Truth v. Myth: Biden Order on equity needs our help

Posted on March 2, 2021. Filed under: Civil Rights, Economics, Politics, Truth v. Myth | Tags: , , , , , |

It’s part the last of our short series examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site. We left off in part 2 looking at the end of Section 4 and its directions for identifying methods to assess equity.

Sec. 5 Conducting an Equity Assessment in Federal Agencies tasks the head of each agency, or someone they deputize, to consult with OMB to carry out a review of their agency that identifies:

(a)  Potential barriers that underserved communities and individuals may face to enrollment in and access to benefits and services in Federal programs; 

(b) Potential barriers that underserved communities and individuals may face in taking advantage of agency procurement and contracting opportunities;

(c) Whether new policies, regulations, or guidance documents may be necessary to advance equity in agency actions and programs; and

(d) The operational status and level of institutional resources available to offices or divisions within the agency that are responsible for advancing civil rights or whose mandates specifically include serving underrepresented or disadvantaged communities.

–What we like about these four categories of inquiry is that they incorporate correction to the very Order they’re part of. A and B address the potential–and likely–problem that benefits may exist but the people who need them will be presented with constant obstacles when they try to access them. C accepts that the existing policies and guidance may prove to be incomplete in advancing equity, and new ones will be needed. D accepts that agencies may likely need more resources–money and people–to carry out the Order. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation in which passing an Order solves all problems. It’s not a magic wand, and it needs to be the beginning of a large collaborative effort. That means there will be changes and it will be expensive and there will have to be real enforcement. All of this should inspire people to do this good work, rather than turn them off, because it’s a healthy and helpful acknowledgement of the real world in which change takes place.

Section 9 – Establishing an Equitable Data Working Group – is a call to gather more data on our population, as “Many Federal datasets are not disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status, or other key demographic variables.  This lack of data has cascading effects and impedes efforts to measure and advance equity.  A first step to promoting equity in Government action is to gather the data necessary to inform that effort.” The Working Group is established, and will go about the difficult business of gathering data from people who have every right to feel threatened by federal requests for their personal information and scared to provide it lest they be fired, deported, or harassed. This small section is very important, and calls for the most thoughtful work.

Thankfully, Section 10 – Revocation – revokes the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year.

This is a good start, and we welcome it. But we fear for it, too, as America continues to go through ever more violent pendulum swings right to left with every presidential election. The specter of the EO on equity that the next Republican president might sign is menacing. The next four years must be spent moving the nation back to its established central base, where it is assumed the the United States is meant to provide liberty and justice to all. That founding principle was openly and explicitly rejected by the Trump administration, and too many Americans resonated with that trashing. Let’s let this Order be a step toward getting back where we belong. Do your part by asking what’s being done at your workplace to provide the data we need to broadcast the fact that “hardworking American” is not code for “white”, and to pull back at that pendulum before it swings away from us.

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