Lawmakers announce initiative to increase diversity on Capitol Hill

Lawmakers have launched an initiative to increase diversity among House staff after a recent report spotlighted the lack of minorities working on Capitol Hill.

The plan, announced on Tuesday by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Administration Committee Chairman Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., will require House officers and legislative agencies to report on minority participation and submit plans on how to boost diversity at all staff levels.

The committee, which oversees daily operations in the House, will work with an advisory council made up of the congressional Asian Pacific American, Black, and Hispanic caucuses, to boost training and build job and resume banks for candidates of color.

A diverse pool of talent in the House would bring "innovative solutions to our complex national challenges," Pelosi said in a statement.

The move by House leaders follows longtime efforts by the federal government to boost diversity rates, particularly at senior levels of the executive branch. Those efforts have produced mixed results.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's most recent Report on the Federal Workforce found some progress but "little overall change" in the composition of the workforce from 1999 to 2008. The participation rates of Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders rose marginally, while African-American representation fell slightly. A Hispanic work group report by the EEOC noted that Hispanic participation in the federal workforce has increased only from 6.4 percent in 1997 to 7.8 percent in 2007.

But diversity efforts have quietly kicked in at specific agencies.

The Interior Department, for instance, said in January that it would boost hiring outreach to students in historically disadvantaged communities as well as programs to move interns into full-time jobs. Interior announced it would use a software system to track workforce demographics and monitor the results of diversity efforts.

And in June 2009, federal employee groups began ramping up efforts to support a bill -- now in subcommittee -- that would increase minorities in the Senior Executive Service.

Pelosi's Tuesday announcement garnered praise from members of the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association, a networking group interested in advancing opportunities for Hispanics on the Hill. But the group also noted that more needs to be done to boost minority presence in the legislative branch. A March report from the organization said Latinos made up only 2.7 percent of chiefs of staff and 2.1 percent of legislative directors -- despite the fact that Hispanics constitute nearly one-sixth of the total U.S. population. There are no Latino legislative directors in the Senate, and only one staff director out of the 40 top Senate committee positions is Hispanic.

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