Study calls NSA lax in bias cases

April 13, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- The National Security Agency, for more than 40 years the government's eavesdropper, has done a poor job of listening to its own employees' complaints of racial and sexual discrimination and of correcting their problems, says a Pentagon report released yesterday.

Moreover, the spy agency does not have an effective program to combat sexual harassment, even though all Pentagon agencies were required to have one three years ago, says the report, which was issued by the Pentagon inspector general after a six-month investigation.

Derek J. Vander Schaaf, deputy inspector general, said the NSA has agreed to implement 14 recommendations listed in the 75-page report but that employment problems at the agency "will, in all probability, take years to correct."

"Serious problems were found concerning NSA's employment practices," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who called for the probe after reports of worker complaints appeared in The Sun.

"Discrimination of any kind and sexual harassment anywhere -- especially at a federal agency -- are unacceptable," the Maryland Democrat said.

TTC The report says the problems existed before the agency's current director, Vice Adm. John M. McConnell, arrived in spring 1992. Admiral McConnell already has taken steps to correct some problems, Mr. Vander Schaaf said.

Ms. Mikulski commended Admiral McConnell for "taking some first steps" and said she expected the NSA to come up with a plan for corrective action and a timetable for implementing it.

"With the receipt of this report, we are taking immediate actions to address the additional concerns," said Judith Emmel, a spokeswoman for the agency.

The report found that:

* The agency has acknowledged that women and minorities are underrepresented in its work force but has not significantly increased that representation in the past five years.

* Agency career development programs and promotion practices have not increased the representation of women and minorities in more senior positions.

* NSA grievance and complaint processes are not timely and complete. Federal rules require that such cases be resolved in 270 days, but last year it took 525 days to resolve the average NSA case, down from 752 in 1991. The agency's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity "is not respected or trusted" by NSA employees interviewed by the inspector general.

* The agency does not identify, track or monitor systematic problems or barriers to the recruiting, hiring and promotion of women and minorities.

* The NSA does not have an effective program for preventing sexual harassment. Training in the prevention of sexual harassment has not been made formal, scheduled for all employees or evaluated, and only 15 percent of the work force has been trained. The report calls for such training for all employees.

The report calls for the agency to put into effect its own recommendations to streamline the equal employment opportunity process and to analyze employee complaints for recurring or systematic problems.

It also recommends that the NSA track such things as awards, internships and assignments to ensure that women and minorities are getting fair consideration.

Investigators interviewed NSA senior managers, solicited comments from employees and reviewed information provided by the agency's Equal Employment Opportunity Office and Human Resources Services Office.

Admiral McConnell told the House Select Committee on Intelligence last fall that the agency was in stiff competition with other agencies and private industry for qualified minorities with the necessary skills -- foreign languages, mathematics and computer sciences.

The inspector general's report gave other reasons for the lack of women and minorities.

An 'attitude' problem

Senior managers said the "major barrier affecting job opportunities for women and minorities is the attitude of the representatives who interview and select employees. . . . That view was also expressed by one of the minority members of the agency promotion board," according to the report.

The Pentagon probe into the NSA was spurred by reports in The Sun last summer that the agency had one of the worst records in the federal government for equal opportunity employment.

Black and female employees interviewed said they routinely were bypassed for promotions. Since then, other women have come forward with charges of sexual harassment at the agency.

The agency, which collects intelligence from listening posts around the world, is one of the largest employers in the state, with about 20,000 workers at its Fort Meade headquarters and thousands more overseas.

Minorities account for 11.6 percent of the NSA work force, compared with about 27 percent of the federal work force, according to 1993 statistics. The report found that minority representation at the NSA increased between 1989 and 1993 to 11.6 percent from 11 percent.

The agency's own statistics show that 2.45 percent of employees at the highest pay grades are black, compared with 4.8 percent for the government as a whole.

Women accounted for 45.7 percent of the federal work force, compared with 36.3 percent of NSA workers in 1993, down from 38.6 percent in 1992.

Still, the report found that the proportion of women and minorities -- blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans -- among those hired last year rose to 20.7 percent from 13.6 percent in 1992 (to 23 from 18). The proportion of women hired rose to 35 percent from 28.2 percent (to 42 from 38).

Hiring goals set

The Pentagon report said Admiral McConnell's goal for this year through 1997 is to make a third of the hires each year minorities.

No goal has been established for hiring women, who are not as underrepresented as minorities.

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