The State Department said it will appoint a chief diversity officer to replace the inaugural official who left at the end of June, ensuring an “important position” is filled despite political pressure from Republicans who question the need for such a role.
The department said it is in the process of reviewing candidates, according to a spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon didn’t say whether it intends to hire a chief officer to lead the department’s diversity and inclusion office. Gilbert Cisneros, who held that seat while serving as the under secretary for personnel and readiness, is stepping down next month.
The departures in these “c-suite” leadership positions come at a time when criticism of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility is at a high, both in Washington, D.C., and in in state legislatures across the country. The Biden administration has urged federal agencies to have a designated leader spearheading DEIA initiatives.
State’s first ever chief diversity and inclusion officer, Ambassador Gina Abercrombie Winstanley, retired after nearly two years in that seat, and in one of her last official appearances, strongly defended her office’s work against Republicans in Congress who said ascribe DEIA practices to “woke politics” that undermine the merit system.
Republicans have also objected to funding in the 2024 defense spending bill for implementation of the White House’s executive orders on DEIA, Military Times previously reported, and have wanted to gut the Pentagon’s CDO position.
Via a June 2021 executive order, agencies have been encouraged, but not required, to establish a formal CDO position, or one generally for a “diversity and inclusion officer,” and the Office of Personnel Management has said in accompanying guidance that “execution of agency-specific DEIA plans will require leadership and accountability at the highest levels of agencies.”
Federal Times previously reported that despite these pressures, a defense official said Cisneros’ departure had nothing to do with House Republicans’ effort to thwart this work.
“Once you understand the role that culture plays when it comes to mission delivery, that’s when you see the importance of this role,” said Kevin Johnson, director of DEIA at the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan government watchdog group. “I think that’s the thing that’s lost in the politics; people see DEIA as this esoteric topic, and [that] we’re just doing this to protect people, when in fact, we’re doing this to make sure people feel included so way they can contribute their their best work and service to people.”
A review by Federal Times found a range of implementation on the White House initiative. Many agencies, like the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Agriculture, and Department of Commerce, all have designated CDOs, and the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior are in the process of hiring one. Agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said they have an official who functions as the CDO and is embedded in human capital offices.
With reporting by Zamone Perez.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.