Mixed Reviews

amaxwell@govexec.com

Leaders of federal minority groups applaud President Clinton's new race relations initiative, but say it is short on substantive solutions to the problem of discrimination in agencies.

"This whole new agenda he's put together is excellent, but it's not going to solve the whole issue," said Oscar Eason Jr., president of Blacks in Government. "The people need to get behind him, but it's [just] the first step toward getting something done to create a better environment."

Eason said Clinton went public with the initiative without "properly preparing the federal government. We need to get our own house in order. We are the president's house. We really should have begun reaching into the federal system before going public."

The President launched his initiative, called One America, in a speech in San Diego June 14. It is built around a year-long series of town hall meetings by an advisory board. The panel then will offer recommendations that the White House will compile into a report on coping with the country's multiracial, multiethnic makeup.

Manuel Oliverez, president of the National Association of Hispanic Federal Managers, gave the plan an A for desire and intent, a C+ in content and a C in terms of initiatives.

"We felt it was very short on substance," he said. "His speech was great, but you step back and say what's been done and we've been extremely disappointed with representation," he said, noting that by 2050 Hispanics will 24 percent of the country's population.

Oliverez said that Hispanics are not selected for promotions and do not get invited to attend the proper job training programs.

Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., echoed those sentiments. Blacks in government, he said, are forced to contend with discrimination in hiring and promotions, hostile work environments and disparaties in achievements.

"If you look at the SES levels and grades 14 and higher you will see a glaring absence of minorities," he said. "Take, for instance, the Interior Department. You will see whole agencies where black males are non-existent in executive positions."

Wynn doesn't criticize Clinton's effort, but says he is concerned it doesn't go far enough. He argued that the President should make Cabinet secretaries accountable for discrimination within their agencies. "He should use a bully pulpit to emphasize to them that discrimination should not be tolerated," Wynn said.

The administration plans to issue its report on the race initiative next summer.

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