February 28, 2023 – One week after President Biden announced his second historic Executive Order 14091, Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through The Federal Government, mandating racial equity across policy and practice within the federal government, Race Forward and PolicyLink released their review of a sample of the Equity Action Plans (EAPs) presented early last year by federal agencies.
More than 90 federal agencies and departments, including all cabinet-level agencies and over 50 independent agencies, prepared EAPs as mandated by President Biden’s Executive Order 13985 “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.”
The groups found that while the EAPs demonstrated a clear distinction between equity and equality, only half of the 30 plans they reviewed explicitly referenced racial equity. Despite the executive order’s explicitness in naming racial equity in the title, the initial federal plans have adopted a less prescriptive framing.
“Prioritizing equity is a clear departure from previous administrations,” said Carlton C. Eley, Senior Director for Federal Strategies at Race Forward. “Still, strategies to achieve racial equity differ from those to achieve equity in other areas. A strong racial equity framework targets the differences between individual, institutional and structural racism as well as the history and current reality of inequities.”
Race Forward and PolicyLink’s report notes focusing on racial equity provides the opportunity to introduce a framework, tools, and resources that can also be applied to multiple areas of marginalization. Therefore, to achieve maximum impact, the plans need explicit focus and specificity.
"We commend the Biden-Harris Administration, agency leadership, and career staff for their commitment to ensuring that the federal government's resources, power, and purview work for everyone, especially the nearly 100 million Americans prevented from experiencing financial security,” said Jessica Pizarek, Director of Federal Policy and Advocacy at PolicyLink. “The equity action planning and implementation supported by the executive orders illustrates the power of a federal governing agenda that acknowledges the persistence of structural and institutional racism and pursues a more just nation by centering racially equitable policy priorities.”
Race Forward and Policy Link approached the review of the agency plans believing in several principles as outlined in PolicyLink’s “For Love of Country: A Path for the Federal Government to Advance Racial Equity,” :
- Understand and acknowledge the federal government’s role in impacting society at a wide scale to this day–whether positive, negative or seemingly neutral.
- Target the fundamental root drivers of gaps and inequities, and prioritize the people who have traditionally been excluded, recognizing these investments will benefit all.
- Leverage the expertise and experiences of all to promote equity, particularly leaders of color and their communities.
- Acknowledge that the scale and complexity of reaching racial equity will require ongoing commitment, action and adjustments to drive meaningful change and strengthen our
- Build public trust and accountability in the long-term commitment for racial equity through data-driven decision-making and outcome tracking.
A summary of additional findings of the 30 EAPs reviewed in the report include:
- All of them correctly distinguish between equity and equality
- 28 include actionable strategies that have a strong chance of improving racial equity outcomes
- Eight reference equity tools developed by experts or utilized by other government partners
- Only three explicitly named “institutional racism” and “structural racism.”
“The federal government bears a unique responsibility because the creation and perpetuation of racial inequities has been baked into government,” Eley said. “Racial inequities across all indicators for success are deep and pervasive. Further, marginalization is driven by a range of factors including gender, sexual orientation, ability and age, and experiences of marginalization are compounded by experiences of racism. As a nation, we can and should do better.”
In January 2021, on the heels of a historic uprising for racial justice, President Biden issued “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” an executive order. The move signaled the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to advancing racial equity throughout the federal government and to addressing the nation’s history of entrenched structural racism. In issuing the executive order, the Biden-Harris Administration gave federal agencies and departments one year to create and publish Equity Action Plans (EAPs). The purpose of the EAPs was to identify barriers to advancing equity within the agency’s high-impact services and introduce actions to address those barriers.
The goal of Race Forward’s and PolicyLink’s report was to examine the degree to which the plans lay the groundwork for meaningful and sustainable agency action to advance racial equity.
About Race Forward:
Race Forward was founded in 1981 and brings systemic analysis and an innovative approach to complex race issues to help people take effective action toward racial equity. Having worked with local and regional government jurisdictions across the country for 20 years, in 2021, Race Forward began its Federal Initiative to Govern for Racial Equity to help federal agencies and departments operationalize racial equity in their policies and practices.
Founded in 1999, PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity by Lifting Up What Works®.