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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Hiring Hispanics for Higher-Paying Jobs

There are a lot of ways to look at pay issues in the federal government. You can try to reconcile specific policies across agencies, as the Office of Personnel Management hopes to do with legislation aimed at standardizing pay and benefits policy for civilians serving overseas. You can look at the architecture of entire pay systems, such as the National Security Personnel System. Or, as OPM does in regular reports on diversity, you can look at who is getting paid how much.

The newest of those reports has some positive -- and also some worrisome -- news for current and potential Hispanic federal employees, who have long been underrepresented in the federal ranks compared to the overall U.S. population.

"While we have made some progress, there is room for improvement in fully drawing on the talents and energies of America's Hispanic citizens at all levels of [the] federal government," OPM director John Berry wrote to President Obama.

From July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008, the federal government hired 154,604 permanent workers across all pay grades, of whom 14,142, or 9.2 percent, were Hispanic. During the same period the following year, the government hired 164,859 employees. But the number of Hispanic hires during that period fell to 12,091 -- 7.3 percent of the total. Despite that dip, Hispanics remained 8 percent of the total federal workforce in 2008 and 2009.

While the overall hiring trend isn't what OPM had hoped for, there is a silver lining: Hispanics made some major gains at the higher pay grades. In the 2008-2009 period, they made up 2.7 percent of the hires in GS-13 positions, up from 2.2 percent in 2007-2008. The percentage of Hispanic GS-14 hires stayed constant at 2.2 percent. At GS-15, the percentage rose from 3.2 percent to 4.5 percent, and in the Senior Executive Service, it went up from 2 percent to 3.2 percent. In other senior pay grades, the increase was even higher, from 2.1 percent to 4.9 percent.

As positive as those numbers are, they might not be enough to sustain Hispanic representation at the senior levels. Currently, 6 percent of GS-13s are Hispanic, along with 4.9 percent of GS-14s, 4.3 percent of GS-15s, 3.7 percent of the SES, and 4.3 percent of the other senior pay grades. In the 2008-2009 period, only the hiring percentages for GS-15s and senior pay levels were enough to maintain Hispanic representation levels.

Bills to improve the diversity of the civil service, especially its senior ranks, have languished in Congress in recent years. But the Obama administration appears to be treating diversity in hiring as a priority.

For example, OPM has reversed a policy blocking agencies from collecting demographic data on workers who apply for federal jobs. Without such information, Berry said, agencies cannot "analyze whether they are effectively recruiting Americans of diverse backgrounds and … identify and, where possible, eliminate barriers that deny equal access to employment opportunities."

It's good to know who is coming into government, and what they're paid. But the Obama administration wants to know who never makes it in the door at all.

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