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Speaker’s Diversity Program Just Getting Under Way

Almost a year after Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office said that a formal House diversity initiative was in the works, the House Administration Committee announced that the key component of the plan will be unveiled Monday.

The California Democrat announced in January that her office was developing an initiative, and in April the program was officially announced. The Speaker promised to create a résumé bank and website to highlight “diverse candidates” for positions on the Hill. But with just two weeks left in her tenure as Speaker, the database had yet to go live Friday.

A staffer with knowledge of the program said the database is finished and has been vetted but that plans to roll it out had not been publicized. Shortly after Roll Call inquired why the program was not yet implemented, the committee released a statement saying the “U.S. House of Representatives Diversity Employment Website” and résumé bank will be operational by Monday evening.

“The halls of Congress should reflect the diversity of our great nation. With that in mind, I am pleased that we will offer this new employment resource for House offices,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The new ideas, different ways of thinking and varied perspectives that a diverse professional staff will offer will strengthen our efforts on behalf of the American people.”

The site will feature a searchable database of résumés and allow candidates to voluntarily self-identify based upon several diversity categories, according to the release. It will also feature descriptions of Congressional staff positions, requirements and salary ranges.

“Anything that we can do to inform and educate potential candidates about expectations will directly impact their ability to succeed. This website will be an important tool in that effort,” House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) said in a statement.

House officials had planned to implement a diversity initiative for years, but the project was spurred by a December 2009 report by the Chief Administrative Officer showing dismal diversity data among House staffers.

The latest CAO House Compensation Survey, which polled 133 House offices in October about data such as hiring practices, recruitment and retention and diversity, was released Friday. And it found little change.

In 2010, 82 percent of chiefs of staff were white, compared with 87 percent last year and 89 percent in 2003. Among legislative directors, almost 86 percent this year are white, compared with almost 87 percent last year. And the percentage of white senior legislative aides increased to 79 percent from 78 percent in 2009.

Furthermore, only a quarter of House offices polled specifically reach out to minority-affiliated education institutions or organizations when recruiting new employees, with just 1 percent of offices reporting they do so “very often.”

Now it will fall to Republicans, who are taking over the House next year, to maintain the program.

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association, the Congressional Black Associates Staff Association, the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association and the Congressional Muslim Staff Association sent a letter Wednesday to Brady and GOP transition team Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) encouraging them to strengthen diversity efforts in the 112th Congress.

The Congressional Tri-Caucus sent a similar letter a few weeks ago.

“This initiative was developed with bipartisan input,” Rep. Mike Honda said in a statement Friday. The California Democrat is the chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “It is now time for the GOP transition team to step it up and continue the work of the initiative in the 112th.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the only Native American Member of Congress, said the diversity initiative is not an issue being discussed in the transition team working group, on which he serves as co-chairman.

But a spokeswoman for House Administration Chairman-designate Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said her boss plans to work with leadership, Brady and the Congressional Tri-Caucus to “determine appropriate steps moving forward.”

“Although we don’t know exactly what the program will look like in the 112th Congress, Mr. Lungren believes that it is the responsibility of this committee to provide the necessary information and resources to assist House offices with their staffing decisions,” Lungren spokeswoman Salley Wood said.

Incoming Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emmanuel Cleaver said an initiative can only go so far.

“The only thing that can be done is a commitment from individual Members,” the Missouri Democrat said in an interview Friday. “No Speaker, such as Nancy Pelosi, or anybody else for that matter, interested in creating and maintaining diversity, can do so in Congress … because she can’t override Members who do the hiring for their offices.”

Cleaver said he met last night with a “brain trust” of “black intelligentsia” to try to discuss ways to foster greater diversity on the Hill. Though nothing has been finalized, he said one proposal discussed is acknowledging Members who hire diverse staffs, perhaps with an award.

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