WASHINGTON -- Faced with an impending federal probe of alleged discrimination, the head of the country's largest spy agency told a congressional panel yesterday that he would redouble efforts to hire and promote women and minorities.
"It is clear to me there are imbalances in the representation of women and minorities" at the National Security Agency, Vice Adm. John M. McConnell, the NSA director, told the House Intelligence Committee. "I am committed to identifying and eliminating the barriers, no matter how subtle, that help to perpetuate these imbalances."
The Pentagon inspector general is to begin its investigation of the agency Monday. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., called for the probe after reports that the agency, based at Fort Meade, lags behind the rest of the federal government in minority hiring.
Ms. Mikulski also asked the Pentagon inspector general to probe charges by constituents of discrimination and sexual harassment against women, along with allegations of retaliation against workers who file complaints.
Admiral McConnell, appearing before the panel with his counterparts, the directors of the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency -- made no mention of sexual harassment or retaliation. Instead, he devoted his testimony to a more diverse work force.
The three-star admiral, who arrived at the agency in the spring of 1992, said his goal for the current fiscal year is that one-third of all new hires be minorities.
He also unveiled several new initiatives, including the creation of a council made up of men and women from all minority groups and pay grades who will meet with agency officials to discuss concerns and suggest remedies.
Admiral McConnell reaffirmed that the agency has had a hard time finding minority workers, who have been "traditionally underrepresented" in the skill areas he needs: languages, mathematics, engineering and computers.
To try to meet those needs, the admiral said, the agency has a variety of programs to attract minority students.
The NSA was created in 1952 to collect electronic intelligence from listening posts around the world and to write and break codes. Its work force is estimated at 38,000 to 52,000.
The Sun reported in August that minority workers had complained they were routinely bypassed for promotions.
Minorities make up 11 percent of the NSA work force, compared with 27 percent of the federal government as a whole. The percentage of minorities in NSA's upper pay grades also is about half that for all federal workers.
The NSA also trails the two other intelligence agencies. The CIA has 14.1 percent minorities, the Defense Intelligence Agency 19.3 percent, according to testimony yesterday.
All three directors said they will make strong efforts to recruit and promote minorities but that they are under orders from Congress to cut their budgets 17.5 percent by 1997, which could hamper those efforts.
Rep. Julian C. Dixon, D-Calif., who said he was "attracted to the Baltimore Sun article" Admiral McConnell had referred to, pressed Admiral McConnell on a memo that was quoted in the newspaper article. The memo, which was written by an agency official, said that although the NSA planned to hire 500 more workers in the next five years, its minority representation was not expected to increase. Mr. Dixon wondered about the inconsistency between the admiral's pledge of more minority hiring and the memo's wording.
The memo was a "draft," the admiral said, adding, "It's not a true statement." Asked about a final version of the memo, Admiral McConnell said there isn't one.
The admiral distributed a memo to all employees this week informing them of the Pentagon probe.
The Pentagon inspector general "has assured me that employee-specific information will be kept confidential; names and other identifying information will not be released," he wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Sun.