White House offers details on diversity training crackdown

Diversity training that teaches federal employees about "unconscious bias" or "systemic racism" or "intersectionality" are being banned under a new White House policy.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
 

A new memo from the Office of Management and Budget offers some detail on types of training that are being targeted under an executive order on "Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping." That executive order and an earlier memo together laid out an effort to eliminate training that expresses the idea of "white privilege" or "teaches or suggests either…that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or…that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil."

The executive order, released Sept. 22, extends the ban on training to federal contractors and requires a clause prohibiting certain types of training in all federal contracts that take effect Nov. 21 or later.

The memo tasks agency heads with appointing a politically appointed official to "review and approve in advance any expenditure on federal employee diversity and inclusion training," with the review including a certification that the curriculum meets the guidelines explained in the order and memoranda. The Office of Personnel Management is also charged with policing training materials for "divisive concepts."

The memo also orders grant-giving agencies to list programs that can make such training constraints a condition of financial assistance and to update guidance to restrict use of federal funds on training.

The memo also orders agencies to make an inventory of fiscal year 2020 diversity and inclusion trainings and track spending, vendors and the content of curriculum. The memo from OMB Director Russell Vought recommends a review of materials as well as a keyword search on terms like "critical race theory" and "positionality" and others.

Vendors that supply such training, Vought writes, are to be "considered for suspension and debarment procedures" under the terms of the order.

The technology trade group ITI slammed the order in a blog post, saying that it "attacks our broadly shared values and risks undoing real progress toward building racial equity in the tech industry and America writ large." ITI also derided the order on constitutional grounds, saying it represented an "unprecedented overreach of the federal government into the activities and values of private businesses," and created "a substantial new regulatory burden that will not only micro-manage private employer/employee relationships, but is potentially interfering with basic First Amendment rights."

A note from law firm Wiley to vendors advised that "the EO's broad definitions, subjective standards, and undefined impact into contractor organizations, leave uncertainty about the EO's impact that may not be resolved before any [federal contract] clauses begin appearing in late November."

American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley derided the policy when it was first announced earlier this month.

"Diversity and inclusion programs in the federal government help us understand one another’s perspectives and build a workplace where every employee is treated with dignity, fairness, and respect, regardless of their background," Kelley said. "As racial injustice continues to rock this nation, we ought to be building more bridges of understanding. But all this president seems to know how to do is build walls of division."

A back-of-the-envelope search of the Federal Procurement Data System suggests that officials will have to dig into course materials to find evidence of offending topics, because the terms don't appear in contracts as written. The database identifies just $7.2 million governmentwide in acquisitions identified as "diversity training" going back to 2003. The term "unconscious bias" appears in the description of requirements of contracts with obligations totaling $638,000.

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