President Biden signs his first executive order in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday.

President Biden signs his first executive order in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday. Evan Vucci / AP

Biden Order Rescinds Diversity Training Restrictions, Requires Review of Agency Equity

An executive order instructs all federal agencies to “root out” systemic racism from programs and institutions and rescinds Trump's controversial effort to excise so-called “divisive” diversity training programs from agencies and federal contractors.

On President Biden’s first day in office, he signaled a major shift in the administration’s approach to racial issues, signing an executive order ending the Trump White House’s policies that denied the existence of systemic racism in the United States and ordering agencies to “root out” systemic racism and other forms of discrimination both in the workplace and in their public-facing programs.

Racial issues were a flashpoint for former President Trump throughout his term. He notoriously described attendees of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., as “very fine people,” and denigrated those who protested against police brutality last summer, culminating in police in Washington, D.C., firing tear gas into a crowd of demonstrators so that Trump could take a photo in front of a local church.

Those actions carried through to White House policy. Last fall, Trump signed an executive order barring agencies and federal contractors from engaging in diversity and inclusion training that involved the use of critical race theory or otherwise highlighted institutional racism in the United States. Last month, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction against the order as it pertains to federal contractors, although it remained in force for agencies.

The order was widely criticized by federal employee groups, good government experts and federal contractors themselves. They said that it was conceived on an apparent misconception of what the vast majority of employer-sponsored diversity training actually says, and said it would chill efforts to make workplaces welcoming and equitable for employees of all backgrounds.

Biden’s executive order, one of 15 he signed Wednesday, rescinds the diversity training order in its entirety and launches what the White House called a “whole-of-government initiative to advance racial equity,” according to a summary. It directs all federal agencies to conduct an internal review and devise plans to “address unequal barriers to opportunity in agency policies and programs.” The review should also ensure equity based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religious minorities and people with disabilities.

The order also instructs the Office of Management and Budget to work to ensure that federal government spending more equitably invests in communities of color and ensure that federal programs are available to people for whom English is not their first language. It launches a new “equitable data working group” to ensure federal data “reflects the diversity of America.”

The executive order also rescinds Trump’s 1776 Commission, an effort to limit public education curricula’s discussion of slavery and other racial injustice in U.S. history courses.