Does the Obama Administration Still Have a Diversity Problem?


White House officials have announced that President Obama will appoint the first female director of the Secret Service. Julia Pierson is a veteran secret service agent with 30 years of experience. She currently serves as the agency's chief of staff where she oversaw the agency's quarter billion-dollar technology upgrade. Pierson has held multiple executive level positions in the Secret Service overseeing administration, budgeting, protective operations and procurement as she worked her way up through four of the eight directorates.

The announcement reinforces Obama's support for diversity within his administration. However, it doesn't necessarily satisfy critics' concerns that his second term will be less diverse than the first. Obama's base of women, African-Americans, and Hispanic Americans has all expressed varying degrees of concern regarding his appointments.

After the resignations of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, the Obama coalition fully expected that Obama would continue his trend of appointing women and minorities to senior positions in his administration. However, after the appointments of only white men to State, Treasury, Defense, White House Chief of Staff, and CIA director, many wondered whether the Obama administration had a woman problem.

With the appointment of Pierson, Obama answers some of his critics and continues his trend of appointing women to senior-level positions. Obama has had the most diverse administration of any president in history, including appointing the most women of any president. Along with Pierson, the president has named Sylvia Matthews Burwell to head the Office of Management and Budget, Gina McCarthy as EPA director, Edith Ramirez to head the Federal Trade Commission, and business executive Sally Jewell as secretary of the interior.

Despite these appointments, there are still those who have concerns with the configuration of the administration. Terry O'Neil, the president of the National Organization of Women was encouraged by the appointments but noted that these appointments lacked the day-to-day access of "high-level positions." "What concerns me is that he needs to be hearing from women half the time. The good news is this is not an individual who needs binders full of women. He knows where the women are," said O'Neil.

In the Capitol reports that CBC Chairwoman Representative Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) sent a public letter to the president expressing the frustration that many minorities feel at the lack of minority appointments. "The people you have chosen to appoint in this new term have hardly been reflective of this country's diversity. Their ire is compounded by the overwhelming support you've received from the African-American community," stated Fudge.

Speaking for the Hispanic community, Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza told the Washington Post, "the fact is, Hispanics did turn out to vote in a major way and voted for Obama in a major way, and that needs to be recognized as they're filling the Cabinet."

In response to Fudge's letter, the Associated Press noted that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated Obama's deep commitment to having a diverse cabinet and asked critics to "assess the diversity of (Obama's) appointments once they've all been made." Carney explained, "the president is committed to diversity. He believes that having a diverse Cabinet and a diverse set of advisers enhances the decision-making and deliberation process for him and for any president."

Obama has chosen Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Ernest Moniz to be Energy secretary and Thomas E. Perez as secretary of Labor which should address some concern over diversity. He has four cabinet-level positions to fill, CommerceTransportation, the Small Business Administration and U.S. Trade Representative. Women and/or minorities held all four positions during Obama’s first term.

Earlier in the year Obama responded to criticism that his most visible appointments were largely going to white males. “When you look for the very best people, given the incredible diversity of this country, you're going to end up with a diverse staff. We're not going backwards, we're going forward,” explained Obama in a Huffington Post article.

Based on the current scorecard he appears to be living up to the claim. In his first term women and minorities served in 14 of 22 cabinet and cabinet-level positions. So far in the second term women and minorities with fill 10 of 22 positions four appointments still left to go.