The missing piece of the puzzle for advancing Biden’s racial equity executive order
COMMENTARY | Chances of success are drastically reduced without a unified data system, two experts argue.
President Biden signaled that equity, diversity and inclusion would be a key part of his policy agenda on day one of his administration when he signed Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity. In February 2023 he signed Executive Order 14091, Further Advancing Racial Equity, which builds on the earlier executive order.
The two orders charge the federal government with advancing equity for all, including communities that have long been underserved or adversely affected by systemic racism in structures, policies, and programs. The vigorous and sustained application of the most recent order will accelerate improvement in economic, health, and educational outcomes across the country as federal agencies “pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”
What’s Changed With “Further Advancing Racial Equity?”
The Biden administration outlined critical points in its initial executive order, including equity and resource allocation definitions. The new executive order lays out specific actions for the federal government to advance equity in measurable and meaningful ways. Notably, the order outlines a method of establishing equity-focused leadership within the federal government through Agency Equity Teams. Below are the specifications for how the teams will operate:
- Agency equity teams will be led by a senior official who will oversee the implementation of all initiatives
- This official will be responsible for delivering on the outcomes of all initiatives
- All Equity Action Plans will be made available to the public.
Federal agencies will recognize an implication within the most recent executive order: to develop structures and processes that can assure the delivery of equitable outcomes. If Agency Equity Teams seek to create meaningful impact and change within the federal government, they will surely benefit from a standardized approach to monitoring and reporting on outcome measures. If that approach can exist in a single system – a unified data system – the federal government, agencies, departments, and programs can effectively plan for, implement, monitor, and report on an aggregate scale that was unimaginable a decade ago.
Here are a few of the many benefits that will result from utilizing a unified data system:
- Agency Equity Teams will have ready access to actionable data for continuous quality improvement of Equity Action Plans
- Agencies will understand the efficacy and impact of Equity Action Plans through measures that delineate outcomes for historically underserved populations (i.e., racial/ethnic, etc.)
- Return on investment will be more readily understood as it relates to efficacy and impact
- It will be possible to determine the impact across Federal agencies - that is to say, the combined impact of multiple programs when leveraged upon one another
- Having data in one place allows for simple and seamless collaboration, removing any technological barriers that would occur by using separate platforms
- A unified data system will provide a place where all agencies can collaborate and view progress at a cumulative level.
Four Recommendations to Build a Unified Data System for Equity
We have worked with government agencies and broad national efforts for nearly two decades. During that time, we have seen agencies launch ambitious projects only to falter without clearly defined structures and processes. We have also seen great success for projects that use a consistent framework and adhere to discipline in strategic implementation. Below are five recommendations for the Agency Equity Teams to ensure they deliver on the merits of the new executive order:
- Utilize a singular platform that standardizes the reporting on all performance measures on the equity action plans. This tool must be flexible enough to support the vast diversity of the work across Federal Agencies and yet provide a broad consistency in its structure and application. We submit that if Equity Teams are to have any success, they will need a consistent approach. This is another way that a unified data system creates tremendous value: by streamlining data and putting it in the hands of Equity Action Teams.
- Disaggregate all measures in equity action plans by race. Without this level of granularity, making sense of the efficacy or impact of Equity Action Plans will be impossible. Any team focused on equity will be expressly interested in racial disaggregation to ensure that outcomes are improving for all racial groups. Every Equity Action Plan will need at least one measure that assesses whether service recipients are “better off” - measuring changes in attitudes, behaviors, skills, knowledge, or circumstances for all racial groups. Equity efforts need to demonstrate efficacy for actually improving the lives of specific populations.
- Ensure that performance measures prioritized by Equity Action Teams have an improvement plan. Each plan should begin by assessing trendline data disaggregated by race and ethnicity for program populations. An improvement plan should include the following:
- the identification of factors perpetuating disparities for racial and ethnic program populations
- delineation of partners that can help to address the factors
- practical and grounded solutions that can help to address the factors
- concrete action plan for improvement before the next reporting cycle.
We note that the Equity Action Teams will benefit from housing these improvement plans in the unified data system, which will help to better link implementation and data evaluation.
- Embrace a spirit of transparency and accountability by posting all performance measures, and the corresponding action plans for each measure, from each agency on performance.gov. Sharing data publicly is crucial for transparency, accountability, and trust between agencies and the public. By undertaking this step, the Federal government will create a standard for state and local governments to follow.
Creating a Meaningful Legacy
With the right care taken, the Agency Equity Teams described in Executive Order 14091 can make great strides in dismantling structural racism within the federal government. A unified data system is the missing piece of the puzzle to President Biden’s directive. The chances of success are drastically reduced without a unified data system, failure at launch is almost guaranteed in its absence. In the coming months, we hope that agencies will build from these recommendations to adopt a unified data system to implement Executive Order 14091. Any meaningful legacy for advancing racial equity at the federal level depends upon it.
Adam Luecking is CEO and Marcos Marquez is National Equity Lead/Senior Consultant of Clear Impact, a public sector performance management technology company based in Rockville, Md. Their email addresses are firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.