HUD employees complain of racism; Pierce denies claims, orders probe

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Claims of ''blatant racism'' within the US Department of Housing and Urban Development have prompted HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. - the nation's only black Cabinet member - to establish a blue-ribbon task force to investigate employees' complaints.

Complaining employees say the issue goes beyond the usual political firings of Carter administration ''leftovers'' - and their complaints could be a barometer of unspoken uneasiness among black workers throughout the federal government. At a Blacks in Government seminar (scheduled for Sept. 3-5), two workshop themes will be ''preparing for job changes'' and ''switching to private industry.''

Dissidents in HUD say staff cuts are racially motivated, covered by a reorganization plan that changes job descriptions of nearly half the department's black executives.

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Although blacks' concern over racism in HUD dates back to October, the issue boiled over in April with the distribution of a nine-page, unsigned statement that reportedly ''documented'' racism in the department. The anonymous report cited ''24 case studies'' of high-ranking black executives who were reassigned, moved, or transferred during staff cuts brought on by budget reductions.

In response, the HUD chapter of Blacks in Government issued a statement crediting the unsigned report with having some ''merit.'' This report went to HUD officials, including Secretary Pierce. There is no widespread racism in HUD, the secretary responded.

''Secretary Pierce is extremely concerned with charges that HUD is discriminating against black employees,'' said Leonard Burchman, assistant to the secretary for public affairs. ''He has named a high-level task force to investigate all allegations of racism. He wants all issues aired totally.''

Mr. Burchman called Secretary Pierce's affirmative-action performance record ''excellent'' and reported these figures:

Of 47 executive appointments made for HUD since January, 8 (17 percent) were black; 1 was Asian-American; 6 were white women; and 32 were white males. Among 32 reassignments, eight were black. ''Not one black was downgraded in salary or benefits. And three (reassignments) have resulted in promotions,'' Burchman said.

In addition, Secretary Pierce has met twice with black employees, once with the ''rank and file'' and once with senior executives, he said.

Even so, HUD critics, who prefer to remain anonymous, speak harshly of white executives ''hostile'' to blacks, of placement of two top-level black people ''on detail'' outside their regular duties, and of ''lack of sensitivity'' to black workers.

''We've had it!'' said one high-level black hit by HUD changes. ''The secretary has made no effort to deal with the issues. We're fed up.''

HUD operates on a $23.7 billion annual budget and employs 14,300 people. Some 26 percent are black.

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