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Chertoff scolded for lack of staff’s diversity

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2008

Two congressmen yesterday said the Department of Homeland Security needs more diversity to do its job effectively, and scolded Secretary Michael Chertoff for not bringing any black or female staffers to his appearance before the House Judiciary Committee — even though two staffers were immigrants and a third was Hispanic.

In what appeared to be a sort of diversity sting operation, Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, led off his questions to Mr. Chertoff by demanding that the secretary's staff stand up to be scrutinized. Minutes later, during his own questions, Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat, said the point was to prove that none of the 10 staffers who stood met his definition of diverse.

"You brought 10 staff people with you, all white males. I know this hearing is not about diversity of the staff, but I hope you've got more diversity in your staff than you've reflected here in the people you've brought with you," Mr. Watt told the secretary.

The hearing was called to examine the administration's record on border security and immigration, but Mr. Watt said diversity mattered for law enforcement. Both Mr. Watt and Mr. Scott are black.

Mr. Chertoff responded that Mr. Watt shouldn't judge his staff based purely on appearance.

"I wouldn't assume that the ethnic background of everybody behind me is self-evident," he said.

Mr. Watt took that as a challenge, telling him, "I think I know an African-American when I see one."

He asked any staffer who was black or female to rise, then demanded that the record reflect "that nobody stood up to volunteer in either one of those categories."

"If we're going to do law enforcement in this country, we need to understand that there's an element of diversity in our country that I don't see represented here," Mr. Watt said.

A spokesman for Mr. Chertoff later said that one of the staffers is a naturalized citizen who immigrated from Russia, one is a naturalized citizen from Iran and another is Hispanic. Mr. Chertoff also had a female officer on his security detail.

Republicans on the committee seemed outraged by the performance and came to Mr. Chertoff's defense, pointing out that most of the staffers were civil servants rather than political appointees.

"I certainly don't want this hearing to appear as though we're disparaging people who through 15 or 20 years of service have risen to these positions," said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican.

The hearing deteriorated from there, with one member trying to get answers from Mr. Chertoff's staff about a letter he had written to the department and Mr. Chertoff objecting.

"I'm not going to have everybody I bring into a hearing room questioned," Mr. Chertoff said.