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Trump Administration Requests Info on Contractor Diversity Training as Officials Seek to Clarify What’s Allowed

Federal officials now say at least some unconscious bias training is all right under a recent controversial executive order.

Procurement officials are moving forward with efforts to ensure that federal contractors comply with a recent executive order banning diversity training that the Trump administration accuses of being “anti-American,” requesting information about the types of training that companies doing business with the government currently conduct.

The Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs has submitted a Request for Information set to be published on Thursday in the Federal Register asking contractors to submit their diversity training materials to ensure that they do not “involve race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating.”

“Through this request for information, the department invites the public to provide information or materials concerning any workplace trainings of federal contractors that involve such stereotyping or scapegoating,” the document states. 

Since the order was announced, it has come under fire from federal employee groups, employment lawyers and contractors, who have objected to what appeared to be vague language that could bar training materials that are common both in government and the private sector.

In guidance to agencies last month, the Office of Management and Budget warned that federal employees who engage in what the White House describes as “divisive” training could face discipline. OMB Director Russell Vought specifically called out a number of phrases that would be indicators that a course violates the order’s prohibition.

“Reviews of specific training curriculum materials can be supplemented by a broader keyword search of agency financial data and procurements for terms including, but not limited to: ‘critical race theory,’ ‘white privilege,’ ‘intersectionality,’ ‘systemic racism,’ ‘positionality,’ ‘racial humility,’ and ‘unconscious bias,’” Vought wrote. “When used in the context of diversity training, these terms may help identify the type of training prohibited by the E.O.”

But officials at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs have offered a more lenient set of rules, at least when it comes to unconscious bias training. In an FAQ posted to the agency’s website, they indicated at least some unconscious bias training may continue under the executive order.

“Unconscious bias or implicit bias training is prohibited to the extent it teaches or implies that an individual, by virtue of his or her race, sex and/or national origin, is racist, sexist, oppressive or biased, whether consciously or unconsciously,” the agency wrote. “Training is not prohibited if it is designed to inform workers, or foster discussion, about preconceptions, opinions or stereotypes that people—regardless of their race or sex—may have regarding people who are different, which could influence a worker’s conduct or speech and be perceived by others as offensive.”

The agency’s director, Craig Leen, elaborated on where the line is between unconscious bias training that may continue and courses that must be halted on Monday during Government Executive’s Federal Workforce Summit.

.“Unconscious bias training, if it’s the sort of traditional training I’ve experienced, which is based on the human condition where every person has certain biases, stereotypes or prejudices that exist and they have to take account of them to make sure those sorts of biases are not impacting the actual decisions that a person is making or things that person says . . . if that’s the training it’s perfectly fine,” Leen said. “[Training] on white fragility or white privilege is likely to be problematic, because it’s identifying a particular race and making certain pronouncements regarding people of that race that may be in your workforce, who are a captive audience, listening to the training.”