Hutchinson's Record with Hispanics Draws Fire

By now, everyone in the country is aware of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's memorable speech at the 100th birthday party for retiring Senator Strom Thurmond -- the one where Lott praised Thurmond's 1948 presidential bid on a pro-segregation platform.

President Bush rebuked Lott's remarks, and the senator himself has apologized. So it's time to move on and get back to business as usual. But wait a second. What is this I hear about Asa Hutchinson?

In late November, President Bush tapped Hutchinson, currently the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to take on a high-level post in the recently created Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Now it seems concerns are being raised about Hutchinson's track record on the treatment of minorities, specifically Hispanics.

The charges against Hutchinson, in fact, are being advanced by the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, or HAPCOA, a group of some 1,100 command-level Hispanic law enforcement officers from across the country and Puerto Rico who work on the local, state and federal levels. These aren't beat cops; rather, they're the individuals running the show: supervisors, captains, special agents in charge.

In late August, HAPCOA adopted a resolution that shines a light on Hutchinson's performance at DEA. Among the allegations made in HAPCOA's resolution is that Hutchinson has "been a party to continuing an insidious 'good old boy' network (in DEA) thus perpetuating an atmosphere of distrust, reprisal and retaliation against minority employees for exercising their rights."

Pending Senate confirmation, Hutchinson will become the Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security at DHS in late January, when the new department is launched officially. DHS is being fashioned out of a combination of some 22 federal agencies employing more than 170,000 employees, many of them minorities.

HAPCOA's resolution singles out Hutchinson, claiming that in 2001 he "led the members (of HAPCOA) to believe that he supported fair and equal treatment of Hispanics in the DEA, and that he would change the culture in DEA that is notorious for discriminatory practices and disparate treatment of Hispanics."

However, the resolution asserts that DEA Administrator Hutchinson has failed to live up to his promise:

"In the year since Administrator Hutchinson addressed the HAPCOA members, treatment of DEA Hispanic employees has further deteriorated," the resolution states. "...Under the current senior management of the DEA, three former Chairpersons of the (DEA's) Hispanic Advisory Committee, all members of the Senior Executive Service of the United States and members in good standing of HAPCOA, including two National Presidents, have been involuntarily reassigned, demoted, retaliated against, denied promotions for which they are qualified or denied due process.

"...Administrator Hutchinson has ignored the advice and counsel of minority senior managers in both DEA Headquarters and the DEA Field Divisions."

Hutchinson also chose not to extend the charter of the Hispanic Advisory Committee, which was created in the early 1990s to bring the concerns of Hispanic employees directly to the attention of the DEA Administrator.

HAPCOA's resolution calls on the U.S. Attorney General to appoint an oversight committee at DEA to ensure that the problems now faced by minority employees within the agency are addressed and resolved.

"HAPCOA also calls upon the President of the United States and the Attorney General to exercise appropriate and firm oversight over the Administrator of the DEA in order to end the institutional racism at the DEA, and thus ensure equal treatment and equal employment opportunities for qualified Hispanics in our nation's lead federal drug enforcement agency," the resolution concludes.

In addition, HAPCOA sent a letter to President George W. Bush in early September 2002. The purpose of HAPCOA's letter to Bush was to seek his help in bringing about needed changes to address the discrimination confronted by Hispanic federal agents.

Bush has not responded to the letter, according to HAPCOA.

When contacted, White House spokesman Taylor Griffin said he was not familiar with the letter HAPCOA sent to the White House. However, he promised to look into the matter.

Are we starting to see a pattern here? Consider that in addition to the racial turmoil at DEA, class-action discrimination litigation is now pending against the U.S. Customs Service, the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

This looks like an issue that's not going away anytime soon. And beyond the clear-cut civil rights issues at stake, racial tensions within the federal workforce, left unaddressed, now may also put our national security at risk.

"Morale goes down if people feel they're being treated like garbage," stresses one federal agent, who asked not to be named because he feared he would be retaliated against for talking to the media.

"Does that (poor morale) jeopardize the safety of the country? Yes. No one would blow a case, such as a terrorist investigation, on purpose, but you can be so demoralized that you're not working at 100 percent," he said.

More coverage of this issue can be found at the San Antonio Business Journal.

Bill Conroy (, a former investigative reporter for the Shepherd-Express in Milwaukee, is the editor of the San Antonio Business Journal. The opinions expressed in this article are those of its author and do not necessarily represent the views of the San Antonio Business Journal or its parent company.

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