President Trump Expands Ban on Diversity Training for Contractors

By Katie Herrmann

President Trump signed an executive order on September 22, 2020, that limits certain types of employee diversity and inclusion training for federal agencies, contractors, grant recipients, and the military. The order was issued “in order to promote economy and efficiency in Federal contracting, to promote unity in the Federal workforce, and to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.”

The order was needed, according to the President, because, “Instructors and materials teaching that men and members of certain races, as well as our most venerable institutions, are inherently sexist and racist are appearing in workplace diversity trainings across the country” and that the belief that America is “an irredeemably racist and sexist country” is “pernicious and false.”

The order provides specific language which all Government contracting agencies must include in every Government contract that essentially states that an employer must not promote stereotyping or scapegoating in the Federal workforce based on race or sex via workplace training. New reporting and information requesting procedures are instituted under the order. It further prohibits the use of grant funds for provision of this type of training.

If a Government contractor does not comply with the requirements of the order, a contract may be canceled, terminated, or suspended in whole or in part and the contractor may be declared ineligible for further Government contracts.

The President acknowledged that governmental departments and agencies “should, of course, continue to foster environments devoid of hostility grounded in race, sex, and other federally protected characteristics.” According to the order, however, training that “perpetuates racial stereotypes and division” should not be supported by taxpayer dollars.

A clarifying memorandum was released from the Office of Management and Budget which included a list of words and phrases that, if included in agency diversity and inclusion training, will be indicators to help identify the type of training that is prohibited. The list includes: critical race theory, white privilege, intersectionality, systemic racism, positionality, racial humility, and unconscious bias.

The President’s Executive Order was instantly met with opposition, confusion, and fear. Many criticized the executive order for its vagueness and tone-deafness. From a business perspective, the order’s requirements could present conflicts with current obligations that agencies have under state laws to adhere to diversity training programs. The uncertainties surrounding the order may result in costly and complex changes to companies who rely on government contracts to ensure compliance.

More significantly, the directive comes amidst a time in the country where race-based issues are at the forefront, and agencies throughout the country are actively increasing their focus on race and gender equality. Many fear the new order may produce a chilling effect that could be detrimental on efforts to combat discrimination.

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