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Meeting of October 23, 2008 – Issues Facing Hispanics in the Federal Workplace

Statement of Ramón Surís Fernández, Director, Civil Rights Center, U.S. Department of Labor

Good Morning Madam Chair, Commissioners, Colleagues and Friends.

It is an honor to have this opportunity to appear before the Commission to address this critically important topic. Thank you.

My name is Ramón Surís Fernández. I am the Director of the Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center and a member of the workgroup addressing issues facing Hispanics in the Federal workplace. Please allow me to acknowledge the work of the Hispanic Workgroup, a group of accomplished Hispanic Federal employees deeply committed to the issues being discussed today. On behalf of the Workgroup, I will relay recommendations pertaining to accountability and leadership development of Hispanics.


In order for progress to be made regarding the representation of Hispanics in the Federal government, it is clear that management accountability must be improved. Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) must be recognized as a management program, like any other mission-oriented program. Managers and supervisors at all levels of an organization must be required to make measurable, sustainable progress toward established goals and objectives.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act at Section 717 requires effective EEO programs. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) Management Directive 715 requires that agency heads demonstrate leadership commitment and gives EEOC the authority to monitor progress and evaluate compliance.

EEO must be strategically integrated and aligned with the overall mission, goals and priorities of each agency and must be an integral part of each agency’s Human Capital Strategic Plan, including staffing and budgets.

Further, hiring, development, and retention go hand in hand.  Progress will not be sustained if these elements are not addressed in a coordinated manner. It is imperative that once Hispanics are brought on board, they be provided opportunities for development and advancement to support the realization of each person’s potential and the achievement of Hispanic representation at all grade levels and occupations throughout the organization.

In addition, as expressed in a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study,1 having a diverse leadership corps is an organizational strength that contributes to the achievement of results by bringing a wider variety of perspectives and approaches to bear on policy development and implementation, strategic planning, problem solving and decision making. Accordingly, it is imperative that Hispanics be appropriately represented in each agency’s leadership cadre.

Managers and supervisors at all levels of an organization must be held accountable for achieving a model EEO program. To this end, we make the following recommendations:

  1. Agencies should establish periodic meetings between agency heads and top management officials where EEO goals and accomplishments are discussed and emphasized as required by MD 715.

    Reporting to the agency head regarding initiatives and progress for improving Hispanic representation at all levels is a key element of accountability. EEO/civil rights officials should be included in meetings where this matter is discussed. However, the responsibility for results should be placed squarely on management’s shoulders. Too often, EEO/civil rights offices are required not only to report, but also to “answer to,” the agency head regarding these matters, when, in actuality, EEO/civil rights offices are limited in their ability to effect change. Results will only occur when those who have the power to effect change are held responsible. Reporting should provide data regarding hiring, development, advancement and separation, and identify trends, potential barriers to equal opportunity, and strategies/initiatives being instituted to address these potential barriers. Moreover, reporting must include measurements of progress toward clearly identified goals and objectives (see item one). Meetings at which this reporting takes place should occur on a routine basis.2

  2. Agencies should include EEO/diversity requirements as a critical element in the performance plans all managers and supervisors

    EEO, diversity, and inclusion must be critical performance elements in all managers’ and supervisors’ performance plans. Best practice performance plan elements include: (a) requiring hiring officials to participate in recruitment efforts for groups with low participation rates, with specific reference to those groups and (b) identifying the EEO, diversity, and inclusion objectives as critical elements and requiring at least successful performance in these elements as a condition of receiving an overall rating of meeting or exceeding performance expectations. Appendix E provides model performance element language for establishing accountability for EEO and diversity (consistent with affirmative employment and MD-715) to be used in managers and supervisors performance plans.

  3. EEO/civil rights officials should be involved in reviewing/concurring in the EEO, diversity, and inclusion elements for managers and supervisors

    This will help ensure that ratings are aligned with agency objectives and initiatives, including Management Directive 715 requirements.

  4. EEO/civil rights officials should review best qualified or qualified selection certificates prior to issuance.

    If groups with low participation rates are not represented on the certificate, HR should re-advertise the position, in accordance with 5 CFR Part 720.204, to ensure adequate diversity in the pool of candidates.

  5. Agencies should provide a process whereby EEO/Civil Rights Offices are involved in drafting strategic plans, workforce plans, and succession plans.

    This practice will hold managers, supervisors and officials accountable for completing meaningful internal audits to ensure that the agency is realizing a model EEO workplace.

Leadership Development

Numerous employees in the Federal workforce are eligible or will be eligible to retire over the next five years. Many of these employees occupy leadership and critical skills positions. By 2012, thirty-six percent of the Senior Executive Service will be eligible to retire. These trends will result in more vacancies in the Federal government, at all levels.

The impending surfeit of vacancies provides an excellent opportunity to address the serious issue of under-representation of Hispanics in the Federal workforce. The Federal government’s hiring practices do not reflect the Hispanic representation in the civilian labor force, and the gap is increasingly widening.

Hispanics are now 13.3% of the civilian labor force and are the most rapidly increasing group in the United States. However, Hispanic employees represent only 7.7% of the Federal workforce. Of that 7.7%, fully one-third are concentrated at the GS-11 and GS-12 levels, with over 20% at the GS-11 level. Data also shows that the largest percentage of the Federal government’s Hispanic hires in 2007 (10.2%) was at grades 5-8, with grades 1-4 being the next highest percentage of hires (8.6%). Of note, there was a decrease in the hiring of Hispanics at the GS-13 through 15 and SES levels. (Source: OPM’s Hispanic Report to the President, December 2007.)

To address these retirement trends and changing demographics, agencies must develop meaningful strategic human capital plans: strategies for acquiring, developing, motivating and retaining a high quality diverse workforce. Agencies must implement aggressive employee development programs and establish meaningful succession plans.

Hispanic participation at the Federal Executive Institute (FEI) and in other Federal leadership development programs must increase. Providing Hispanics with developmental opportunities will positively influence retention as well.

Agency leadership must establish its commitment to maximizing the potential of high performing Hispanics by, among other things, providing these individuals with high visibility assignments that will bolster their promotion potential. It has been long recognized that Federal agencies and private companies that do well in hiring and retaining Hispanic employees have at their foundation a commitment from senior level management that the number of Hispanics should be increased at all levels in their workforce.

The Federal government must strive to become a model employer that not only retains highly skilled and motivated individuals in the workforce, but also attracts high quality diverse, external talent. By achieving a workforce that reflects America, we can better serve our customers, the American people.

To this end, the Hispanic Workgroup is making the following recommendations:

  1. The EEOC should create a government-wide mentoring program through which Senior Level Officials mentor GS-15s, and GS-14s.

    The Work Group recommends that the EEOC create a government-wide mentoring program through which Senior Level Officials mentor and advocate for GS-15s and GS-14s who are on the brink of reaching SES. The mentors should be diverse in their makeup in order to ensure many perspectives, and will offer guidance, support, and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the mentee. Moreover, the mentoring should include, among other things, assisting with the preparation of the Executive Core Qualifications and engaging in practice interviews. Finally, funding should be provided to train mentors.

  2. Agencies should increase the number of Hispanics selected for agency leadership and management training, as well as detail assignments to prepare them for career advancement.

    The Work Group recommends that agencies increase the number of Hispanics selected for agency leadership and management training, as well as detail assignments to provide them with the necessary skills to advance in their respective agencies, other agencies, and/or other career fields, and prepare them to compete in appropriate occupation series for SES positions. Although many agencies offer leadership and management training, as well as detail assignments, Hispanics are often not selected to participate in these opportunities because of limited slots. Therefore, agencies should mindfully select individuals for training and detail assignments in a fair and equitable manner and ensure that the training be inclusive and reflective of the workforce.

    Agencies should consider utilizing some of the following practice tips: open leadership development courses to GS-14 and GS-15 employees; offer a catalog of leadership development courses and detail assignments; rotate supervisory responsibilities to allow multiple employees the opportunity develop their skills; inform employees of educational opportunities within the workforce, and incorporate these opportunities into employees' individuals development plans (IDPs); and e-mail information about leadership training to all employees. See Appendix A, Practice Tips, infra.

  3. Agencies should examine the employment information of employees at regular intervals to determine promotion potential for mission critical occupations as part of succession planning.

    The Work Group recommends that agencies examine the employment information of employees at regular intervals. In so doing, they can determine the promotion potential of Hispanic employees, as well as others, for mission critical occupations as part of succession planning. Employment information should include ratings, awards, promotions, and educational levels, among other things. Senior managers should periodically review their top Hispanic managers and those in the next lower level to determine several backups for various senior positions. This step is necessary because employees require years of grooming to develop into effective managers, to receive adequate training, and to develop relevant experience. Moreover, considering retirement trends identified by OPM, this mechanism provides an opportunity for agencies to develop middle and top level Hispanic supervisors and managers. A well-executed plan will ensure an inclusive workplace with an agency leadership reflective of the public and enhance the organization's effectiveness.

  4. Agencies should include Hispanics and/or EEO practitioners on the selection panels for GS-14, GS-15, and SES positions.

    The Work Group recommends that agencies include Hispanics and/or EEO practitioners on the selection panels for GS-14, GS-15, and SES positions. The make-up of the selection and interview panels must reflect diversity factors such as sex, race, age and ethnicity. Those involved in the selection process carry a responsibility for ensuring that the choice of a successful candidate is soundly based on merit and non-discriminatory criteria related to the nature of the job. Each interview panel should consist of at least three members, of whom at least one should be Hispanic and/or an EEO practitioner. In so doing, agencies will be better able to create a more inclusive SES membership.

  5. Agencies and OPM should conduct 5 and 10-year trend analysis of participation rates by race, national origin, and sex for government-sponsored leadership development programs.

    The Work Group recommends that a 5 and 10-year trend analysis by race, national original, and sex be conducted to ascertain the participation rates of Hispanics and other historically excluded groups in government-sponsored leadership development programs, such as the Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Programs, the Federal Executive Institute's Leadership for a Democratic Society, and agencies' leadership development programs. This analysis would reveal any possible disparate impact or treatment of Hispanics or any other historically excluded group in selections, graduations, and eventual promotions.

Finally, we recommend that Federal agencies promote government-wide endorsement, support and engagement in what I believe is a best practice in leadership development programs--the Federal Hispanic Career Advancement Summit. As well, we strongly encourage Federal employees to take advantange of this and similar leadership development opportunities.

Open to all Federal employees, the First Annual Federal Hispanic Career Advancement Summit was held on October 1st, 2008. Partnering Federal agencies, including EEOC, provided an incredible level of support and resources and offered training workshops to reach a broad audience of Federal employees. The First Annual Summit qualified as Federal training in compliance with 5 U.S.C. Chapter 41 (as certified by the 17 July 2008 Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Memorandum For Chief Human Capital Officers). The level of support and resources provided to the First Annual Summit, and to the idea of Annual Summits as an ongoing initiative, reflects the Federal government's commitment to enhancing its career development initiatives.

The Summit’s purposes are to:

  • Champion the advancement of groups with low participation rates, particularly Hispanic Americans, in the Federal workforce;
  • Target and enhance leadership skills among Federal employees;
  • Serve as the key Federal government event for National Hispanic Heritage Month; and
  • Develop leaders in areas of emerging needs, including national security professionals.

The Summit initiative’s three key objectives:

  • Promote equal employment opportunity and diversity, as well as the enforcement of Executive Order 13171, “Hispanic Employment in the Federal Government”;
  • Provide tools to educate Federal employees about leadership through workshops, executive coaching, and a website; and
  • Promote feedback from Summit attendees and Hispanic employees regarding emerging needs and trends in the Federal government.

I’m delighted to report that the Summit was an overwhelming success. As an initial indication of success, there were 650 available registrations; within two days, they had all been secured. Within a week, there were over 1,000 people on a waiting list. Clearly, this demonstrates a real need for these types of programs and the need for future Summits. Moreover, evaluations reflect that this professional development activity exceeded participants’ expectations.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony at this hearing. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in support of advancing the Federal government’s goal to become a model employer to attract, develop and retain a top-quality, diverse workforce that can deliver results and ensure our Nation's continued growth and prosperity.


1 Diversity in the Federal SES and the Senior Levels of the U.S. Postal Service, GAO-07-838T (Washington, D.C.: May 10, 2007).

2 For example, the Department of Transportation conducts meetings every four months with senior level officials, both career and appointed, as well as the Director of Human Resources and legal counsel, to review data relating to groups with low participation rates. Departmental components are asked to report on their progress carrying out plans to address barriers to equal employment opportunity.