, which represents African American employees in federal, state and local governments. Eason said Blacks in Government will work with Congress and the administration to "overhaul employment and hiring practices that systematically discriminate against African Americans and other minorities."

Wynn called for "massive congressional hearings" to scrutinize agencies' relationships with their black employees.

The Congressional Black Caucus met with Clinton Wednesday to discuss solutions to racial inequities in America. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said Clinton suggested that "we may elevate this to a White House conference," CongressDaily reported.

President Clinton will issue a statement on race issues in the federal government on June 14, a source said. Blacks in Government and other civil rights groups are asking the White House to convene a conference to in part look at ways to improve the work environment for African American federal employees.

African Americans are better represented in the federal workforce than any other minority group, according to Office of Personnel Management statistics. In the private sector blacks comprise 10.7 percent of the workforce. In the federal government, blacks make up about 17 percent.

However, according to a Blacks in Government fact sheet, African Americans are terminated at three times the rate of whites in the federal government. While African Americans were 16.9 percent of the federal workforce in 1996, they accounted for 25 percent of layoffs. The average civil service rank for whites is 9.8; the average for blacks is 7.8.

Eason said equal employment opportunity offices in agencies do not protect individuals who file complaints.

"The EEO office is a pawn of management," Eason said, arguing such offices are more concerned with defending agencies against discrimination claims than helping workers who have been discriminated against.

Eason also criticized the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying it is "no longer a positive factor" in improving opportunities for blacks in the civil service. Blacks in Government will recommend that an independent body deal with federal discrimination cases.

Rick Blake, a spokesman for Blacks In Government, said the recent Library of Congress settlement of $8.5 million with African American employees should be a warning signal for agencies.

"This is the first in a long series of possible judgments against federal agencies," Blake said.

Changing behaviors is more important than changing attitudes, Eason said. Managers must learn how to treat employees, regardless of the managers' prejudices.

"If a person is resolved in their opinion, all the training in the world is not going to move them," he said. "Training does less to change minds than it teaches people how to conduct themselves when they're in a diverse group."

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