House leaders launch program aimed at increasing racial diversity of staffers

House leaders on Tuesday launched a long-discussed program to increase racial diversity among congressional staff by intensifying recruitment and retention efforts.

The initiative, launched by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), comes in the wake of last year’s internal assessment that revealed only 13 percent of House chiefs of staff were minorities.

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Of the 199 offices that responded to the study conducted by the House’s chief administrative officer (CAO), 7.5 percent of chiefs of staff were black, 2.7 percent were Hispanic, 1.6 percent were Asian and 1.1 percent were American Indian. There were no Pacific Islanders.

Those numbers lag far behind the racial makeup of the United States population, which the Census Bureau estimated to consist of about 35 percent minorities. Those numbers, which came after the 2000 census, specifically break down to 12.5 percent Latino, 12.3 percent African-American, 5.5 percent some other race, 3.6 percent Asian and 1 percent American Indian.

The House leaders on Tuesday directed every other legislative organization to conduct its own internal study and offer proposals for increasing diversity in the coming year.

The new House initiative creates several programs to increase the hiring of top-ranking minority employees, including a diversity-oriented awareness program and a “résumé bank” targeting the hiring and promotion of congressional staff candidates who are not white.

It was developed with the chairman, Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), and ranking Republican, Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.), of the House Administration Committee, which will head up the implementation of the programs in conjunction with an advisory council.

The council will consist of members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which collectively are known as the House Tri-Caucus.

“We strongly support this important first step,” said House Tri-Caucus members Reps. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) in a statement.

“We look forward to working with House leadership and the Committee on House Administration as well as our members as this initiative grows, recognizing that much remains to be done to ensure that the staff of the House of Representatives reflects the rich diversity of our nation.”

In a separate statement, Honda heralded the initiative, but said that careful attention must be paid to funding the programs.

“For this to work, there needs to be adequate resources for the initiative, including funding for staff,” said Honda, chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

“I am confident that the Speaker and Chairman Brady are committed to a robust program that engages all members of the House to hire diverse and qualified candidates.”

The House Administration Committee plans to implement the initiative at no additional cost to taxpayers, according to Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for the Democratic members of the committee. Anderson said the committee doesn’t anticipate hiring additional staff, but rather will delegate the programs’ responsibilities to existing committee staff and staff on the advisory council.

Tuesday’s announcement also called for the office of the House clerk, the house inspector general, the House sergeant at arms and the acting architect of the Capitol to submit reports that detail the current state of diversity within their organizations, as well as proposals to increase those levels.

“Diversity is one of America’s fundamental strengths and all of our nation’s communities are a rich source of exceptional talent,” said Pelosi in a statement.

“Drawing from this diverse pool of talent will ensure that the House of Representatives benefits from new and innovative solutions to our complex national challenges. With this new diversity initiative, we not only live up to the basic American ideal of equal opportunity for all, but we strengthen the quality of our workforce.”

The House Compensation Study conducted last year found that white employees made up about 87 percent of chiefs of staff, about 86 percent of legislative directors and 78 percent of the legislative aides surveyed.