Castro, Bass, Chu, Haaland, Titus Introduce New Legislation to Promote State Department Diversity and Inclusion

December 9, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON — Today, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Vice Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA-37), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-1), Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, and Congresswoman Dina Titus (NV-1), Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee introduced the Diversity and Inclusion at the Department of State Act.  

This legislation establishes a senior-level office of the Chief Diversity Officer to advocate for diversity within the Department, changes promotion and other practices to improve retention and equity, and includes Reps. Castro’s and Titus’ Promotion Accessibility Act, which codifies the practice of allowing diplomats with disabilities include “gap memos” to explain gaps in their service as a result of medical treatment.

The Diversity and Inclusion at the State Department Act has been endorsed by the Open Society Foundation, Foreign Policy for America, the Truman National Security Project, Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security, and the Center for American Progress.

“America’s diplomats who represent the United States to the world should reflect the diversity of the American people. For years, the State Department has failed to look like the face of our country and the lack of diversity in the diplomatic corps is appalling,” said Congressman Castro. “Our country’s diversity and heritage as a nation of immigrants is one of our greatest strengths, providing a competitive advantage over adversaries. The Diversity and Inclusion at the Department of State Act will increase accountability for retaining and promoting a diverse diplomatic workforce that both better reflects our values and also advances our interests around the world.”

“The State Department is America’s face to the world and the workforce must represent the United States’ commitment to diversity and inclusion in order to effectively advance American values on the world stage. For years, State has expressed a commitment to building a workforce that reflects the diverse composition of the United States. Since the State Department has been unable to act on workforce diversity, Congress intends to work with them to do so with this bill and others. I urge my colleagues to support this important bill,” said Congresswoman Bass.

“America’s foreign service officers represent our country to the world. And yet, despite the diversity of our country, our foreign service corps and State Department staff are overwhelmingly white, especially at the highest levels where over 80% of employees are white. The lack of diversity is restricting our access to talent and reducing the impact of our diplomacy. That is why I am so pleased to cosponsor this bill with Rep. Castro. Establishing a Chief Diversity Officer and improving the process for selecting State Department staff is an essential step,” said Congresswoman Chu.

“Representation matters in all levels of government, but for generations, access to roles at the State Department have been reserved for well-connected elites. It’s something that communities of color, people with disabilities, and those who don’t have connections face everywhere and those struggles are only compounded in the promotion process. That’s why Rep. Castro and I are introducing a bill that will outline where the gaps are and ensure that our State Department can benefit from the vast experiences and knowledge that a diverse workforce brings to the table,” said Congresswoman Haaland. 

“The State Department is best equipped to represent U.S. interests on the international stage when it is staffed at every level with individuals from different backgrounds and perspectives.  U.S. diplomats should reflect the diversity of this country and that of our global allies.  I’m pleased to work with Congressman Castro on this critical legislation,” said Congresswoman Titus.

Background:  

The Diversity and Inclusion at the Department of State Act establishes, within the office of the Deputy Secretary of State, the position of Chief Diversity Officer and specifies that the Deputy Secretary of State shall be responsible for ensuring policies and practices of the Department of State relating to recruitment, retention, and promotion advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The bill requires that a substantial number of women and members of minority groups are appointed to the Board of Examiners and the Foreign Service Selection Boards, mandates diversity and inclusion training, and adds a commitment to diversity as a factor in promotions.  This bill establishes a formal mentorship program for new State Department employees and an annual senior executive candidate development program for the civil service. This bill includes the Promotion Accessibility Act which allows for Foreign Service employees to submit a ‘gap memo’ to explain any gap in their service when being considered for promotion or awards.  These memos are used by employees with disabilities to explain gaps from medical treatment and for other purposes. 

Quotes from supporters:

“I applaud and thank Rep. Castro for his leadership on the need for a diverse and effective State Department. Rep. Castro understands that the first step in restoring U.S. global leadership is rebuilding our State Department better and more prepared to lead on shared global challenges – from COVID-19 to climate change to the rising tide of authoritarianism. In order to effectively do so, we need a Foreign Service that reflects our country’s unique diversity and leverages our greatest asset: our people,” said Tom Perriello, Executive Director of Open Society-U.S.  “This historic bill will help ensure a stronger Foreign Service by promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the State Department’s hiring, retention, and promotion policies and practices. In this moment of national reckoning on racial justice and institutional racism, we need to make sure our institutions live up to our nation’s aspirations. This bill gets us closer to doing so.”

“The sponsors of this Bill make clear the Administration and the Department of State itself have strong partners in Congress because this Bill includes the most important ingredient for success in the field of diversity and inclusion: accountability,” said Ambassador (ret.) Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley.  “With these changes, we can have the best of America at the decision-making table. We will finally put the foundation in place that allows the Department of State to achieve substantial success in its stated aims: Having America’s representatives look like America.”