Feds to offer sweeping racial justice plan
Federal agencies are unveiling sweeping plans on Thursday as part of a government-wide effort by the Biden administration to ensure racial minorities and other underserved communities have equal access to government resources.
The plans are more than a year in the making, triggered by an executive order on advancing racial justice and equity that President Biden signed on his first day in office last year. More than 90 agencies are releasing equity plans that were the product of internal assessments by each agency, a senior administration official told reporters.
The official said that the plans in sum include 300 strategies and commitments. Among them, the Labor Department plans to launch a new initiative to help workers of color overcome barriers in accessing unemployment insurance benefits.
The Environmental Protection Agency will shift from responding to civil rights complaints to beginning civil rights reviews proactively. The Pentagon plans to work with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to diversify its artificial intelligence workforce.
The Department of Homeland Security also plans to focus on making sure transgender Americans are treated fairly in airport screenings.
And the Justice Department will improve language access to its programs so that Americans who are not proficient in English can more easily report crimes and access the department’s resources.
“We are talking about a different approach to government, one that puts service to all American people at its center,” the senior administration official said.
Officials stressed that implementation of the plans would take time.
“We really do see this as a marathon as well as a sprint,” said a second senior administration official. “This is going to take a long, sustained effort across the interagency, across the broader equity community to close these critical gaps.”
White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young are hosting a virtual event from the White House with Cabinet officials to discuss the plans Thursday morning.
Biden, who is traveling to North Carolina and scheduled to speak at an HBCU, filmed a video message addressing the plans that was played at the start of Thursday’s virtual event.
“Advancing equity is not a one-year project,” he says in the brief video. “It’s a generational commitment. These plans are an important step forward, reflecting the Biden-Harris administration’s work to make the promise of America real for every American, and I mean every American.”
The plans come as the administration is facing pressure from advocates to cancel student loan debt and take executive action on police reform to address racial equity.
Biden recently announced plans to extend the pause on federal student loan payments until the end of August, but the administration has been quiet on whether the president will try to cancel borrowers’ debt. Some have questioned whether Biden has the legal authority to do so.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson stepped up pressure on Biden to sign a long-awaited policing executive order in the wake of the release of video of a fatal police shooting at a traffic stop in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday.
“While we fully understand an executive order is not a substitute for meaningful legislation, we must do everything in our power to protect our community,” Johnson said in a statement Wednesday.
Administration officials insist the president intends to sign the executive order, a draft of which was leaked late last year, but say it is still being worked on.
“The president absolutely wants to do exactly that,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a briefing Wednesday. “It just takes some time to go through a process, but his intention is absolutely to sign a policing executive order.”
Democrats in Congress have also failed to pass election reform bills — a major priority of civil rights advocates — that have been unanimously opposed by Republicans.
Biden has made equity a priority, including by building a diverse staff at the White House and throughout the administration. Earlier this year, he also nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court and celebrated her confirmation last week.
—Updated at 10:34 a.m.