Chavis wants charge of bias at NSA probed Allegations about hiring, promotions called 'shameful'

September 29, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

Calling allegations of racial discrimination at the nation's most secretive spy agency "disturbing and shameful," the head of the NAACP has asked a Senate panel to investigate the hiring and promotion of minorities at the National Security Agency.

The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, wrote to Sen. Dennis DeConcini, an Arizona Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, last week requesting a formal probe.

Both of Maryland's senators, Democrats Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, also have requested an investigation into the agency's hiring and promotion practices, either by the Intelligence Committee or by the Defense Department, which has jurisdiction over the NSA.

"If federal agencies are discriminating against people of color and steps are not being taken to insure equal opportunity, then it is no wonder that some American employers are not adhering to affirmative action goals and timetables," Mr. Chavis wrote.

He asked that black employees who meet with the committee be granted anonymity "so that they may speak to your staff without fear of retaliation."

The call for an investigation was triggered by an article last month in The Sun that reported the NSA had one of the worst records in the federal government for minority hiring. Black workers at the agency also have charged that they were discriminated against in promotions.

Timothy S. Carlsgaard, the Intelligence Committee's deputy director, said that after the article appeared, the NSA provided a detailed response about what it is doing to hire and promote more members of minority groups.

"It looks like they're doing a good job," said Mr. Carlsgaard, adding that he would try to share the agency's response with the NAACP and other critics. If the critics are not satisfied, the committee might ask the Defense Department to investigate through its inspector general or equal employment office, he said.

Ms. Mikulski, who received the same information from the NSA, was not satisfied. She wrote to the Pentagon's deputy inspector general, Derek J. Vander Schaaf, yesterday to request an investigation.

"I have heard from constituents who say they have experienced racial and sexual discrimination and harassment at the National Security Agency, discrimination in job promotions, and suffer reprisals for filing employment complaints," the senator wrote. "Because I am extremely concerned about these allegations, I am seeking an official inquiry."

Mr. Sarbanes joined in the call for Mr. DeConcini's committee to review what he termed "serious allegations."

The Fort Meade-based NSA, the nation's largest and most secretive intelligence agency, is involved in code-breaking and electronic surveillance from satellites, and has listening posts around the world.

The agency has an estimated 38,000 to 52,000 employees.

Eleven percent of the agency's work force are members of minority groups -- blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Indians -- compared with about 27 percent in the federal work force as a whole.

Black workers at NSA, who spoke anonymously saying they feared retaliation, said they are routinely bypassed for promotions. The agency's own statistics show that 2.45 percent of those at the highest pay grades are blacks, compared with 4.8 percent for the government as a whole.

A top NSA official acknowledged in a memo distributed to employees that the agency "lags behind" the rest of the federal government in hiring minorities. A copy of the memo was obtained by The Sun.

The agency expects to hire 500 additional workers in the next five years, but the minority proportion is not expected to increase, the official said.

"The numbers really speak for themselves," a black intelligence analyst said.

The agency has not responded to charges of discrimination but has blamed its lack of minority representation on "strenuous competition" with other technical agencies and the private sector for members of minority groups with math, language and computer skills.

Agency officials said there are a number of outreach programs aimed at attracting minority workers, including undergraduate training programs and assistance to historically black colleges.

Top NSA officials met this month with staff members from the Maryland congressional delegation and said they would renew efforts to attract and promote black workers, congressional sources said.

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