NSA lags in hiring Hispanics

April 19, 1994|By Tom Bowman and John Rivera | Tom Bowman and John Rivera,Sun Staff Writers

Five years ago, in response to a barrage of discrimination complaints, studies and a class-action suit, the National Security Agency opened an office in Phoenix to recruit more Hispanic employees.

But three years later, the Arizona office, staffed by a lone, 60-year-old black man, had hired only 11 Hispanics before it was closed for budget reasons.

There were never any Hispanic recruiters or any analysis of the office's lackluster performance, according to a Pentagon inspector general's report released last week.

The report, which was critical of the NSA for not doing enough to hire and promote minorities, made prominent mention of the agency's lack of effort to recruit Hispanics and noted that some NSA managers viewed them through the prism of ethnic stereotypes.

The managers told investigators from the inspector general's office that Hispanics are "very close to their families and do not want to move away from them," the report said. Moreover Hispanics are afraid to complete security forms because they have relatives who are illegal aliens, investigators were told.

Agency officials promised last week that one-third of all hires through 1997 would be minorities and accepted the inspector general's 14 recommendations for resolving employment problems.

"The agency has already identified areas that need improvement and begun efforts to make corrections," said NSA spokeswoman Judith Emmel.

Hispanic workers say they have heard such promises in the past. Only congressional hearings and continued pressure would force the agency to change, they said.

"They might do that for one week or 30 days; after that they don't give a damn," said Jose Medina a former intelligence analyst who worked at the agency for 24 years before retiring in 1987.

The inspector general's report cited the unsuccessful Phoenix recruiting effort as evidence of the NSA's lack of commitment to seek out qualified Hispanics for jobs in the spy agency, which has about 20,000 employees at its headquarters in Maryland and thousands more overseas. Barely 200 employees are Hispanic, and few are in management, according to agency figures.

Some of those employees told the inspector general's office that the Phoenix effort "would have been much more successful if the office had been staffed with a Hispanic recruiter who could relate to Hispanic college students," the report said.

Current and former Hispanic employees say they are not surprised by what they call a halfhearted recruitment attempt.

"They try to cloud the issue by saying they are doing something, but they are actually doing nothing," said a Hispanic worker who requested anonymity, fearing reprisals.

Mr. Medina, of Boynton Beach, Fla., said he continually pressed for more Hispanics in the agency's upper ranks. "Hispanics were not ever promoted; I raised hell," he said.

The agency retaliated against him, he said, promoting him only once in all his years there despite numerous commendations, outstanding performance reviews and cash awards.

The agency gleans intelligence from satellites and worldwide listening posts, then processes it at Fort Meade.

Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Native Americans made up 11.6 percent of the civilian labor force in the United States as of January, but only 2.5 percent of NSA's employees, according to agency statistics obtained by The Sun.

Most of the Hispanic workers are translators, said a Hispanic employee who has worked at the agency for more than a decade and who also requested anonymity. "Why can't you have Hispanic engineers or Hispanic mathematicians or computer scientists?" he asked. "The representation is almost nil in other areas."

NSA personnel managers told the investigators "that Hispanics do not major in the academic subjects needed by the agency," the report said.

"It sounds more like an excuse than a stereotype," a Hispanic worker said.

Hispanic politicians and community leaders were incredulous when they were informed of the comments made by NSA personnel managers.

"Incredible ignorance and racial stereotyping by the National Security Agency," said Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., a Hispanic member of the House Intelligence Committee, which oversees NSA.

"I find it sobering that an agency that is responsible for the national security of our country, that is supposed to be an agency that is well informed, has these kinds of ideas," said Lisa Navarrete, a spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group.

"It seems they haven't availed themselves of even the most basic facts of our community. Anyone who would take a cursory look at our community would dispel these theories or ideas in a minute."

Henry Quintero, a community activist in Montgomery County and former State Department foreign service officer, said the NSA isn't trying hard enough to find qualified Hispanics.

"I think these are arguments being made because they don't want to make the effort," he said. "I know people like me are out there."

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