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More Than 90 Agencies Release Their First-Ever Equity Plans

“For the first time Americans will see a full picture of what it looks like for the entire federal government to advance equity at once,” a senior administration official said.

More than 90 federal agencies released their first-ever equity action plans on Thursday, laying out more than 300 strategies to better help underserved communities. 

This follows an executive order President Biden issued on day one of his administration, which directed agencies to conduct equity assessments of their top three to five high-impact services for Americans to determine where there were  systematic barriers. These findings helped agencies develop their plans.

“Taken together these 300 actions demonstrate what it means to take a whole-of-government approach to advancing equity,” said a senior administration official on a background briefing call. “For the first time Americans will see a full picture of what it looks like for the entire federal government to advance equity at once.”

For example, Health and Human Services Department plans to better help individuals with limited English proficiency access federal health programs; the General Services Administration seeks to assess the impact on communities of its vast real estate portfolio; and the Office of Personnel Management looks to invest in data to look at potential barriers in the federal hiring process.

Common themes throughout the plans––released by all Cabinet agencies as well as over 50 independent agencies –– are using federal procurement to advance equity and strengthening civil rights laws. 

The White House said these plans advance the administration’s work on diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and environmental justice as well as combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. 

The plans also include provisions on how the agencies will “embed equity in day-to-day governing,” said the White House, such as through data collection and reporting, simplifying government services, expanding access to grant opportunities, among other things. 

A second senior administration official said on the call that “[The Office of Management and Budget] has been working very closely with [the Domestic Policy Council] and our agencies since day one to help center equity in the day-to-day business of government,” specifically by supporting agencies in developing their plans. 

OMB also issued guidance in December on how agencies can use federal procurement to advance equity and on Wednesday issued guidance on reducing administrative burdens when the public accesses government services and benefits, the official noted. Also, the president’s budget request for fiscal 2023 included several “key investments in equity” such as on climate justice, care infrastructure, transit services, and civil rights offices. 

On the briefing call, Government Executive asked if OMB or the Biden administration would be overseeing agencies’ implementation of the policies and programs in their equity plans.

“Yes,” said a senior administration official. “You will see in the plans that are released today that agencies have established metrics against which their process can be measured as well as accountability mechanisms; how they’re going to hold their own employees, including senior leadership accountable for delivering on the priorities that they’ve listed in their plans and that’ll also help us in the White House to drive this process and ensure that agencies have both the support they need and the oversight to ensure that they are delivering on the president’s mission.” 

There will also be regular reporting to OMB, said the official. 

Mid-morning on Thursday, Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, and OMB Director Shalanda Young, hosted a virtual event on equity with several Cabinet officials as part of the launch of the reports. Also, Biden made remarks about it in a video message.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., committee member, applauded the administration’s actions. The lawmakers sent a letter to administration officials back in October urging them to ensure agencies have sufficient data to carry out the president’s executive order on equity.

“Systems change is possible when we lean into the power and authority of the federal government and today’s announcement is historic,” Pressley wrote. However, “our work is far from over.”