Four months ago, I quit my job with the federal government. As an Arab-American, Muslim, Attorney-Advisor with the U.S. Department of Commerce, for over four years I was charged with using my cultural, linguistic, and legal skills to forge goodwill through commercial law reform with counterparts all over the world. It has been proven that diversity in the workforce “preserves core public service values such as fairness, transparency, impartiality and representativeness,” as well as increases innovation.
As a minority in the government, I benefited from the inclusive policies of the Obama administration. Yet, the diversity championed by his administration may be set-aside after January 20, 2017, affecting everything from foreign policy to national security, international trade to civil rights.
President Obama presided over the “most demographically diverse administration in history,” where a majority of the top positions were held by minorities and women for the first time. Executive Order 13583 (2012) ‘Establishing a Coordinated Government-Wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce’ resulted in a significant increase in diversity in the federal government through recruitment and retention of minority employees. On October 5, 2016 the White House released the ‘Presidential Memorandum on Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the National Security Workforce,’ which noted that, “diversity has always been one of the nation’s greatest strengths, and it is no different for the federal workforce, which has a responsibility as the nation’s largest employer to lead by example and to reflect the population that we serve.”
With the upcoming change in government, however, such valiant and forward-thinking initiatives may be undermined. While the Trump transition team has been silent on EO 13583, we face a real threat of seeing it and similar Executive Orders repealed. This possibility has given many of our diverse federal employees pause about their future in federal service. The rhetoric of belligerence, intolerance, misogyny and racism, both demoralizes those currently in government and serves to dissuade future civil servants from joining the public sector. This particularly affects those representing America’s minority communities who fear of being tokenized or associated with these disturbing views. Many now wonder if they should even be a part of such an administration.
A minority colleague who has served the U.S. Senate for the past eight years encourages bureaucrats to stay, stating that now is the true test of our institutions; we need the best to remain steadfast and serve, not leave. David Gergen, former advisor to four presidents and current co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, appealed to millennials, as the “vanguards” of America, to work in federal, state or local government and ensure policy work is made better for the people. Others point out that an exodus of diversity amongst the ranks of federal employees would unwittingly undermine the representation required to govern the mosaic of identities that is America.
Despite cautious optimism, there is a fair argument leveled as to why one should stay away from a government led by Trump. On the eve of the election, hate crimes spiked and advocacy groups across America, led by the ACLU, mobilized to quell fears. The tacit acceptance of these acts by the Trump administration is incongruent with the values of diverse government workers. Indeed, the undoing of years of progress made by the Obama administration, especially for minority groups, is not a remote possibility, but a probable reality.
Aides in the Trump transition team have assured America that the president-elect is “seeking to build a diverse administration.” However, monitoring the possible and actual appointments of key cabinet positions has created significant trepidation among environmental activists, women’s rights organizations, Muslim and Jewish advocacy groups, the LGBTQ community, and immigration proponents.
So how do we ensure that the rights, privileges, and voices of all Americans, especially minorities, can still be heard over the next four years?
- Form coalitions of diversity in local communities, universities, and even in government circles. This is an opportunity not to take for granted what we may have over the past eight years.
- Ensure hate crimes are quashed by always speaking up and forming bonds across racial, socio-economic, and religious lines.
- Reach out to, listen, and address the needs of disaffected communities and apathetic Americans so that voter turnout returns to the record highs seen in the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Does this call to action include serving in the federal government, as a present or future employee? Before making that decision, public servants must analyze the top cabinet appointments and their policy outlooks, follow the first 100 days of the Trump presidency to assess the long-term potential, and closely monitor the retention, recruitment, and overall inclusion policies of federal employees in this new administration.
Yet, even if you sit this one out and wait until 2020 or until you are confident that Trump is truly – as he promises – working for all Americans, there are alternatives. What makes America great is not just the diversity in local and federal government, but the private sector, innovative cities, civil society organizations, NGOs, and academic institutions that collectively work towards a more prosperous and representative America.
Whatever the path, whatever the decision, we cannot afford to reverse the progress achieved over the past eight years. We must be active citizens and play our part in safeguarding the principles that galvanized minorities like me to serve a nation that upholds equality, diversity, and acceptance for all.