NSA vows to hire more minorities

September 23, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Writer

The National Security Agency came out of the shadows last night and vowed to increase women and minorities in its work force and provide more contracts to minority firms.

But officials from the spy agency met a skeptical -- and often irritated -- crowd of three dozen African-American community leaders, businessmen, government employees and hopeful job applicants.

"NSA is underrepresented in terms of minorities and women," said Alice Freeman Harris, chief of the agency's Human HTC Resources Services, during the NSA's first community meeting on the subject of diversity. "Our goal is that one day NSA will look like the rest of America."

The agency, one of the state's largest employers, has 11.4 percent minorities among its estimated 20,000 workers, although there are 22 percent minorities in the U.S. labor force. NSA employs about 31 percent white females, although they account for 35 percent of the labor force.

Under questioning during the two-hour meeting in Annapolis, three NSA officials conceded that cuts mandated by Congress meant there would be little hiring this year. About 200 employees were hired during the past year, but the agency estimates that fewer than 100 will be hired in the next year.

Jim Marshall, a 53-year-old Annapolis farmer, called the 200 figure "an insult" and indicated the meeting was a waste of time. "I could've been at home looking at television or fishing off my pier," he said.

Others took issue with the comments of Vice Admiral John M. McConnell, NSA director, who this week told a congressional panel that budget cuts may force layoffs at NSA and hurt its first steps at diversity because of the consequence of "last hired, first fired."

"It's not NSA policy, it's civil service," explained Frank Blanco, the agency's director for Equal Employment Opportunity.

Carla Sherman, director of NSA's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business, said NSA has a goal of 5 percent minority contracts, although it has a hard time finding such businesses in the high-tech field.

She was unable to provide a dollar figure on the contracts.

The agency, she added, has embarked on a more aggressive approach through ads in trade journals, business conferences locally and around the country and a future trade fair at the agency's Fort Meade headquarters.

"We're getting there. We're making every effort to get there," she said.

The agency also is expanding its hiring of high school students to Baltimore and Oxon Hill, said Mrs. Freeman Harris.

Many in the crowd wondered if the agency would follow up on their promises. Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, who helped set up the meeting with Michael E. Morrill, projects director for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said he would press for a meeting with community leaders and Admiral McConnell.

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