Congress Not Following Its Own Rules on Diversity

New members will be elected into Congress this week, bringing hundreds of new staffers with them. And a News4 I-Team review finds Congress isn’t following its own laws on ensuring diversity among its staff.

That’s despite laws passed by Congress that require nearly every other employer to track and report on its hiring of women and people of color – an issue noted by several former congressional staffers who spoke to the I-Team.

“There are individuals within that collective body that are leading by example,” said attorney, lobbyist, and author Anita Estell. “But as a collective body, Congress is not leading by example.”

Estell, who served as a House committee staffer early in her career, said the argument for any lawmaker to maintain a diverse staff is simple.

“We're a representative government, and so we want our government to be representative of the people who live in this nation," Estell said.

Congress requires diversity tracking in the workforce for everyone through the Civil Service Reform and Equal Employment Opportunity Acts, but lawmakers don’t have to follow those laws.

When the I-Team looked for records and numbers on how well congressional staffers reflect the gender and racial makeup of the states their lawmakers represent, we discovered there aren’t any.

The I-Team obtained a report from the Office of Personnel Management on minority employees in the federal workforce, which Congress requires OPM to submit every year. Their latest numbers show slight overall increase from the previous year - 0.04 percent - in employees who identify as women and as Black, Latino, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native.

But the picture of how Congress is doing itself on hiring minorities is nowhere near as clear.

The I-Team sent the member offices representing the District, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia a list of questions asking them how many staffers and interns identify as men, women, LGBTQ, and every racial and ethnic breakdown on the most recent U.S. census reports.

Only seven offices answered the questions, and of those offices, minorities were actually over-represented compared to U.S. census figures. Women accounted for 52 percent of the staffers and interns in those offices, while people of color accounted for 43 percent of the workforce.

*Numbers only include seven of 29 member offices that responded to the News4 I-Team's survey, and no offices from West Virginia responded.

But that’s only a small snapshot of the senators and representatives for our region. Six offices – those of Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards, Virginia Rep. Morgan Griffith, Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell and West Virginia Rep. David McKinley - refused to answer the I-Team’s questions.

By way of explanation, Cardin’s office wrote the I-Team:

“We have a policy against answering surveys. The sheer number makes it prohibitive. In this case, your inclusion of interns also would make it nearly impossible to get an accurate view of our office. The number and demographics of our interns changes from session to session."

Sixteen others never replied after repeated requests.

Democratic Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer's office is among the seven offices that responded and stressed diversity hiring isn’t always about numbers or what a person looks like.

"We believe in a democracy that you need all points of view,” Hoyer said, “and that's what diversity is about."

He said he's proud of the work his party has done on increasing diversity, but acknowledged there's room for improvement.

"We have the most diverse caucus in our history, but we are still not necessarily representative of the American mix," Hoyer said.

And it's not for lack of trying, according to Brad Fitch, another former congressional staffer.

"Every chief of staff that I know wants a diverse workforce in their office," he said. “It's very helpful for congressional staff to have walked a few miles in the shoes of their constituents if they come from that community.”

Fitch now runs the Congressional Management Foundation, which helps Congress improve operations with better business practices, and he pointed to a lack of money as a big part of what might be hampering diversity outreach efforts.

"Congress cuts its own budget, and in essence is shooting itself in the foot,” said Fitch. “It's very hard for a congressional office to create a pipeline of diverse applicants if it has no resources to do it."

Telly Lovelace, urban media director for the Republican National Committee, also started his career on the Hill and said he didn’t feel staff were always reflective of the country during his time there.

“I didn't see the diversity I wanted to see,” he said. “And you know, in my case, being an African-American Republican, it's part of being a super small minority.”

He’s now in charge of engaging African-American voters with the GOP and also sees the creation of diversity tracking for Congress as a key – in the same way Congress requires other agencies to report.

“There needs to be some method or a mechanism to keep track,” Lovelace said. “This will be a way to help encourage offices to make these efforts to really diversify their staff and, I mean, help both parties out at the end of the day."

Lovelace, Hoyer, Fitch and Estell also told the I-Team efforts to help Congress diversify its staff do exist – and pointed to a number of caucuses, programs, and resources aimed at promoting minority interests and making jobs on Capitol Hill more accessible to all. Some are listed below – check back, as this list will grow, and contact the News4 I-Team if you have additional resources to share.

Reported by Scott MacFarlane; produced by Ashley Brown and Rick Yarborough; and shot and edited by Jeff Piper, Steve Jones and Lance Ing.
Contact Us