October 16, 2020

Cardin, Senate Democrats Urge USAID to Continue Needed Diversity Training Despite Trump Executive Orders

The latest direction within USAID is in direct contradiction to GAO findings and recommendations and previous commitments made by USAID to seriously address diversity and inclusion issues

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has written to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) urging the continuation of diversity and inclusion training programs, as recommended by a General Accounting Office review. Signing the letter to Acting Administrator John Barsa with Senator Cardin are Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ed Markey (D- Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The senators took issue both with the egregious executive orders from President Trump telling agencies to stand down on diversity training and that USAID’s Office of Civil Rights and Diversity, which is responsible for equal employment opportunity (EEO) programs, was sidelined from the ordered review.

“We write with deep concern regarding reports of USAID pausing diversity and inclusion trainings in response to President Trump’s misguided September 22 executive order ‘to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating,’” the lawmakers wrote.  “As you are well aware, the June 2020 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on USAID workforce diversity concluded that although USAID has made some progress in increasing diversity in its Civil and Foreign Service workforces, continued underrepresentation and generally lower promotion outcomes for racial or ethnic minorities suggested that additional efforts were needed.

“We welcomed USAID’s concurrence with GAO’s four recommendations focused on required EEO activities and increased senior leadership attention to diversity efforts. However, this latest direction within USAID is in direct contradiction to the GAO findings and recommendations and previous commitments made by USAID to seriously address these issues. Even more concerning is that the Center for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance is leading this effort and not the Office of Civil Rights and Diversity.

“Now is not the time to stop diversity training – this is the time that we must redouble these efforts. We implore you to reinstate diversity and inclusion training immediately and to devote the necessary staff and resources to addressing the GAO recommendations,” the letter concluded.

 

The full letter follows.

October 16, 2020

Mr. John Barsa
Acting Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
Ronald Reagan Building 
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. 
Washington, D.C. 20523

Dear Acting Administrator Barsa,

We write with deep concern regarding reports of USAID pausing diversity and inclusion trainings in response to President Trump’s misguided September 22 executive order “to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.” The guidance released by USAID on September 30 ordered the heads of all bureaus to “put a hold on upcoming diversity and inclusion trainings, seminars, and other related fora as we, in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), conduct a review of the content of these programs.” The guidance noted implementation of the executive order would be led by Rick Guy, deputy director of the Center for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.

An accompanying memorandum instructs agencies to identify training programs related to diversity and inclusion held during Fiscal Year 2020, including those conducted by outside vendors, and determine the amount spent on them. They are also ordered to review the trainings to determine whether they “teach, advocate, or promote the divisive concepts” and to include provisions in future contracts prohibiting training that is inconsistent with the executive order. As reported in the press, Peter Marocco, the controversial Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization, sent a follow-up email to his staff ordering a pause in all training stating, “Effective immediately, if not already implemented as a follow up to last week’s [senior management meeting], all training must be put on pause. This includes all partners, programs and implementers in the field. This pertains to the E.O. on combating race and sex stereotyping. We anticipate that we will be getting additional guidance as soon as possible.”

As you are well aware, the June 2020 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on USAID workforce diversity concluded that although USAID has made some progress in increasing diversity in its Civil and Foreign Service workforces, continued underrepresentation and generally lower promotion outcomes for racial or ethnic minorities suggested that additional efforts were needed. The report found USAID has previously identified underrepresentation of specific groups in its workforce, but staffing gaps, partly due to a lack of senior leadership attention, prevent the agency from consistently performing required Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) activities. The Office of Civil Rights and Diversity (OCRD), responsible for USAID’s EEO program, has been significantly understaffed. As a result, USAID lacks the capacity to respond to allegations of discrimination, identify potential barriers to equal employment opportunity, and submit required annual reports on the progress of its diversity and inclusion efforts in a timely manner—all of which are required EEO functions.

We welcomed USAID’s concurrence with GAO’s four recommendations focused on required EEO activities and increased senior leadership attention to diversity efforts. However, this latest direction within USAID is in direct contradiction to the GAO findings and recommendations and previous commitments made by USAID to seriously address these issues. Even more concerning is that the Center for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance is leading this effort and not the Office of Civil Rights and Diversity.

We have previously raised concerns with USAID political appointees Mark Kevin Lloyd, Bethany Kozma, and Merritt Corrigan, whose past controversial comments have risked alienating USAID’s diverse staff.

We are also concerned by reports regarding Mr. Marocco, who, during his short tenure overseeing the agency’s new Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization, was accused of a number of worrisome actions, including the prioritization of programs to defend Christian minorities while shortchanging other efforts. We appreciate the swift measures you took to remove Ms. Corrigan from her post after her xenophobic and partisan attacks on Democratic Senators. While she has departed USAID and Mr. Marocco is taking a leave-of-absence, it seems that USAID’s well established bipartisan support and reputation of working to improve the lives of vulnerable communities around the world has been put at risk by several political appointees within USAID.

Now is not the time to stop diversity training – this is the time that we must redouble these efforts. We implore you to reinstate diversity and inclusion training immediately and to devote the necessary staff and resources to addressing the GAO recommendations.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

 

Sincerely,

 

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