Trump's diversity training purge becomes a debate topic

President Trump, former vice president Biden and moderator Chris Wallace at the first presidential debate 9/29/20 image from video capture 

A recent move by the Trump administration to aggressively police the content of race and diversity training curricula at federal agencies became fodder for Tuesday's chaotic presidential debate.

In several memos and an executive order, the Trump administration announced an effort to purge training curricula of concepts like "critical race theory," "white privilege" and "unconscious bias." The crackdown extends to how federal contractors train their own private sector employees.

The move, reportedly sparked by a segment on Fox News about critical race theory that caught the president's attention, has left federal managers rushing to cancel and revise trainings so they aren't caught short by the new policy – which threatens adverse career consequences to individuals who let proscribed trainings take place.

"I ended it because it's racist," Trump said in response to a question from moderator Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday. Trump added: "They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it's a racist place. And they were teaching people to hate our country. And I'm not gonna allow that to happen."

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, countered saying, "Nobody's doing that…he's the racist."

Biden defended the practice of diversity training, which is commonplace in federal agencies, saying, "The fact is that there is racial insensitivity. People have to be made aware of what other people feel like. What insults them, what is demeaning to them. It's important that people know."

According to a 2016 report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 36% of harassment complaints made by federal employees to the agency were about racism in the workplace and 44% alleged harassment based on sex.

House Democrats are pushing back on the policy changes.

"OMB's memorandum and President Trump's Executive Order exhibited a level of ignorance rarely seen at executive levels in government or the private sector," Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, led by Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) wrote in a Sept. 29 letter to Russell Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The letter noted a gap in the percentage of minorities in senior-level executive branch positions as compared to entry-level jobs. The same gap exists in the military between the officer corps and enlisted personnel.

The lawmakers are seeking guidance issued by OMB to agencies on how to implement the order and memoranda and details on training programs that have been reviewed for compliance. They also want information on which contracts and contractors are affected by any training change or cancellation and any plans for federal funds that are diverted from spending on such training.

Federal employees associations and unions have also protested the order.

"The memo from OMB calling upon agencies to cancel and/or divert federal funds from anti-racism training at a time when our nation’s people are yearning for more open and honest conversations about race is tone deaf at best and disgraceful at worst," Chad Hooper, president of the Professional Managers Association and an IRS employee, said in a statement earlier this month.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified Chad Hooper's organization. He is president of the Professional Managers Association. 

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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