The Military Is Resuming the Diversity Training That Trump Banned

Airmen share their experiences with racial inequality during a diversity discussion with Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Stephen W. Wilson.
Airmen share their experiences with racial inequality during a diversity discussion with Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, June 11, 2020, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Tristan Day)

The Defense Department has resumed its diversity training efforts, after the Biden White House acted swiftly to reverse the Trump administration's controversial curtailment of such programs.

The Trump administration moved last September to halt training on subjects including critical race theory and white privilege, and vehemently denounced such training programs as "un-American propaganda training sessions."

In a Sept. 4, 2020, memo, former Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought said executive branch agencies had spent millions of taxpayer dollars "'training' government workers to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda."

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In his memo, Vought ordered agencies to identify and then cancel or defund contracts or agency spending for training on critical race theory, white privilege "or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either ... that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or ... that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil."

Within a week, the Air Force began moving to cancel such contracts, as the OMB memo required. And Trump issued an executive order later in September "to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating," which more formally barred federal workplaces, uniformed services and federal contractors from promoting such "divisive concepts."

However, that has now changed.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that revoked Trump's order, declaring, "Our diversity is one of our country's greatest strengths."

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin followed with a memo rescinding the Trump administration's restriction on diversity training, and the services followed suit.

Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Leah Brading said in a Feb. 24 email to that the service followed Austin's instructions. On Jan. 29, the Air Force sent a message to the field allowing units to immediately go back to the kind of training that existed before last September's order, she said.

"The Department of the Air Force is committed to fostering a culture where all our members are free to make their fullest contributions toward mission success without unnecessary barriers," Brading said. "Diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity education and training are essential to cultivate positive values and behaviors, as well as an environment where inclusion and equity for all personnel is achieved."

Any moves the Air Force took last year to suspend contracts could also be reversed. Biden's executive order gives agency heads the power to suspend, revise or rescind any actions taken under the previous administration's order, including agency moves to cancel or restrict contracts or grants.

The Air Force also said the order's revocation removes all requirements related to future contracts and grants.

The Army said in a March 4 email that it ordered its Military Equal Opportunity and Equal Employment Opportunity offices to immediately resume diversity and inclusion training once the Trump administration's guidance was rescinded.

Last December, the Army issued a policy putting a stop to such training. However, that policy said the halt would be effective until the executive order was repealed or otherwise rescinded or superseded. For that reason, the service did not need to issue any written guidance putting diversity training back into place.

And on Feb. 21, the Navy issued an order immediately resuming all diversity and inclusion training, without any requirement that commands submit training for review by a higher authority.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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