NFL's Rooney Rule Influencing Staffs on Capitol Hill

The Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for open head coaching positions, may also be influencing your senator’s staff.

The volunteer-run Congressional Hispanic Staff Association is promoting the Rooney Rule as a model for solving what it calls the ‘diversity crisis’ on Capitol Hill. CHSA released a report Thursday claiming minorities — specifically Hispanics — are underrepresented in Congressional staff offices and recommends adopting the Rooney Rule for filling top level staff vacancies.  

Turns out, however, the Rooney Rule already has a foothold on Capitol Hill. At a ‘State of Diversity on the Hill Address’ held by CHSA and several other minority associations on Capitol Hill Thursday to release the report, guest panelist Sinceri Guerrero, a Human Resources manager who works in Sen. Harry Reid’s Democratic Diversity Initiative, said the Rooney Rule is the working model for her office.

“We developed this strategy pretty much to work off the Rooney Rule,” said Guerrero, whose office works with all Democratic senators. “As the offices would come to us and email us and say, we have this position available, that position available, then we said, well, we’ve got resumes…

“We just wanted them to get accustomed to looking at resumes of people that were diverse, people of great quality, high caliber, people that had the skills and ability to perform that job.  And it’s worked for us. ”

According to CHSA’s report, Reid was looking at the Judiciary Committee staff during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito (who Reid then voted against) and thought minorities were underrepresented, so he established the Democratic Diversity Office. The diversity office is a part of the Senate, and the staff is paid to look at resumes and work with job candidates through circulating résumés, conducting informational interviews, and internship programs.

CHSA, which by contrast is a volunteer-staffed organization, said its goal is to have — by 2020 — 75% representation on staffs of whatever percentage Hispanics represent in the total population. To accomplish this, CHSA’s report suggests creating diversity offices like Reid’s and including date on ethnicity in future congressional employment surveys.

A CHSA spokesperson says CHSA has aggressively targeted new members of Congress and encouraged Republicans and House Democrats to adopt efforts similar to Reid’s diversity office.

“We’re doing this in our spare time because we think it’s important,” he said. “Volunteer efforts are not going to be enough.”

As of now, there is no mandate like the Rooney Rule on congressional staff hiring. Those who spoke at Thursday’s event — which included Cyrus Mehri, the lawyer whose report on black coaches in the NFL made way for the Rooney Rule — recommended emphasizing the hiring process instead of imposing quotas.

“There’s no mandate,” Guerrero clarified. “I think it’s implicit in the fact that we’re in the majority leader’s office, that we’re there, that the senator, when they have a Democratic caucus, our boss Martina Bradford will go and speak to all the senators." 

But panelist Mickey Ibarra, whose Latino Leaders Network organization has put together a list of elected representatives on the Hill who have a Latino on staff, recognized that Congress will probably want to protect its ability to hire who it wants.

“The fact of the matter is that Congress exempts itself from lots of rules — lots of rules that me and everybody else that operates a private company have to abide by,” Ibarra said.  “The Congress does see itself as a separate institution and will fight to the death to preserve the right to hire whoever they choose, in essence.”