WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered the federal government to do more to address racial inequality as the challenges and complexities of systemic racism are again drawing the public's attention.
The order, signed during Black History Month, requires that an initial review into long-standing disparities in government services and treatment that he ordered on his first day in office become an annual requirement for federal agencies. The reviews are aimed at increasing access to federal programs, services and activities for disadvantaged communities. The new order also directs federal agencies to have equity teams and name senior leaders who would be accountable for increasing equity and addressing bias.
“My Administration has embedded a focus on equity into the fabric of Federal policymaking and service delivery,” Biden wrote in the order, adding that, “By advancing equity, the Federal Government can support and empower all Americans, including the many communities in America that have been underserved, discriminated against, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”
Last month, Tyre Nichols, a Black man, died several days after he was severely beaten by five police officers following a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee. Nichols was one of several Black men across the United States who died after encounters with police recently. The problem also extends to racial disparities in wealth, housing, crime and education that reflect decades of discriminatory policies.
Chiraag Bains, the president's deputy assistant for racial justice and equity, said that the new order shows Biden is “doubling down” on the commitment he made on his first day as president “to put equity at the center of how this government operates.”
The order institutionalizes Biden's pledge that government be open and accessible to all and “is a recognition that achieving equity is not a one- or a two-year project. It's a generational commitment," Bains told The Associated Press.
Federal agencies would need to improve the quality and frequency of their engagement with communities that have faced systemic discrimination. And it formalizes Biden's goal of a 50% bump in federal procurement dollars that go to small and disadvantaged businesses by 2025.
Under the order, agencies must also focus on new civil rights threats, such as discrimination in automated technology and access for people with disabilities and for those who speak languages other than English. It also includes a push to improve the collection, transparency and analysis of data to help improve equity.