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How Discriminatory DEI Ideology Replicates Itself in the Federal Bureaucracy

President Joe Biden delivers remarks to Department of Defense personnel, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks to Department of Defense personnel, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

If you’re like most Americans, you’ve heard the acronym “DEI.” You may also know that it stands for “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” What you may not know is that those words are as accurate as the word “Democratic” in the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (today’s North Korea) or the “German Democratic Republic” (the former East Germany).

Creating Disparity from the Idea of Equality

DEI is, in fact, a reductionist ideology that sees all disparities of performance as evidence of racism. It promotes discrimination based on immutable characteristics like skin color, and prizes equal outcomes over equal opportunity.

The efficiency and credibility of the U.S. State Department, military, and federal bureaucracy are being undermined by the Biden administration’s relentless insertion of DEI into every facet of operations, not least personnel.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley writes, “the progressive left’s response” to gaps between racial groups in performance outcomes “has been to wage war on meritocracy rather than focus on improving instruction” in K-12 schools, where lie the roots of group disparities that show up years later.

Discrimination in Incarceration

The woke creed of applying present discrimination to make up for past discrimination now infects everything from helping the homeless to criminal justice. California may soon pass a law that “requires judges to consider a convicted criminal’s race when determining prison sentences,” to “rectify the historical racial bias deeply ingrained in the criminal justice system.” Some activists even suggest that victims of crime should be treated differently based on their race.

DEI as practiced in most American organizations is antithetical to America’s fundamental values and often illegal. And yet, DEI bureaucracies are now well entrenched across academia and government.

Hiring Practices

Most American universities are dominated by Leftist ideology. Viewpoint diversity is vanishing, to the detriment of both faculty research and student learning. This would be bad enough if it were a phase or fashion, but the increasing use of biased hiring processes to weed out non-believers is creating a permanent, self-replicating staff.

To take one example, to recruit an “African American Studies professor versed in ‘feminist and queer studies,’ Yale asked applicants to “share ‘some way(s) in which they have championed diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.” The requirement for evidence of “championing” DEI would screen out anyone who dares question its premise.

Similar DEI litmus tests have now infected promotions in the public sector.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has drawn attention to the military’s promotion into senior grades of officers who spout the required dogma about DEI, fealty to which is becoming a necessary tick-box for advancement. This is despite the fact that it does nothing to promote military readiness.

One aspiring general officer on the pending promotion list is Air Force Colonel Benjamin Jonsson, who wrote an article excoriating his fellow (white) colonels, recommending that they read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo. DiAngelo’s depressing thesis is that all white people are inherently racists, especially the ones who don’t think they are.

Politicized Ideologues

“Replacing the officer class of police and military ranks with politicized ideologues who will bend to a transformative dogma is a strategy that has worked in places like the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Venezuela,” according to the Heritage Foundation’s Mike Gonzalez.

Over at the State Department, joining the ranks of the senior civil or foreign service is the civilian equivalent of becoming a general or admiral. Skill and experience are important, but reciting the right catechism plays an increasing role. The easiest path is to tell the boss what he/she/ze wants to hear, and under Joe Biden, that’s DEI. Anyone questioning the existence of “systemic racism” at the State, or challenging assumptions about racial outcomes in hiring, promotion, crime, incarceration, or education, would be sidelined at some stage, no matter how solid their data or convincing their argument.

By sharing the same ideology, or at least pretending to, the elite ranks thus replicate themselves over time.

Mentoring DEI[A]

The Department of State’s new “DEIA Champions Sponsorship Program” is an example of this closed loop. The program matches “mid-level mentees with senior-level sponsors/mentors” to “form a cohort of change agents who have a strong commitment to and demonstrated track record of advancing DEIA.” (State adds an “A” for “accessibility.”)

The main payoff for the 30 officers being mentored is that “sponsors will help them … strengthen their competitiveness to cross the Senior Foreign Service threshold,” and to be more competitive for Deputy Chief of Mission and Principle Officer jobs, the most coveted overseas assignments apart from ambassador.

Mentors, meanwhile, “will be able to point to a concrete way that they are advancing the Department’s DEIA goals (a criterion for obtaining senior leadership positions).” Advancing DEI[A] is now an obligatory area in the promotion precepts for foreign service officers. It was added, thanks mostly to the State’s recently departed Chief Diversity Officer, Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley.

The DEIA Champions program has sessions in Washington over the coming year, for which the State Department will pay travel costs. While the program is open to “employees of all backgrounds,” selection criteria … will be based on applicants’ demonstrated track record of advancing DEIA.” Therefore, this taxpayer-funded program is really open only to those already committed to this contentious ideology.

Implausibly, DEIA Champions intends to “create brave spaces for candid and courageous conversations between Department leaders and program participants to discuss and develop solutions for the Department’s DEIA challenges.” Yet, as applicants can only be selected after showing a “demonstrated track record of advancing DEIA,” the only “brave space” created will be a groupthink bubble. Any diversity of viewpoint as to the validity of DEI as a guiding principle would be ruled out from the very start.

Organizations get the behavior they reward. The military and federal government are increasingly rewarding adherence, and requiring declarations of fealty, to the divisive, discriminatory ideology of DEI. With each generation of self-replicating leadership, it will get worse. Congress needs to root out and defund DEI bureaucracies, starting with the State Department’s appropriations bill, before it’s too late.

A former career foreign service officer, Simon Hankinson is a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation. 

Written By

Simon Hankinson is a senior research fellow in the Border Security and Immigration Center at The Heritage Foundation. From 1999–2023, he was a foreign service officer serving in India, Fiji, Ghana, Slovakia, Togo, Washington, D.C., Marseille, and Nairobi. Prior to entering the State Department, Hankinson worked as a lawyer in London where he taught history, English, and drama at a private school.