By Brian DeBose
December 15, 2006

The Congressional Black Caucus has asked Democratic leaders to hire more minorities to work for House committees and on lawmakers’ staffs, saying the dearth of diversity on Capitol Hill is a problem.

In a letter to House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and the leaders of the Democratic Steering Committee, the CBC said the party must increase the number of minorities working for committees and subcommittees, which will be controlled by Democrats.

The hiring of black, Hispanic, Asian and other minority staffers has "been a major problem" for years, said outgoing CBC Chairman Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat.

"All you have to do is look at the composition of committees, subcommittees and leadership staffs," Mr. Watt said, adding that the lack of diversity extends to legislators’ staffs.

Although Mr. Watt did not provide numbers, committee staffers who spoke with The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity said that fewer than 50 minorities are among the hundreds of committee staffers.

That number does not include staff members of the black, Hispanic or Asian and Pacific Islander caucuses.

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, has promised to make minority hiring a priority for incoming committee chairman and has met with incoming CBC chairman, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Michigan Democrat.

"This is the right time to address this, and we will be working with the speaker to increase those numbers," Mrs. Kilpatrick said.

Despite the Democratic Party’s historical ties to minorities, Capitol Hill Republicans are said to have a better reputation for hiring minorities.

According to a running joke one House staffer shared with The Times, "the only people who hire blacks and Hispanics around here are blacks, Hispanics and Republicans."

Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, New York Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, did not dispute the charge.

"I’ve heard it, and I’ve looked around and found myself scratching my head," he said. "That has been said and it is a challenge for us to make sure our numbers are better." The mission starts with interviewing and accepting the recommendations of minority members and current staffers to build a larger pool of talent, Mr. Meeks said.

Congressional jobs, he said, are often won on the strength of who you know as opposed to what you know.

Mr. Watt said he does not think that Republicans have a more diverse staff than Democrats do, but cautioned that, "there should be no question about it" if his party is going to stand on a platform built on diversity.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Steering Committee, said there’s nothing to fix.

"I don’t believe there is a problem," she said, adding that minority hiring always has been and will continue to be a priority among Democrats.

"Our speaker-designate has always said that our membership on committees and our committee staffs should reflect the diversity of the country, so that has been, I think, an ongoing process and it will continue to be," she said.

A study by DiversityInc. magazine in June showed that 7.6 percent of a 1,000 Senate staff positions were held by blacks, Hispanics or Asians. No other studies have been conducted in recent years, but the diversity ratios in the House are not much better in either party, say staffers.

copyright © 2006 The Washington Times

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