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FBI Loss of Blacks Cited; Sessions Vows End to Bias

Times Staff Writer

Even with stepped-up efforts to combat racial discrimination in the FBI, black agents are resigning at twice the rate of white agents, Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, said Tuesday.

But Edwards praised as “candid and forthright” a statement from FBI Director William S. Sessions describing the steps he has taken to correct shortcomings he found.

Sessions, appearing at a subcommittee hearing, said a review of the FBI’s equal employment opportunity program for hiring, promotion, transfers, disciplinary actions and training had uncovered “a number of areas that, quite frankly, needed attention. Some still do,” he added.

Sessions’ comments marked the furthest he has gone publicly to assess discrimination inside the FBI since a federal court in Texas, ruling on a job-bias lawsuit from which Sessions said he had “learned,” found that the bureau had discriminated against Latino agents.

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“It has sometimes been difficult for us to recognize that there is the potential for injustice in our own ranks,” Sessions said, and “that there is a constant need for vigilance against discrimination, no matter how subtle its disguise or how elusive its substance.”

On the point of black agents’ resignations, John D. Glover, executive assistant director and the FBI’s highest-ranking black, disputed Edwards’ conclusions. Glover, who is leaving the bureau this month, said the comparison was based on “relatively small numbers,” and thus was not a meaningful one.

FBI figures show that 13 black agents--equal to 3.2% of the total--left the bureau in fiscal 1988 for reasons other than retirement, death or being fired, compared with 159 white agents--1.86% of the total--in the same period. In fiscal 1987, the comparison was 16 black agents, or 4.2% of the total, to 169 whites, or 2.03% of the total, according to the FBI.

As of Feb. 21, the latest date for which figures were available, the FBI had 863 women, 453 Latinos and 419 blacks in its force of 9,586 agents.

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Discrimination inside the FBI, Sessions told the subcommittee, “was not something I knew or perceived” when he joined the agency as director in November, 1987.

To help correct the shortcomings, Sessions said he is elevating the FBI’s equal employment opportunity office and will take the rare step of appointing an outsider to head that office.

The appointee, expected to be named today, will be able to report directly to Sessions and will take part in the FBI’s “executives conference,” of senior managers who help set bureau policy, Sessions said.

The new official will have Sessions’ “personal mandate” to work with FBI managers to correct or improve shortcomings. “If that proves unavailing, the (equal opportunity) officer will be instructed to come directly to me,” Sessions said. “There will be no ambiguity about the role of this new office in the FBI.”

Some steps Sessions took earlier to attract minorities to the bureau drew criticism during the hearing.

Edwards said, for example, that he had viewed a videotape prepared by an advertising agency the FBI hired to help recruit minority agents, and found that all three FBI interviewers shown in the ad were white men. He said this was “not very sensitive.”


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