House of Representatives Launches Diversity Initiative

News Updates

Spring, 2010

Finally, Democratic and Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have found something they can agree on—working to improve the diversity of congressional office staffs.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced on April 12, 2010, the launch of a diversity initiative that will focus on providing more job opportunities to minorities and women in House offices. Pelosi and Rep. Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., chair of the House Administration Committee worked with House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., the ranking minority member of the administration panel, to develop the bipartisan initiative. Boehner, who has been a supporter of increased diversity on his staff, urged all members of the House to strive to improve workforce diversity in their own offices.

“We are pleased to play a role in this groundbreaking new initiative,” said Brady. “Helping the House reflect the diversity of our nation is an extremely important goal—one that reaches across party lines. We are pleased to be able to provide our members, committees and House offices with additional resources to assist with their diversity staffing efforts.”

The Administration Committee will coordinate the diversity initiative, at least initially, and it will work with an advisory council that will include members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus as well as members from the House Chiefs of Staff Association, the Democratic Caucus and the Republican Conference.

A Source of Motivation

The House’s diversity initiative follows a report released in February 2010 by the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association (CHSA). The report, which is titled Unrepresented: A Blueprint for Solving the Diversity Crisis on Capitol Hill, highlights the lack of ethnic diversity among the staff leadership positions in both houses of Congress. In particular, the report concluded that Latinos are underrepresented significantly at all staff levels in the House—particularly top-level jobs.

The study revealed that just 2.7 percent of chiefs of staff and 2.1 percent of legislative directors in the House were Latino, according to data from the 2009 House Employment Survey. Yet if employment in the House reflected the population demographics in the Washington, D.C., area, Latinos should hold approximately 15 percent of the staff positions, the report stated.

The CHSA recommended that the House adopt what is known as the “Rooney Rule,” which would require members of Congress to interview at least one minority candidate for top-level jobs on their staff. The National Football League (NFL) established the Rooney Rule in 2003, requiring NFL teams to interview one or more minority candidates when looking to fill coaching and management positions.

The House diversity initiative will include programs designed to increase recruitment, retention and development of a more diverse workforce as well as increase awareness of diversity issues among congressional staffs. As part of the effort, House leaders will work with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to develop diversity training programs for congressional staffs and their supervisors.

According to OPM officials, the agency developed diversity training policies and programs for other federal agencies, which can be adapted for use by congressional offices.

Increasing the diversity of the federal workforce and making the federal government an employer of choice for minorities have been top priorities of the OPM for several years.

In 2006, dozens of federal agencies and minority advocacy groups created the Federal Interagency Diversity Partnership. The partnership includes federal agencies within the departments of Labor, Defense, Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., launched a hiring initiative in June 2007 by creating a diversity advisory office for the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Since its launch, the Senate diversity office, which has two-full time staffers, has helped to place about 170 people on the staffs of Senate Democrats in entry- and mid-level positions and as communications directors, according to Reid’s staff.

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.