The Treasury Department’s launch of a new advisory committee on racial equity is just one of dozens of ways in which the federal government is working to advance President Biden’s sweeping diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) agenda.
“We know that we need to do all we can to build a fairer economy, and that’s why we have put racial equity at the forefront of our agenda at Treasury and across the Biden administration,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday as she announced the equity committee.
The Treasury committee is a natural extension of the administration’s broad effort to promote “equity” that started with an executive order on advancing racial equity that Biden issued on his first day in office. Yellen said the administration has pursued that goal in bills like the American Rescue Plan, which aspires to build a foundation for an “equitable economic recovery,” and the infrastructure bill, which she said will boost investment in communities “that have often been ignored or overlooked.”
Treasury is one of several federal agencies taking its cue from the White House. In the run-up to the midterm elections, the White House has put up a series of posts about equity as it relates to federal grant funding, federally funded research, stopping the spread of monkeypox and access to infrastructure contracts.
DEIA has also attached itself to other Biden administration priorities, such as climate change. Just last week, Vice President Harris caused a stir when she said assistance to climate-ravaged areas of the country must be distributed with “equity” in mind, which many Republicans interpreted as a sign that relief for Hurricane Ian in Florida might be doled out according to race.
The White House later clarified that Harris was not talking about relief specific to Hurricane Ian when she said low-income communities and communities of color are most vulnerable to climate change, and that the government needs to “address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity.”
Between Biden’s executive order and the drumbeat of attention to diversity and equity created by the White House, other major federal departments have taken their own steps to advance DEIA:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched an Equity Commission at the start of 2022 to advise the secretary on how programs and practices within the department “contribute to barriers to inclusion or access, systemic discrimination, or exacerbate or perpetuate racial, economic, health and social disparities.” USDA says the commission will confront the “hard reality of past discrimination and its lingering harm.” The group last met in late September, and it hopes to submit a final report on its findings next year.
The Commerce Department released a 20-page “Equity Action Plan” in April that says officials will work to build “innovation ecosystems in historically underserved communities,” expand assistance to minority businesses and make DOC resources more available to underserved communities.
In late September, the Pentagon announced a new defense advisory committee on diversity and inclusion, which will provide advice and recommendations on “matters and policies relating to the improvement of racial/ethnic diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity within the department.” A week later, DOD released a 37-page plan to promote DEIA.
This week, the Department of Energy announced $116 million in grants for programs focused on “equity and accessibility” for students and announced it will soon appoint members to an advisory commission to promote equity and opportunity for Hispanics. Last week, it announced a plan to address “digital equity,” and on Sept. 1, it released a plan to advance DEIA within the department.
Health and Human Services
This week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced nearly $5 million in grants to 10 organizations under a program aimed at addressing factors that contribute to “structural racism in public health.” The funding will help identify policies that “may create or perpetuate health disparities and may contribute to structural racism.” HHS also awarded $2 million in grant funding to groups focused on “health equity.”
In mid-September, the Department of Homeland Security awarded $20 million in funding to 43 groups through the Targeted Violence and Terrorism Protection grant program. DHS said 11 of those grants went to groups that work with underserved populations that can be targeted for attack, including two Historically Black Colleges and two groups that serve LGBTQ+ people. DHS added a new priority to the awards this year, which is to advance equity in awards and engage with underserved communities.
In May, the Justice Department released a “comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy” aimed at advancing “environmental justice in underserved communities that have been historically marginalized and overburdened, including low-income communities, communities of color, and Tribal and Indigenous communities.”
This week, the Department of Labor announced $80 million in grant funding to help fill the nation’s nursing shortage in a way that advances equity and brings “greater employment equity in underserved communities and improve health care workforce diversity.”
The Transportation Department this week marked the start of National Pedestrian Safety Month and reminded readers about the “disparities in pedestrian safety and the importance of equity in road safety for all. Black and Native American pedestrians are disproportionately killed in the United States, as compared to white pedestrians.”