NSA has poor record on hiring Minorities claim discrimination

August 17, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Office of Personnel Management, National Security Agency's Equal Employment Office. Staff Writer

The National Security Agency, the nation's largest and most secretive spy organization, has a secret of its own: one of the most dismal records in the federal government for hiring and promotion of minorities.

Black workers at NSA say they are routinely bypassed for promotions. And the agency's own statistics show that only 2.45 percent of those at the highest pay grades are African-Americans, while the figure is 4.8 percent for the government as a whole.

In a memo distributed to employees last month, a top NSA official readily acknowledged the agency "lags behind" the rest of the federal government in hiring minorities.

The memo says the agency expects to hire 500 more workers in the next five years, but that the minority representation -- 11 percent, according to the most recent federal statistics -- is not expected to increase. A copy of the memo was obtained by The Sun.

"The numbers really speak for themselves," said a black intelligence analyst who has worked at the agency since the late 1960s and asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. "Management says they're trying to do something to change it. It's lip service. There's a problem out there and somebody has to look into this."

The analyst, who has served overseas and received cash awards from the agency as performance bonuses, filed a discrimination complaint with NSA's Equal Employment Office after being passed over for a promotion in December 1991.

The complaint is being handled in Washington.

Another intelligence analyst, a black woman from Columbia who has been at the agency since the 1960s, said she has been bypassed for promotions at least a half dozen times in the last three years.

When blacks don't receive a promotion, "They say this person was more qualified," said the analyst, who has a complaint pending with the agency's Equal Employment Office. "I know at least a half dozen [employees]" in similar situations, she said. "But people are afraid to come forward because of retaliation."

Clerical jobs

"Any job that will give you some visibility, any type of authority, blacks will not have those positions," said the analyst, who has worked at the agency for more than two dec

ades. Most black workers remain at low-level secretarial and clerical jobs.

JoAnn C. Branche, a Columbia attorney representing another black NSA worker in a discrimination complaint, said she has received five other inquiries about discrimination during the last six months, though none of those individuals has actually filed a complaint.

Largest employer

Tucked between Baltimore and Washington on 1,000 acres at Fort Meade and scattered buildings at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, NSA has an estimated work force of between 38,000 and 52,000, which would make it the single largest employer in the state. The numbers out-distance Giant Food, the largest private employer in Maryland with fewer than 20,000 workers, according to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The agency's budget and employees dwarf that of its more well-known relative, the Central Intelligence Agency, according to "The Puzzle Palace," James Bamford's 1982 book about NSA.

NSA collects intelligence from satellites, microwave dishes and other listening posts around the globe and disseminates the information through its acres of computers. Its role is so shrouded in secrecy it is nicknamed "No Such Agency."

Some of the hurdles faced by blacks and other minorities at NSA were reflected in the July 16 memo to all employees from Lee Hanna,

NSA's chief of management services.

"Agency demographics show that NSA lags behind the rest of the U.S. Government in Minority representation in the civilian work force," according to one section of the 13-page memo. "Hiring over the next five years could bring as few as 500 new employees in the NSA work force, mostly those skilled in mathematics, the physical sciences, and languages. It is not likely that minorities hired over that period in those skill areas will increase."

NSA spokeswoman Camille Branch said agency officials do not grant interviews. Instead, NSA pro

vided written responses to questions about minority employment.

The agency blamed its lack of minorities on "strenuous competition with other technical agencies and the private sector for minorities with these technical skills," wrote Michael A. Smith, NSA's director of policy.

But Mr. Smith said the agency would continue to "diversify our work force" through "outreach programs" that help minorities acquire degrees in technical fields. They include an Undergraduate Training Program, initiated in 1987 by U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes, D-Ohio, which to date has provided 25 full-time minority employees; supporting historically black colleges and universities and emphasizing technical and language courses.

No answer

The agency failed to say why it falls short in placing blacks in its upper management ranks, nor

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