Gearing up for the debate over extending federal transportation programs last spring, Jose Parra, deputy communications director for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, listened to his boss run through a list of the consequences of the proposed cuts. He couldn't help but chime in.
"Hispanic communities are overrepresented in the construction industry," Parra said he told those gathered, pointing out that the cuts would be disproportionately borne by Hispanic-Americans. "Thirty percent of Hispanic firms are construction firms."
"That point would have gone unnoticed during our discussions if there hadn't been minority staffers present," Parra recently told National Journal Daily.
But despite the benefits of bringing a variety of voices to the table, racial diversity in Capitol Hill offices continues to lag behind corporate America, and most minority staffers are left only dreaming of the day they earn a position as senior as Parra's.
Members of Congress are not required to report demographic details on staffers, so no definitive tally is available, but two voluntary surveys found minority hiring on the Hill to be surprisingly low, especially at senior levels.
National Journal's "Hill People" issue in 2011 profiled 288 top aides who work for congressional leaders and House and Senate committees, and only 7 percent of them were identified as Asian, black, or Hispanic. In the private sector, these same groups collectively held 12 percent of top managerial positions in 2010, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.