October 01, 2020

Menendez Cautions State Department on Trump’s Campaign Against Diversity Training

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is calling on the State Department leadership to preserve efforts to increase workplace diversity and inclusion at the State Department. In a new letter, Menendez pressed Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao to protect America’s diplomatic corps from President Trump’s new effort to block federal employees from receiving anti-racist and diversity trainings, particularly those that reference “white privilege.”  The letter also requests information about any plans the Department is making to implement President Trump’s misguided efforts.

“I categorically reject the notion that efforts to engage the nation’s largest workforce—federal employees—to better understand and implement policies that embrace workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion is a form of ‘propaganda’ or is ‘anti-American,’” Menendez wrote, citing a recent directive by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for federal agencies to cease and desist diversity trainings. “Equality among all people is a fundamental American value and the actions of the United States government to encourage diversity and inclusion set a global example for other nations and states to follow.”

The first Latino to serve as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez has championed the belief that the U.S. government has a moral obligation and strategic imperative to ensure that the doors of our national security bureaucracy are open to all who wish to serve, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, or any other historically underrepresented status.

The Senator also emphasized President Trump’s attempt to rollback diversity programs would prove particularly detrimental to the State Department, as it would exacerbate the agency’s well-documented shortcomings in diversity and inclusion.

Earlier this year, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff released a report presenting Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS) responses that revealed employees across the Department felt senior leadership did not foster and embrace diverse teams, which contributed to a  historic drop in staff morale. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) also published a study requested by Menendez examining the demographic composition of the State Department’s workforce; differences in promotion outcomes for various groups in State’s workforce; and, the extent to which State has identified barriers to diversity in its workforce. Highlighting critical retention issues, continued underrepresentation, and the lack of diversity in the State Department’s leadership positions, the GAO found:

  • Hispanic/Latino representation in particular continues to hover around 7% of the Department of State’s workforce, while representing approximately 17% of the total U.S. population.
  • Additionally, while the report finds that the proportion of racial and ethnic minorities at the Department of State has, as a whole, grown between 2002 and 2018 from 28% to 32%, the proportions of African Americans and women have declined.
  • The Foreign Service still remains significantly less diverse than the Civil Service.
  • Furthermore, promotion outcomes remain generally lower for minority groups and women, with relatively few members of these traditionally underrepresented groups currently employed at the top salary grades. These trends have been similarly noted in field missions as well as partnership organizations.

“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans, have spurred diplomats from diverse backgrounds to come forward with their own stories of discriminatory treatment including stigmatization, harassment, isolation, and bias in the promotions process, stretching back years,” Menendez added in his letter to Bulatao. “As the GAO report, EVS responses, and accounts of diplomatic professionals themselves suggest, the State Department, along with other federal agencies, should be focused on how to make trainings on diversity, equity, and inclusion more accessible and more effective, not ending them.”

A copy of the Senator’s letter to the State Department may be found HERE and below.

Menendez also sent similar letters to the leadership of all the federal agencies under the jurisdiction of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the U.S. Agency for Global Media, formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors (USAGM), the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the Peace Corps, the U.S. African Development Foundation (ADF), and the Inter-American Foundation (IAF).

Dear Under Secretary Bulatao:

I write to request details regarding any plans by the State Department to implement recent directives by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for federal agencies to cease and desist diversity trainings, particularly those that reference “white privilege.” The directives, issued on September 4, 2020, and September 28, 2020, claim that educational efforts and sensitivity training drive “division” in the federal workforce and undercut our core values as Americans.[1] They, along with the President’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on the same subject, also require federal agencies to receive approval from the Office of Personnel Management before using any diversity or inclusion training program and require that each agency’s Inspector General audit agency compliance annually.[2] Even more disturbingly, these edicts threaten to punish federal employees who continue such diversity and inclusion trainings with “consequences, which may include adverse action.”[3]

I categorically reject the notion that efforts to engage the nation’s largest workforce—federal employees—to better understand and implement policies that embrace workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion is a form of “propaganda” or is “anti-American.” Equality among all people is a fundamental American value and the actions of the United States government to encourage diversity and inclusion set a global example for other nations and states to follow. The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual includes “diversity” among the leadership and management principles, which “reflect the values the Department believes are important for all employees to cultivate.”[4] Further, as you accurately noted in responses following your nomination hearing, “the [State] Department must be a leader in promoting diversity and inclusion.”[5]

Implementing OMB’s divisive directives and President Trump’s Executive Order would only further undercut efforts to increase workplace diversity and inclusion at the State Department, a need that both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS) identified as urgently needed earlier this year. The GAO report documented significant challenges at the State Department in regards to increasing diversity, including retention issues, continued underrepresentation, and lack of diversity in leadership positions.[6] State Department employee responses to the EVS also found that in too many bureaus across the Department leaders did not sufficiently foster and embrace diverse teams.[7] Moreover, the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans, have spurred diplomats from diverse backgrounds to come forward with their own stories of discriminatory treatment including stigmatization, harassment, isolation, and bias in the promotions process, stretching back years.[8]

As the GAO report, EVS responses, and accounts of diplomatic professionals themselves suggest, the State Department, along with other federal agencies, should be focused on how to make trainings on diversity, equity, and inclusion more accessible and more effective, not ending them. As such, I ask that you provide the following, no later than October 15, 2020:

1.     A full list of all current trainings related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, including whether each is mandatory, recommended, or optional; the corresponding employee rank for any trainings that are mandatory or recommended; the length of each training; the purpose and focus of each training; by whom it is conducted; the length of time the training certificate is valid; and when it was initiated and last updated;

2.     A list of any and all trainings and contracts potentially affected or implicated by the OMB directives and Executive Order;

3.     Any changes made or planned changes to State trainings or contracts based on the OMB directives and Executive Order, including any expected timeline for such changes and any cancellations of trainings since the September 4 directive’s issuance date;

4.     Any current and on-going deliberation regarding the implementation of the OMB directives and Executive Order;

5.     The State Department bureau and official who will lead the reassessment and implementation of changes to these trainings, and the framework by which they will evaluate the trainings;

6.     Specific measures (including speeches, workshops, letters, or other communications) by Secretary Pompeo, yourself, and other Assistant Secretary-level or above State Department officials to address, in any manner, diversity, equity, and inclusion at the State Department;

7.     Total expenditures on diversity training for the past decade, inclusive of FY20; and

8.     The number of State Department employees who have participated in diversity trainings in FY20, by Bureau and Post, including the percentage in management positions.

The last few months of national unrest represent an opportunity to reassess our efforts to promote and support inclusion in the workplace, including at the State Department. In fact, nothing could be more American—we strive, together, to create a more perfect Union. As you aptly stated during your nomination process, “if the United States is going to continue to have the best diplomatic service in the world, we have to make sure we continue to weave diversity into the whole lifecycle of our talent, whether that’s through recruiting, promotions, or the trainings we provide.[9] I completely agree with your statement and look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

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Juan Pachon (202) 224-4651