Black Caucus is wary about job cuts


May 04, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Congressional Black Caucus is sparring with the White House over a Clinton administration plan to shrink the federal work force, saying the proposal unfairly targets minorities.

In a letter sent a few days ago to Vice President Al Gore, the 40-member caucus urged the administration to revise provisions the plan to reduce the size of government outlined in the National Performance Review.

The plan, released by Mr. Gore last September, aims to cut the federal work force by 252,000 positions over the next five years.

The cuts are likely to tear into middle management, where there are many newly promoted minority workers, the lawmakers said. The caucus wants Mr. Gore to build equal employment protections into the plan that cover hiring, performance reviews and promotions.

"In particular, we are disturbed that the report includes no clear and specific stipulations regarding equal employment opportunity and minorities in the federal sector," states the letter, signed by the caucus members. "This makes them extremely vulnerable during layoffs and reductions-in-force."

Equal opportunity, the letter states, should not be "replaced or eroded by new buzzwords such as 'diversity,' 'multiculturalism' or 'reinventing.' "

But administration officials say the lawmakers are unfairly lashing out at Mr. Gore's plan because of pressure from constituents.

"People who have federal employees as constituents are hearing some nervousness, and that will continue for some months now because 1995 is a really difficult budget year for almost all the agencies," says Elaine Kamarck, a senior policy adviser to Mr. Gore. "I think that their fears are somewhat unjustified."

Ms. Kamarck says streamlining and buyouts would create new opportunities for minorities by weeding out higher-ranked people who are close to retiring. She says many of the employees now taking buyouts are white males on the government's top rungs.

"With older people near retirement leaving, it creates mobility in middle- and upper-management," she says. "We think streamlining and buyouts and early retirements will contribute enormously to minority advancement."

The administration argues that although it is targeting many mid-level jobs, each agency is handling those cuts differently.

In Baltimore, at least 37 percent of the work force at the Social Security Administration consists of minorities, the SSA says. The number of African-Americans employed in the agency's highest paying jobs nearly doubled between 1989 and 1993, according to SSA.

National statistics paint a dreary picture for minority workers. Although minorities accounted for about 25 percent of the federal work force of 2.2 million in 1992, they constituted more than half the 12,000 workers dismissed that year, government studies show.

Groups representing black workers say the "reinventing government" plan is the perfect vehicle to enact stronger protections for minority workers.

"When you consider that diversity is going to be a real phenomenon in the 1990s, with more women and minorities trying to enter the work force, there may be a greater risk of disparate treatment," says Frank Hunt, a spokesman for Blacks in Government. "We thought the administration would have mentioned that in the plan."

The caucus quoted a study by the Merit Systems Protection Board released last fall that indicated that no strategies have been devised to promote minority workers already in the federal work force.

The study found that minorities areconcentrated in jobs at the lowest levels of the pay scale.

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