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

Statement of Eugenio Ochoa Sexton, Executive Director, Human Capital Operations and Services, Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Chair Earp, Vice Chair, Commissioners, Colleagues, and Friends.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the EEOC on the issues and barriers facing the recruitment of Hispanic Americans into the Federal Service. It is an honor for me to appear today to present our sub group’s recommendations and identify some recruitment issues faced by the Department of Homeland Security and other Federal Departments and agencies.

While I recently changed positions to become the Executive Director for Human Capital Operations and Services, I previously served as DHS’s Director, Recruiting and Diversity. I continue in that role at this time even given this new position.

By way of background, I hail from New Mexico where I received an MA in Government (Ethnic Politics) with an emphasis on Native American and Mexican American politics. I am also a proud Latino Veteran. I began my Federal career at the National Endowment for the Arts as a GS-4 Personnel Clerk. I also spent 24 years at the Internal Revenue Service in various management positions, where I was very active in IRS’ affinity group for Hispanic employees….Hispanic Internal Revenue Employees (HIRE). After not being selected for IRS’ SES Candidate Development Program, and a brief previous stint at DHS, I applied for an ad hoc SES vacancy at the General Services Administration (GSA) and was selected in June 2004. I came back to DHS in May 2006 as the Director, Staffing, Services, and Recruitment.

While at DHS, I have spearheaded our efforts to establish a Department wide Diversity program. In that effort, I work closely with the DHS Diversity Council, as well as our Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties’ EEO function. Indeed, the Department’s Deputy Officer for EEO and I co-chair the DHS’ Diversity Sub Council, which surfaces issues and recommended actions to the Diversity Council.

In my experience as DHS’ executive recruiter, as well as the experience of other members of our sub group, we have identified several potential barriers or issues to making the Federal Government competitive in today’s labor market. While many of these issues may hamper the Federal Government’s recruitment efforts as a whole, they do impact adversely on Hispanic recruitment; possibly disproportionately.

In order to be competitive in today’s labor market, the Federal Government must radically change its current, dated hiring practices and align them more with major corporate employers, who are competing with us for top talent. Much of the recent efforts to streamline hiring process timelines are commendable, but their focus has been primarily on “cycle times”. We believe there are also more substantive aspects we must address as well. We must look at the hiring “infrastructure” if you will.

First, a candidate should not have to formally apply for a Federal vacancy. Selecting officials should be able to hire when a job becomes vacant without an announcement and use resumes previously collected and judged eligible. We believe that this could be achieved and still adhere to Merit Principles, which are the cornerstone to Federal staffing.

Second, if applications must be required, there should be alternate ways to apply in addition to using USA Jobs, which many applicants find to be user unfriendly. We would encourage OPM to obtain “abandonment” data on those applicants who just gave up on applying because of this system.

Third, the Government must rely less on the use of narrative statements to address Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs). Having to address KSA’s is unfamiliar to applicants who are accustomed to applying for private industry jobs. In my judgment, KSA’s are a tool passed on from the days of the SF-171 application form for use by HR specialists. Their use discourages applicants and does not necessarily yield top talented applicants. Specialized experience, selective placement factors, quality ranking factors and ‘desirable’ experience or education can produce highly qualified applicants, as well as result in more applicants given a more applicant friendly approach.

Fourth, and finally, the current General Schedule (GS)’s qualifications for college graduates with no experience are sorely out of date and a significant barrier to attracting these bright, young people, many from Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). Currently, a graduate with a BA and no experience qualifies for at the GS-5 level; an MA a GS-9; a PhD a GS-11. These qualifications must be revised to reflect both today’s competitive labor market and the level of achievement demonstrated by earning these degrees.

We believe that radical changes to the Federal Government’s hiring infrastructure, including greater use of career patterns, would enhance our ability to compete in today’s labor market and to attract top candidates, including more Hispanics. In addition to these infrastructure changes, we have also outlined the following recommendations specifically targeted to Hispanic job seekers:

  • Design a creative and robust Hispanic Media Outreach Strategy,
  • Working with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to enhance visibility of Federal service to HSI’s, One example of this is DHS’ partnership with the Urban League’s Black Executive Exchange Program (BEEP) whereby 150 DHS employees have volunteered to serve on a speaker’s bureau and represent DHS at various events at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s),
  • Establish a Hispanic Outreach Advisory Forum of interested Latino stakeholders who will
  • Launch inter agency recruitment campaigns targeted to Hispanic job seekers and college students at HSI’s and Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). This would include a Government wide concerted effort to work with HSI’s and HACU’s, as well as OPM, to attract more applicants to the Government’s Presidential Management Fellows (PMF’s) program. Here, we could also work with the HSI’s and HACU’s to conduct surveys and focus group interviews to identify barriers and issues related to hiring for the Federal Government, and
  • Identify high level “champions” of Hispanic recruitment at all agencies and departments to “drive” efforts and results for recruitment of Hispanics.

Given that Hispanics are the most under represented group in the Federal Government and given that there is an Executive Order addressing these issues for Hispanics, unlike other groups, we believe the Federal Government must take a more assertive, proactive approach to Hispanic recruitment. This would entail greater resources; innovative hiring practices and procedures; use of data driven, targeted recruitment efforts; and new measures and outcomes. To that end, Departments and agencies, with the assistance of the EEOC and OPM, must begin to better and more consistently collect pertinent data on the number of Hispanic applicants. Further, the Federal Government must pursue a legal, defensible means to better identify the diversity of applicant pools for positions in order to determine, for example, whether a job announcement should be closed without action to allow recruitment efforts to be re-focused to attract a more diverse pool.

Finally, there must be greater Government wide efforts to attract and recruit more Hispanics into the Senior Executive Service ranks. These executives would serve as role models and mentors for Hispanics moving up the career ladder for sure. But, just as significantly, they can lead their agencies and Departments from within in identifying and implementing effective means to attract and recruit more Latinos to the noble calling of public service.

I thank the Commission for your time today and for your attention to this important matter.