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Remarks: The U.S. Hispanic Community: Promoting Diversity of Thought in the Public Sector

Thursday, October 08, 2009   (0 Comments)
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Prepared Remarks by

Octavio A. Hinojosa Mier

Executive Director

Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

United States Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Washington, DC

The U.S. Hispanic Community: Promoting Diversity of Thought in the Public Sector

Thank you for the introduction.

As the Executive Director of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI), I am honored to be here and to join you in the spirit of National Hispanic Heritage Month.

I appreciate the invitation extended to me to participate as your keynote speaker for this important gathering here at the Government Accountability Office. Today, our goal is to highlight the important leadership role Americans who are of Hispanic descent will have in the public sector in the years ahead.

Forty years ago, in 1968, the United States Congress first authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to proclaim National Hispanic Heritage Week. Today, it is now a month-long celebration to remind ourselves collectively, as one nation, how we have been enriched by the countless contributions, acts of sacrifice, patriotism and public service since the founding of our great nation.

I especially want to take this opportunity to send a special greeting to each of the GAO Field Offices who are joining us today via video conference. I hope those of you out in the West Coast are now wide awake to endure my remarks. I promise to keep you entertained as best I can.

I also want to express my appreciation and gratitude to GAO's Hispanic Liaison Group, especially to its Executive Board for organizing today's event. We are here thanks to the leadership and vision of Erica Estrada who is joining us today at the Dallas Field Office, Flavio Martinez, as well as Jeanette Espinola, Assistant Director of Homeland Security and Justice who personally welcomed me today upon my arrival.

I especially would like to recognize Ivette Gutierrez-Thomas, Senior Analyst for Homeland Security and Justice. Ivette contacted me last year to ask if I would consider speaking at last year's GAO Hispanic Heritage Month event. Understandably, I was not able to accept due to the birth of my daughter who this Friday celebrates her first birthday. Needless to say, my wife and I made sure not to schedule another birth for this time of the year.

GAO, its mission and the work you do each day on behalf of the United States Congress and, in turn, the American taxpayer is familiar to me. As a graduate student at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, I had the opportunity to first meet former U.S. Comptroller General and Head of GAO David Walker over lunch along with a small group of fellow graduate students. I vividly recall his passion for public service and his positive encouragement for each of us to pursue a public service career within the U.S. Government.

I am proud of the fact that many Maxwell School graduates are now GAO employees. I am confident many will one day occupy key senior management positions, including my good friend Josh Diosmito who is also joining us today in the Los Angeles field office.

A few months after first meeting the Comptroller General, he returned to Syracuse to give the commencement address to the Maxwell School Masters in Public Administration Class of 2003. Needless to say, I am delighted to return the favor by addressing each of you today.

Your participation is worth noting since my remarks will focus on the important role Americans of Hispanic decent are playing not only here at GAO, but in the entire public sector. It is for this reason today's conversation is centered on the theme "The U.S. Hispanic Community: Promoting Diversity of Thought in the Public Sector.”

The Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI)

The mission of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute is - To Advance the Hispanic community's Diversity of Thought.

Six years ago, in 2003, the Hispanic community of the United States was officially recognized as our nation's second largest demographic group. Today, Hispanics number roughly 47 million or nearly 16% of our national population.

Coinciding with the official announcement as our nation's largest demographic group, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute was founded in the fall of 2003 by Members of Congress who recognized there is a strong need for our community to promote and embrace the concept of diversity of thought within the leadership of national Hispanic organizations and community.

In so doing, we asked ourselves an important question: As the nation's second largest demographic group, what role are we to play in the formulation and implementation of national public and foreign policy agenda? Do we lead or do we follow? I believe the answer is clear – We lead! And we will lead in all aspects of society, including in the public sector.

In keeping faithful with our status as a non-profit organization, CHLI is committed to providing a non-partisan view on key issues. Since its foundation, CHLI has been strongly committed to providing a forum for open discussion on issues of great importance to the U.S. Hispanic community throughout our fifty states and Puerto Rico.

In addition, CHLI recognizes the growing need for leadership and direction beyond our national borders by actively engaging the international community.

As the nation's youngest national Hispanic organization, CHLI recognizes the current demographic shift as an opportunity for our nation to seize and maximize. Some view the emergence of the Hispanic community as a challenge to our ever evolving identity as a people, as Americans. At CHLI, we see our growing demographic, economic and political clout as an opportunity to contribute, to serve and, more importantly, to provide strong leadership as our nation faces still unknown challenges in the 21st century.

The current national demographic shift, which first began in 1968, has witnessed the emergence of the U.S. Hispanic Community from isolated regional communities into a dynamic national community of diverse national origins, which also includes the descendents of Hispanic explorers and colonists from Spain in Europe and from throughout the Americas, Africa and even Asia by way of the Philippines. Their descendents have lived for generations within our current national borders and preceded all other immigrant waves to our country.

CHLI offers the U.S. Hispanic community a vision of the American Dream that focuses upon self-reliance, education, entrepreneurship, family values, and full integration into American society while at the same time proudly embracing our rich, dynamic and diverse cultural heritage, which is also shared by over 400 million worldwide.

CHLI leads by bringing thought leaders from all sectors to discuss issues as varied as foreign policy, small business ownership, immigration, English acquisition, education, housing, health care and others as well.

Today, we are honored to step up to the plate to discuss an important issue facing each of us today and for the rest our lives. I am speaking of course the role of the Hispanic community in the public sector.

The National Theme for the 2009 Hispanic Heritage Month

Promoting the employment by Federal, state and local governmental agencies of Americans of Hispanic descent, Americans of Portuguese descent and other minority group members is among the top objectives CHLI has committed itself to fulfilling.

The national theme selected by the National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers (HEPMs) for this year's Hispanic Heritage Month is: "Embracing the Fierce Urgency of Now!” This wining theme was submitted by Jorge Ponce, Director of Policy and Evaluation Division at the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The "Fierce Urgency of Now” is one of Dr. Martin Luther King's famous quotes, which was embraced by President Obama when he announced his candidacy for our nation's highest office.

Ever since the Nixon Administration issued the Sixteen-Point Federal Employment Plan, the percentage of Hispanic federal employees has grown by only by five percentage points from 2.9% to the current 7.9% in FY2008. When compared to our overall population growth during the past forty years, we have gone from accounting for five percent of the general population to now pushing sixteen percent. Yet, Americans of Hispanic descent are seriously underrepresented in the public sector.

With the annual growth rate of Hispanic federal employees averaging less than one percent, it will take another thirty years for us to reach the level of our civilian labor force. In fact, we may never reach it if current practices are not changed.

Hence, this year's theme of "Embracing the Fierce Urgency of Now!” when it comes to improving Hispanic federal employment figures calls for drastic improvements, change of hiring practices and perhaps even a change of culture at the senior management levels.

Among the six legislative branch agencies, including GAO, I invite you to seriously consider how well this agency is doing when it comes to the leadership development of Hispanic employee for senior rank positions. I also encourage you to take careful notes for internal use. Additionally, I am happy to provide a copy of my remarks upon the conclusion of my presentation for your future reference.

The State of the Hispanic Federal Work Force

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released FY2008 Annual Report on the Federal Work Force.

In its annual report, EEOC reports there were almost 2.7 million men and woman employed by over 100 agencies in the federal government both here at home and abroad. This is equal to roughly two percent of the total U.S. workforce.

In 2003, Hispanics represented seven (7) percent of the federal workforce. In 2007, it grew to 7.8 percent. In 2008, the Hispanic federal workforce increased by one-tenth of a percent to 7.9%. Numerically, a total of 129,823 Hispanic men and 89,538 Hispanic women are employed in the federal government.

When compared to percentage of Hispanics in the national civilian force, we are still over five points (5.3) below the current 13.2 percent according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Needless to say, we are seriously underrepresented in the public sector.

Just yesterday, the Washington Post published an article titled: "Government Lags in Hiring of Latinos.” It quoted a fellow Kansan of Hispanic descent, Gilbert Sandate, Chairman of the Coalition for Fairness for Hispanics in Government, who pointed out that the difference between the national civilian labor force and the current federal employment level in real numbers is roughly 100,000 jobs or $5.5 billion dollars in salaries. In order to erase such a disparity, virtually every single new hire in the federal government will have to be Hispanic!!

To address the growing disparity between federal employment and civilian labor force, the heads of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Social Security Administration announced in May of last year (2008), the creation of the Federal Hispanic Working Group. Its mission was to examine federal sector employment concerns focused on the following six areas: Recruitment and Hiring, Leadership Development, Hispanic Employment Program Managers, Accountability, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Understandably, this must be a top public policy issue for Americans of Hispanic decent. Due to our demographic and economic growth, Hispanics will play a greater role and have an increasing impact in our local communities, at the state and national level, and even at the international community.

As CHLI's Executive Director, I have the unique privilege of working closely with a bipartisan Congressional Board of Directors who through their example of public service provide our growing community with strong representation and leadership in the United States Congress and the issue of Hispanics in federal government.

Demographic trends to consider in future public service workforce

This past week, the Office of Personal Management (OPM) announced it will no longer project retirement rates of our federal workforce. Last year, OPM had projected 577,000 federal employees are expected to retire during the ten year period between 2008 and 2018. The decision to no longer project retirement rates is due to the fact employees are now withholding retirement as a direct result of the current economic downturn.

In general, Hispanics, as a group are the youngest demographic group. Our median age is currently 27 compared to 36 for the rest of the population. For those of us who are of Mexican descent, our median age is 25, the lowest of all Hispanic subgroups. As of 2008, the average age of the federal workforce was nearly 47 with an average retirement age of 62 years of age.

As the largest ethnic minority in the United States, Americans of Hispanic descent we are also fastest-growing demographic group. Our numbers grow by an average of 4,000 a day.

Since 2000, we have accounted for fifty percent of our national population growth – that is to say, one out of every two Americans born today is of Hispanic descent. Furthermore, the Garcias and the Rodriguez' are now the 8th and 9th most common surnames for Americans. While the Martinez' are on verge of overtaking the Wilsons as the 10th most common last name.

Americans of Hispanic descent are and will continue to be the nation's second largest demographic group during our lifetime, at least until the year 2050.

The 2010 Census

We are now six months away from the start of the 2010 Census. Last week, a coalition of Hispanic organization launched ¡Ya es hora, Hagase Contar! - a national campaign to raise awareness of the importance this census is as it relates to the U.S. Hispanic community. For example, during the 2000 Census, the U.S. Hispanic community was undercounted by a difference of three percent or one million individuals. This undercount prevented a state like Utah, which is today twelve percent Hispanic, from adding its forth Congressional district and one more electoral vote in the 2004 and 2008 Presidential election. As someone who has participated in planning meetings with the U.S. Census Bureau, I strongly encourage GAO to play an active role in overseeing that the 2010 Census is indeed carried out accurately and to ensure every single person is counted regardless of their legal status.

The active role Americans of Hispanic descent today with regards to the 2010 Census demonstrates our collective leadership and potential when it comes to the public sector.

Perhaps here lies an area of opportunity for all of us. To best face the challenges of public service within our local, state and national jurisdictions, we must identify effective ways to increase the recruitment, employment and the professional development of Hispanics employees not only within GAO, but throughout the entire federal government. As I commented earlier, one of CHLI's key objectives is to "promote the employment by Federal, state and local governmental agencies of Hispanic descent.” To this end, we are committed to working with each of you.

Increasing the number of Hispanic federal government employees to a level equal to our Civilian Labor Force (CFL)

Considering our current demographics, it will be easy to conclude that the number of Hispanic federal employees will increase with the course of time. However, after countless Executive Orders, commissions, studies, directives, and meetings between Hispanic federal employees and senior management, the net result is that in past forty years, the federal government has posted an annual Hispanic hiring rate of 0.13 percent!!

With regard to retention, from FY2001 to FY2005, the federal government hired 47,381 new Hispanic employees. During the same time period, a total of 20,410 left the federal workforce. The net gain during this five year period for Hispanic employees was 26,971. This equals to a 45 percent net gain.

When we look at gender, Hispanic women represent three (3) percent of all women who collectively are forty-three (43) percent of the federal workforce. Hispanic men are four and half percent of all male federal employees who themselves represent fifty-six percent of the total workforce.

If, for example, our collective goal is to have Hispanic federal employment equal the Civilian Labor Force, which is currently thirteen (13.2) percent, then only the following six federal job titles have Hispanic participation rates higher then thirteen percent:

  • Border Patrol Agent: 52.84%
  • Customs & Border Protection: 27.38%
  • Contact Representatives 16.76%
  • Social Insurance Administration: 15.27%
  • General Inspection Investigation & Compliance: 14.17%
  • Safety Technician: 13.98%

In contrast, Hispanic federal employees are seriously underrepresented in Senior Pay Level (SPL) positions, which include Senior Executive Service (SES), Executive Schedule, Senior Foreign Service, and other employees earning above the GS-15 level, the discrepancies between groups is stark.

Between FY1999 and FY2007, Hispanics increased their SPL representation by a mere 0.6 percent, while African Americans decreased by 0.25 percent. Today, Hispanics account for 3.6 percent of the Senior Executive Service. SPL employees are both overwhelmingly male (72 %) and White non-Hispanic (85%).

According to an OPM report, most Hispanic federal employees are found within the GS-5 to GS 9 levels and hold specific jobs related which require a large interaction with a Hispanic customer base.

In addition, while the average general schedule for all federal employees in FY2008 was 9.9, Hispanic federal employees the average grade was GS-9.4. And for African American employees, it was GS-9.


Among mission-critical positions, especially those that relate to our national security, the federal government must play a decisively active role in encouraging Hispanic students to consider pursuing careers related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, also known as STEM.

China today graduates 600,000 engineers each year. India, 350,000, the United States only 70,000!

Consider the fact that less than 40% of students intending to major in STEM fields upon college entrance actually complete a degree in these fields (For underrepresented minorities the rate is below 25%).

Needless to say these numbers are alarming, discouraging, and pose a very serious threat to our competitiveness and prosperity. Consequently, the United States is no longer the world's most competitive country. This is a serious crisis which must be fully addressed with the federal government and the private sector playing a decisive role.

A great opportunity for recruitment, for example, is held each year in South Texas. The University of Texas-Pan American, a top rated Hispanic serving institution located in Edinburg, Texas, hosts the Hispanic Engineering Science and Technology Program better know as HESTEC, which incidentally just concluded its week-long conference this past week. It is perhaps the country's top recruiting opportunities for future STEM professionals. Founded under the leadership of Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, this program demonstrates the growing importance Americans of Hispanic descent can and will play in addressing the critical shortage our nation is facing in scientists and engineers.

Here's a thought worth considering, if conference such as HESTEC can prove successful in recruiting diverse groups for STEM careers, why can we not take the initiative and replicate this model throughout the country to effectively recruit future federal employees by partnering with

not only our nation's top public administrations schools such as the Maxwell School, but also more, efficiently with Hispanic serving institutions, including community colleges?

When it comes to promoting the importance of STEM careers and Hispanics, CHLI is showing strong leadership by hosting a Congressional briefing on Thursday, October 29th focusing on STEM and how the U.S. Hispanic community will define the future competitiveness of our country. You are all invited to join us.

Clearly the key to improving the Hispanic federal employment rate is directly related to education. Education is the key to raising a conscious society, a responsible community, and a responsive individual. Increasing opportunities to educate our citizens and finding effective communications in both English and Spanish is crucial to ensuring we maximize opportunities for recruitment and retention

This morning, the Pew Hispanic Center released a report titled "Latinos and Education: Explaining the Attainment Gap.” It cites nearly nine in ten (89%) of Hispanic youth between the ages of 16 and 25 that a collage education is important to overall success in life. However, only half plan to obtain a college degree. The reason cited for such the difference between the two figures is financial constraints facing the student and family.

Today, approximately sixty percent of Hispanic age 25 or older holds a high school degree; thirteen percent have a bachelor's degree, while only 811,000 hold advance degrees.

Yet each year the number of Hispanic students obtaining a bachelor's degree is growing. Over the past five years, I have seen the growing demand of Hispanic youth wanting to come to Washington, DC to obtain an internship within the U.S. Congress or in one of our federal agencies. This fact alone inspires the CHLI Board of Directors, its staff and me to work even harder to create more opportunities for qualified candidates.

As a leading national Hispanic non-profit organization, I am proud to share with you that starting in January, 2010, CHLI, in partnership with the George Washington University Semester in Washington Program, will welcome its first class of students who will spend a semester interning with Members of Congress and eventually intern with key federal departments and agencies.

CHLI is demonstrating leadership in increasing the number of Americans of Hispanic descent to consider and pursue careers in public services.

Holding Leadership Accountable

Senior managers, those responsible for hiring and promoting within their respective ranks must be held fully accountable for the talent pool found under their jurisdiction. Current federal hiring practices of Hispanics are simply not doing the job. We must address the underlying issue that the term "minority” is not synonymous with one demographic group in particular.

As with the private sector, corporate CEOs and senior executives are now having their promotions and bonuses tied directly with how well they improve their diversity numbers in their respective companies. This best practice, if implemented effectively throughout the federal government will also do the same.

At the all levels of government, the under representation of Hispanic employees is a serious hindrance in providing effective and responsive services to an important segment of our population that is fastest growing, the youngest and perhaps the most vulnerable when it comes to issues concerning employment, education, health, the environment, defense, and U.S. foreign policy

The Positive Benefits of Hispanic Employment

Any organization, company or federal agency that embraces a culture of diversity and employs individuals from diverse backgrounds and life experiences ultimately evolve into dynamic and productive entities. Hiring a Hispanic employee is clearly a win-win proposition for both the individual and agency.

We are each witnessing tremendous changes in the workplace. The demographic, economic and technological changes are contributing to new ways of performing our jobs and serving the American public. To best face these challenges, the public sector must both adapt and embrace these changes as positive. In the final analysis, our federal government must truly reflect the nation itself and the American people it serves.

In achieving the mission, the Hispanic employee brings with him and herself a unique perspective on issues and will provide any organization with much needed diversity of thought to meet current and future challenges. I am confident that our youth today will make valuable employees tomorrow not only within GAO, but throughout the public sector.

Compared to the private sector, the federal government looks like its doing a bit better in this area. For example, in 2009, only twelve of Fortune 500 and 25 Fortune 1000 companies have women as CEO whereas African Americans have five CEO as of this year. Apparently, Fortune does not track Hispanic CEOs.

Within the non-profit sector, when it comes to tracking diversity in the senior ranks of in private foundations, charities and other non-profits organizations such CHLI, the Chronicle of Philanthropy released its report in mid-September. Of the 400 top U.S. organizations that raise money from private sources, zero Hispanics were identified as CEO's.

As the nation's only demographic group that is not just replacing itself, but is actually growing exponentially in both percentage and real numbers – I again remind you that one of every two Americans born today is Hispanic – both the private and non-profit sectors are becoming increasingly aware of the important leadership role Americans of Hispanic descent will play in our nation's economy during this century.

The U.S. Hispanic Community Emerging as a Key Player in the Global Economy

As I alluded to earlier, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute was founded on the basis of advancing the Hispanic community's diversity of thought and to provide an alternative view of the issues facing our nation's largest ethnic community. Many of us here today continue to enjoy close family ties with relatives in our countries of origin throughout the Americas. Some of us perhaps are ourselves immigrants to this country who have come here in search of better opportunities and quality of life.

In 2007, the U.S. Hispanic community became our nation's second largest economic group in terms of purchasing power. Our purchasing power this year is $870 billion dollars and is projected to reach $1 trillion dollars in 2010 and $1.3 trillion by 2015. Our collective wealth makes the U.S. Hispanic community one of the world's top twenty economies and perhaps it now exceeds the GNP of countries such of Spain, Brazil and Mexico, if it has not done so already.

The products we purchase and the dollars we spend both here at home and send abroad in the form of over $60 billion dollars in remittances have a serious impact in the economies of Latin America.

In the coming years, Hispanics employed in federal jobs directly tied to our nation's foreign policy, such as at State Department, the Pentagon, USDA and USAID will play a leading role in improving our image abroad, fostering economic and social development and stability throughout the Americas and abroad, as well as defending our national interests where necessary.


In closing, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute joins you in raising awareness of the importance of the supporting and developing future leaders within our public sector. I hope my comments today do not fall on deaf ears, but are welcomed. I am confident that this will be case.

The recent announcement made by the Partnership for Public Service which recognizes GAO as the second best place to work in the federal government. Your strong commitment to continuously improving GAO operations, investing in a diverse workforce, recruiting and retaining the best talent, pioneering innovative practices, and work-life balance have resulted in positive results both in employee satisfaction and achieving your mission as intended by the United States Congress.

Today's GAO Hispanic Heritage Month event serves as an ideal stepping stone for each of us to play a leadership role in building mutual trust and confidence, in increasing awareness of potential individuals from diverse backgrounds will have within the leadership structure of GAO and other federal agencies, as well as creating vital networks of employment and professional development of Hispanic employees. We welcome the challenge and opportunity to work closely with each of you and other stakeholders, especially as it relates to our increasingly diverse nation.

As we conclude National Hispanic Heritage Month, I welcome each of you to consider CHLI and its staff as a resource.

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