- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2000

A new executive order by President Clinton directs federal agencies to significantly increase the number of Hispanic workers.

"Hispanics remain underrepresented in the federal work force. They make up only 6.4 percent of the federal civilian work force, roughly half of their total representation in the civilian labor force.

"This executive order, therefore, affirms ongoing policies and recommends additional policies to eliminate the underrepresentation of Hispanics in the federal work force," he said in the order he signed last week.

Both Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee, and Republican rival Texas Gov. George W. Bush said during their final presidential debate Tuesday night that they support diversity in the work force but oppose quotas.

"I'm against quotas. They're illegal. They're against the American way," Mr. Gore said.

Mr. Bush agreed: "If affirmative action means quotas, I'm against it."

Although Mr. Gore still leads Mr. Bush in most polls of Hispanic voters, Mr. Bush has whittled the traditional Democratic lead to a narrow margin. Both candidates have tried to court Hispanic voters in recent weeks, sometimes punctuating their speeches with Spanish phrases. They both are airing new TV ads in Spanish as well.

Critics of preferential hiring policies accused the president of timing the executive order to help Mr. Gore win votes among Hispanics. Hispanic leaders supported the president's action.

The order directs federal agency and department heads to establish programs for recruitment and career development of Hispanics. It also requires them to create plans for hiring more Hispanics and makes recruitment a criterion for measuring supervisors' job performance.

An interagency task force, to be created by mid-December, would monitor compliance by federal agencies and departments.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will supervise the recruitment effort.

Agency Director Janice LaChance said in a press statement, "OPM is fully committed to President Clinton's and Vice President Gore's profound belief that the federal government should look like the changing face of America. It is through an executive order like this that we are able to build and maintain a diverse work force, one that gives everyone an equal shot at success."

Conservative groups doubted the executive order reflected a fairness policy.

"The president is urging federal managers to hire with an eye on the ancestry of applicants instead of ignoring national origin the way they are required by law," said Roger Clegg, vice president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative public policy foundation that opposes racial preferences and bilingual education.

"I don't think it is a coincidence that this executive order was signed within a month of a very close presidential election. This is part of a pattern of presidential orders the president has signed in recent months pandering to various groups. This is racial politics."

Todd Gaziano, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said, "The executive order is troubling on two fronts. First, it appears to be an October election pander. More fundamentally, however, there are provisions of the executive order that would appear to result in unconstitutional quotas being enforced."

White House spokesman Elliot Diringer said the executive order was not a quota. "It is not about hiring, it is about recruitment," Mr. Diringer said. "Citing demographic data hardly amounts to establishing a quota. This administration has consistently opposed the use of quotas. The executive order does not establish any kind of numerical goal. The objective here is a federal work force that better reflects the diversity of our society."

Hispanics make up 12 percent of the U.S. population and 14 percent of the civilian labor force, according to the Census Bureau. Hispanics can be of any race.

Mr. Diringer explained that recruiting efforts will inform Hispanics about federal job opportunities and encourage them to apply. "Once you have your applicant pool, your hiring decisions are based on who is best qualified," he said.

Mr. Diringer also denied the executive order was timed to win Hispanic voter support for Mr. Gore. "This has been a long-standing priority of the administration," he said.

Some Hispanic leaders said the executive order would help ensure Hispanics are not overlooked.

"The executive order is not a quota. It is creating an awareness in the federal government that there are a significant number of Hispanic-Americans who are not represented in the federal work force and need to be included. We're not talking about quotas, we're talking about outreach," said Elizabeth Lisboa Farrow, chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The executive order also was endorsed by the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of Hispanic organizations, which met Wednesday at the downtown Ritz Carlton Hotel.

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