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Brown, Speier and 25 Members of Congress Urge Secretary Austin to Elevate and Appoint a Chief Diversity Officer

“Diversity is no doubt our greatest strength, and it must be at the core of fortifying our security.”

The FY21 National Defense Authorization Act, elevated a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) to report directly to the Secretary of Defense. Eight months after this legislation was signed into law, the position of CDO has yet to be elevated and there has not been a candidate appointed. The members urge swift action to address this gap.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Anthony G. Brown (MD-04), alongside Chair Jackie Speier (CA-14) and Reps. Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06), Andy Kim (NJ-03) and 20 Members of Congress wrote Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, urging him to take immediate action to appoint and nominate a Chief Diversity Officer to oversee and advance diversity and inclusion initiatives throughout the Department of Defense.

“We have a generational opportunity to ensure our armed services are inclusive and to lead the charge in reforming our defense institutions to better reflect the true diversity of our country. Secretary Austin’s confirmation was a historic first but we can’t stop there,” said Congressman Brown. “Last year, an overwhelming bipartisan, bicameral majority moved to elevate the position of Chief Diversity Officer within the Department of Defense, recognizing that the status quo was unacceptable and we must set a new precedent. The Department of Defense must meet the full intent of this law and set forth the systemic change needed to meet this moment head on.” 

The FY21 National Defense Authorization Act, elevated a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) to report directly to the Secretary of Defense. Eight months after this legislation was signed into law, the position of CDO has yet to be elevated and there has not been a candidate appointed. The members urge swift action to address this gap.

“For years we have acknowledged there is a diversity problem within our armed forces. There have been commissions, studies, and reports that have revealed racial disparities across every service branch, especially within elite forces and the officer ranks,” the members wrote. “The appointment of a CDO will reinforce to our country, and the servicemembers who serve to defend it, that we understand our current limitations, and addressing them is a priority for the Department.”

The members continued, “We need someone who holds strong the values of inclusion and acceptance, and is unafraid to stand up against those who do not. This nomination will set the standard for all those who follow. You must ensure that this decision, and the importance of this position, are given the attention they deserve.”

Signing on to letter: Congressmembers Anthony G. Brown (MD-04), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06), Andy Kim (NJ-03), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Karen Bass (CA-37), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Jim Cooper (TN-05), Dwight Evans (PA-03), John Garamendi (CA-03), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Linda Sánchez (CA-38), Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), Dina Titus (NV-01) and Marc Veasey (TX-33).

The full text of the letter is included below:

Dear Secretary Austin:

We are writing to request that you take immediate action to nominate and appoint a Chief Diversity Officer for the Department of Defense in accordance with the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). We appreciate the steps that you have taken thus far as Secretary of Defense to continue advancing diversity and inclusion within the Department. Although we have made improvements, we must continue to do everything we can to guarantee all servicemembers and civilians, at every level, regardless of their race, creed, gender, or ethnicity, are valued and respected. 

Congress enacted in the FY2021 NDAA the most significant reforms to diversity and inclusion in our armed forces in decades. Sec. 913 of the NDAA revised the Office of the Secretary of Defense to establish a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) that reports directly to the Secretary of Defense. It further provided the CDO broad authority in advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives with the Department, including maintaining a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion, establishing metrics, advising on training the workforce, and ensuring participation of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions in defense research. 

We are concerned that eight months after this legislation was signed into law, the position of CDO has yet to be elevated and there has not been a candidate appointed. There has been sufficient time to exercise due diligence in finding an outstanding individual for this appointment. Therefore, we ask that you immediately engage in a comprehensive search and subsequently appoint a CDO with the experience, character, and vision necessary for such a position. The CDO and the service equivalents must also be empowered to set the standard for their new roles and to create meaningful reform on the significant racial, gender, and ethnic disparities currently impacting command climate and readiness. We ask that the duties and responsibilities prescribed to this position be fully executed by October 2022.

For years we have acknowledged there is a diversity problem within our armed forces. There have been commissions, studies, and reports that have revealed racial disparities across every service branch, especially within elite forces and the officer ranks. The appointment of a CDO will reinforce to our country, and the servicemembers who serve to defend it, that we understand our current limitations, and addressing them is a priority for the Department. In selecting the first CDO to directly report to the SECDEF, we need someone who holds strong the values of inclusion and acceptance, and is unafraid to stand up against those who do not. This nomination will set the standard for all those who follow. You must ensure that this decision, and the importance of this position, are given the attention they deserve.

Again, we thank you for your continued dedication to our national security and to ensuring our armed forces are more representative of the diverse communities they serve. Diversity is no doubt our greatest strength, and it must be at the core of fortifying our security. We appreciate you prioritizing this requirement and stand ready to help in any way we can. 

Sincerely,

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