WASHINGTON — A few months before leaving office, President Obama issued a memo to heads of government agencies on increasing diversity in the national security workforce to make the diplomacy, development, defense, intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security complex “more effective at problem solving than homogeneous groups.”
Obama said data collected on 3 million workers who comprise agencies such as the Intelligence Community, USAID, Treasury Department, State Department, Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security “indicate that agencies in this workforce are less diverse on average than the rest of the federal government,” and in 2015 only the State Department’s USAID Civil Services division “were more diverse in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity than the federal workforce as a whole.”
Along with providing annual publicly available demographic breakdowns of current employees, Obama directed that interviews with current and departing staffers be studied by leaders for “if and how the results of the interviews differ by gender, race and national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, and other demographic variables,” as well as any resulting policy recommendations.
National security agencies were also told in the October memo to “prioritize resources to expand professional development opportunities” and “reward and recognize efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.”
A group of Senate Democrats are drawing upon that Obama memo to make law diversity hiring and retention efforts in the national security community.
Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) today introduced the National Security Diversity and Inclusion Workforce Act of 2017, which would require an initial diversity report from relevant agencies within the first 180 days and follow-ups for each year after.
Underrepresented groups would then receive support from the entry-level phase to promotion to senior level positions “to support mission needs.”
Along with the details in the Obama memo, the bill includes “expanding training on unconscious bias, inclusion, and flexible work policies for senior leadership, and collecting and disseminating voluntary demographic data of external advisory committees and boards.”
“America’s diversity is one of our greatest assets as a nation, and our national security agencies should reflect that reality,” said Cardin, the top Dem on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Unfortunately, as it stands today these agencies are less diverse than the rest of the federal government.”
“To correct this and put our country on an even stronger footing, we should capitalize on what makes the United States unique and draw from the range of perspectives that represent the vast diversity of the American people,” he added.
The senator emphasized that “when America leads with our values on display, whether we are promoting human rights abroad or helping resolve conflicts to help societies heal and move forward, it should be done with personnel who reflect the entire tapestry of the United States.”