White House Executive Order Silences Anti-Racism, Anti-Sexism Programs at Federal Agencies

Statement by Kathleen Rest, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Sep 24, 2020

WASHINGTON (September 24, 2020)—The White House issued an executive order directing federal agencies and the Armed Services to gut programs and workshops that help combat racism, gender discrimination and sexism.

It is imperative to meet head on our nation’s history and avoid whitewashing the reality of racism in this country. Racial equity trainings and workshops can only help improve the operation of agencies, by providing agency staff with a set of tools to combat systems of racial injustice, shine a light on unconscious biases, and help foster a more equitable agency culture, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Dr. Kathleen Rest, executive director of UCS.

“This order is abhorrent and wrong. In a stunning and amoral twisting of words, this executive order on ‘racial and sex stereotyping’ flies in the face of decades of scholarship on racism in the United States, the lived experiences of Black and Brown people, clear evidence of the pernicious effects of implicit bias and the role the federal government has had in perpetuating these systemic issues.

“This executive order is one of many that seeks to contradict reality and research, and act as if neither exists. Furthermore, it promotes a false narrative about the content and intent of racial equity trainings that have the explicit goal of increasing racial understanding and reducing harmful stereotypes, and it seeks especially to penalize government contractors who see the value of these programs in improving the experience of their own staff. The order incentivizes at the highest levels of our government ignorance over expertise, and denial of racism’s existence over action to combat it.

“This order further undermines the ability of federal science agencies to meet their missions of protecting public health and safety. Our government’s science agencies cannot address inequities in government services and protect underserved populations if they cannot give employees the tools to do the job well. The disproportionate death toll of COVID-19 among people of color is stark evidence of the racial disparities that exist in our country.

“I am stunned at the sheer ignorance, deception and lack of judgment shown in this Orwellian executive order. It takes us backwards and will perpetuate harms from racism, sexism and gender discrimination on people in the United States.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists has compiled a set of actions that federal agencies can take that will bring environmental justice and equity to the forefront of science-based decisionmaking. Learn more in our factsheet “Supporting Equity and Environmental Justice: Recommendations for 2021 and Beyond.”