Rep. Bobby Rush introduces legislation focused on addressing racism, lack of diversity in the federal government

Greg Nash

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) introduced legislation over the weekend that would establish a congressional commission focused on rooting out racism and increasing diversity within the federal government.

In unveiling the “Abolish the Last Great Plantation in America Resolution,” Rush pointed to the health inequalities that have been suffered by communities of color during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Earlier this summer, I was alarmed by reports of the stunning acts of racism being experienced by employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], which ultimately led to 1,200 CDC employees calling on the agency to address this ongoing discrimination,” said Rush, referring to a letter  CDC workers wrote to agency Director Robert Redfield in July.

Rush also cited reported racism and lack of diversity within the State Department, quoting former U.S. diplomat Naa Koshie Mills who wrote in June that the agency was “embedded with practices which deny people of color opportunities, rob them of a respectful work environment, and perpetuate harassment and bias.”

“We cannot lead where we do not go, and if Congress is serious about addressing systemic racism across the country, then we must first look inward and examine the racism and lack of diversity that exists within the highest reaches of our own government,” Rush said.

Under the proposed measure, a commission made up of 20 people would be created — the members of the group being chosen by House and Senate leadership. 

The commission would then spend a year conducting a study “on the presence of system racism and the lack of diversity in the Federal government, and on steps the Federal government may take to eliminate racism and promote diversity in the government.”

The legislation comes after the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released a study last week that revealed only 11 percent of top Senate staffers were people of color.

Since 2015, when the center released its first report on staffer diversity on Capitol Hill, lawmakers have taken some steps to make their staffs more diverse.

In 2017, Senate Democrats began to release a report on the racial makeup of their staffs and in 2019, the House created an Office of Inclusion and Diversity to help spur more diverse hires.

Senate Democrats have also ushered in their own diversity initiative, following the lead of the NFL and implementing their own “Rooney Rule.” The rule calls on Democratic offices to interview at least one person of color for every job opening.

Updated at 10:20 a.m.

Tags Bobby Rush Congress diversity and inclusion Illinois Institutional racism Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Racism systemic racism

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