WASHINGTON—At the national UNITY convention of minority journalists early this month, President George W. Bush repeatedly embraced diversity and proclaimed, “If you look at my administration, it’s diverse, and I’m proud of that.”
To illustrate his point, Bush painted a picture of being flanked in his office by Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell as he dealt with terrorism and the war in Iraq, an image even Democrats concede is impressive and powerful.
But the Bush administration is not nearly as diverse as it appears in that picture, particularly when it comes to blacks and women, according to an analysis by Newsday of personnel records that created a snapshot of political appointees.
And Bush’s overall record of diversity pales when compared to the standard set by his predecessor, President Bill Clinton, for filling the roughly 2,800 political posts that form a presidential administration.
Blacks held 7 percent of administration jobs under Bush, less than half of the 16 percent they held under Clinton, the snapshot shows. Women won 36 percent of Bush’s appointments, noticeably fewer than the 44 percent of Clinton’s.
Overall, the Bush administration gave more than half, 54 percent, of its political positions to white men. Clinton awarded 57 percent of his jobs to women and minorities.
A diverse cabinet
The snapshot does confirm Bush’s claim that he has assembled the most diverse cabinet and top-level officials requiring Senate approval of any Republican president, creating a profile that nears the record-setting diversity of Clinton.
But it also shows that just below those highly visible positions—in the hundreds of little known but important appointments to senior executive posts that don’t need Senate confirmation—the diversity of the Bush administration fades.
Under Clinton, women held 43 percent and blacks 13 percent of the senior executive posts, and 45 percent went to white men. Under Bush, women won just 24 percent and blacks 6 percent of the jobs, and 66 percent went to white men.
Take, for instance, the Department of Education, headed by Rod Paige, the black former chief of Houston’s public schools, whose appointment Bush often mentions.
Paige’s 18-member top-level team—deputy secretary, undersecretary and assistant secretaries—was quite diverse. A third were minorities and more than half women. Less than a quarter were white men.
But of his 22 senior executives—chiefs of staff, deputy assistant secretaries and advisers—only three, or 14 percent, were minorities and just a third women. And 60 percent were white men.
Those are among the findings from the first independent review to examine the claims of diversity by Bush and Clinton, based on an analysis of federal personnel records for September 2000 and September 2002.
Satisfied with numbers
The White House reviewed Newsday’s data and said it found nothing anomalous and that it was comfortable with the numbers and ratios, spokesman Trent Duffy said.
“The president chooses those professionals who can best help him enact his agenda and give the American people the highest quality government that they deserve,” he said.
At its convention in New York this week, the Republican Party is touting its black delegates, featuring minority speakers and highlighting the Bush cabinet. Yet the decision to press a claim to diversity appears contradictory to liberal civil rights activists and color-blind conservatives.
Liberal activists complain some cabinet secretaries who Bush highlights in his diversity pitch are overseeing the stalling, cutting or even dismantling of programs that aid minorities and women.
Last year, in a largely unnoticed major policy shift, the administration ended affirmative action for federal employment used since the 1980s by eliminating hiring goals for minorities and women.
“It’s a disaster,” said Leroy Warren, an NAACP board member and chair of its Federal Sector Task Force.
Foes of affirmative action approve of the move. “It’s a good first step,” said Roger Clegg of the conservative Center for Equality Opportunity.
But Clegg added, “I really don’t like this idea of diversity uber alles. It’s inconsistent with the principle of non-discrimination.”
He warned that playing the diversity card draws Bush into a numbers game he can’t win.
Experts on race and politics said it was understandable that the Bush administration lacks the same depth of diversity as the Clinton administration.
“Bush has pulled together a cabinet that looks like America,” said Jeremy Mayer of George Mason University, but he also has appointed a sub-cabinet administration that “looks like the Republican Party.”
David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank on black issues, said, “To some degree, those appointments reflect political reality.”
Four years ago, about 8 percent of blacks and less than a third of Hispanics supported Bush, he said, and there’s little prospect he’ll expand his share of the minority vote this year.
Bush has courted Hispanics as a potential source of support, but his appointments of Latinos also trail Clinton’s—except among judicial nominees.
Small resource pool
The sparse support among blacks and Hispanics means Bush actually has a smaller pool of them to tap into for jobs in his administration.
It’s not that there are no conservative blacks, it’s that they don’t want to have to defend themselves from attacks by liberal activists, said Ralph F. Boyd Jr., a black attorney who led the Justice Department’s civil rights unit until last year.
“Statistically, is the pool of available people smaller? Sure,” Boyd said. “But it’s not just quantity, it’s quality.”
Bush gives minorities jobs that matter, he said. “At some point, it’s less significant how many African-Americans are in the Civil Rights Division, and it becomes more important how many are at the SEC.”
The ease and familiarity Bush shows with Rice, Powell and other minority cabinet members is what diversity is really all about, Boyd added.
But black and white liberals say the failure of Bush and the Republican Party to draw more support from minorities is not simply based on peer pressure.
“It’s sort of a chicken-or- the-egg problem here,” said Elliot Mincberg, legal director of the liberal People for the American Way. “Is one reason that African-Americans support the Bush administration less is that they feel their views are not really represented by the administration?”
The minority community is troubled by the Bush administration, said Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington office director, on everything from symbolic slights to cuts in federal housing, small business and other assistance programs.
The biggest complaint, he said, has been Bush’s stand against the admissions policy at the University of Michigan and its law school in the reverse-bias cases before the Supreme Court, a position even Powell and Rice rejected.
Most minorities feel they still encounter discrimination and look to the federal government to help them, Shelton said.
“Where the rubber hits the road is the desire to help level the playing field,” said Nancy Zirkin of the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, a liberal umbrella group.
Yet key members of the Bush administration say that the playing field is already level, not tilted in favor of white men as it was 40 years ago.
Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, chaired by Bush appointee Cari Dominguez, voted unanimously to eliminate affirmative action for federal employment, a major policy shift that has broad implications.
In quietly adopting a new policy, the commission scrapped the decades-old requirements that federal agencies set goals for hiring and promotion and that they target minorities and women for special assistance.
Those steps are similar to the affirmative action that the government requires of federal contractors and programs used by many states and cities.
Under the new relaxed federal policy, federal agencies must examine statistics, but only to look for barriers to free and open competition for jobs to everybody, including white men.
Dominguez declined to comment. EEOC staffer Catherine McNamara said the policy needed to be updated to reflect Supreme Court decisions, demographics and the changing nature of discrimination.
Besides, McNamara said, “The federal government is many times more diverse than private industry.”
Blacks hold 19 percent of federal career service jobs, compared with 14 percent of the jobs in corporations, EEOC figures show. Yet federal employment of Hispanics and women trails private industry, and relatively few minorities and women are in top federal jobs.
“We’ve always counted on the federal government to provide an example to the private sector,” Shelton said. The new policy sends a “chilling signal.”
Shelton also complained that Dominguez pushed the new program through so quickly it amounted to “a stealth policy.”
Career officials who must implement it complain of turmoil.
The Justice Department is using the policy to defend the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the EEOC from a reverse-bias suit filed by the Center for Individual Rights, which also sued the University of Michigan.
The timing of the lawsuit and new policy are a coincidence, McNamara said.
In the past month, Bush has defended his record on minority issues in speeches to the UNITY meeting and the National Urban League, Duffy said.
In those addresses, Bush said his administration is strong on civil rights enforcement, was the first to ban racial profiling and is intent on boosting minorities through better funded education and lower taxes.
Sincerity or strategy?
Mayer said Bush is sincere in his pursuit of black votes and endorsement of diversity.
But John D. Skrentny of the University of California San Diego, an expert on affirmative action, said Bush is employing “a political strategy” that dates to President Richard M. Nixon.
In it, Republicans nominate very conservative minorities or women for top jobs or judgeships to place diversity-minded liberals in an awkward position. Bush’s father did that when he nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
Skrentny said Bush is following his father’s example.
In his speech to minority journalists, Bush charged that Senate Democrats were blocking his attempts to diversify the federal bench.
The Democrats have filibustered votes on 10 of Bush’s judicial nominees, which include a Hispanic man, a black woman and two white women.
Yet overall, Bush has nominated fewer blacks and women than Clinton—a third of his candidates compared with more than half of Clinton’s.
Sheldon Goldman, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and an authority on federal judicial selection, credits Bush for embracing diversity.
But, he said, the Bush administration has focused more on finding candidates with a conservative philosophy like the one held by Thomas.
“With Clinton, diversity trumped philosophy,” Goldman said. “With Bush, philosophy trumps diversity.”
Bush has pulled together a cabinet that looks like America . . . [and a sub-cabinet that] looks like the Republican Party.’