WASHINGTON, D.C. -- United States Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)joined by all the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today sent a letter pressing Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought and White House Counsel  Pat Cipollone for answers on the scope, legal justification, and potential penalties for President Trump’s September 22 executive order prohibiting discrimination, bias, and diversity training for not only federal agencies but also federal contractors and grantees.  

 

Experts have found that discrimination, bias, and diversity trainings are critical in addressing harmful inequities across American society.  One recent study has shown that the U.S. economy lost $16 trillion over the last two decades because of discrimination against African Americans.  Nevertheless, Trump has disparaged and mischaracterized these trainings as “efforts to indoctrinate government employees with divisive and harmful sex and race-based ideologies.”

 

This new executive order comes on the heels of an equally troubling Office of Management and Budget memorandum issued on September 4 to the heads of the federal government’s executive departments and agencies, which began by calling discrimination, bias, and diversity training sessions “divisive, anti-American propaganda. Additionally, according to a recent report by MarketWatch, the Administration’s directive has already led at least one Justice Department office to effectively cancel a previously scheduled unconscious bias training program pending further guidance. 

 

“President Trump’s executive order marks a disturbing and drastic departure from orders issued by his predecessors that have sought to root out invidious discrimination within the federal government and among federal contractors,” Booker and his Judiciary Committee colleagues said in the letter to Vought and Cipollone.

 

Booker and his colleagues continued, “These recent pronouncements and activities by the Trump Administration are deeply concerning—and in this latest move to crack down on discrimination, bias, and diversity training sessions conducted by federal contractors and grantees, the Administration has doubled-down on its profoundly misguided and divisive strategy.  At this critical time when the nation is grappling with racial justice and policing practices, and when many Americans across the country are striving to eliminate invidious discrimination of all kinds, providing robust training programs on discrimination, bias, and diversity is as important as ever.”

 

In their letter, Booker and his colleagues asked for answers to the following questions by October 9, 2020:

 

  1. Do you believe that training sessions on implicit bias, unconscious bias, or any other form of discrimination are “divisive, un-American propaganda,” in the terminology used by the September 4 memorandum?  If so, please indicate the research, data, evidence, or studies you rely upon to support your assertion.

 

  1. What would you articulate as the specific basis under the September 22 executive order and/or the September 4 memorandum for canceling a training session on implicit bias, unconscious bias, or any other form of discrimination?

 

  1. President Trump’s tweet about the September 22 executive order referenced “divisive and harmful sex[]-based ideologies.” Does the executive order’s training ban apply to any kind of training about sexual assault or harassment?

 

  1. What is the Administration’s specific claimed legal basis for banning training sessions conducted by federal contractors and grantees that seek to prevent invidious discrimination, address bias, and foster inclusion?

 

  1. In your view, how is a training session prohibited by this executive order directly related to the performance of the underlying federal contract?  In your answer, please identify what you believe to be any relevant judicial precedents concerning speech restrictions imposed by the government on federal contractors and grantees.

 

  1. Does the Administration intend to impose penalties under this executive order on any federal contractors or grantees that conduct training sessions on implicit bias, unconscious bias, or any other form of discrimination? 

 

  1. Does the Administration intend to impose penalties under this executive order on any federal contractors or grantees that conduct training sessions about sexual assault or harassment?

 

 

This letter comes on the heels of Senator Booker’s letter last week calling on Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to hold an oversight hearing to examine the Trump Administration’s troubling effort to roll back anti-racial bias trainings for employees across the federal government. Booker and his Judiciary Committee colleagues also pressed Attorney General William Barr for answers on the apparent rolling back of anti-bias and anti-discrimination training for Justice Department employees.

 

The full letter can be downloaded here.