Attempt to Quantify Impact, Value of DEI at State Department Is an Epic Fail

COMMENTARY Progressivism

Attempt to Quantify Impact, Value of DEI at State Department Is an Epic Fail

Jun 27, 2023 6 min read
Simon Hankinson

Senior Research Fellow

Simon is a Senior Research Fellow in the Border Security and Immigration Center at The Heritage Foundation.
Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, then-Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the State Department, speaks at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on February 1, 2022. SUSAN WALSH / POOL / AFP / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

We now have a two-year track record to assess the “concrete accomplishments” of the State Department’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

The justification for all this diversity, equity, and inclusion is that there is “systemic” racial discrimination that needs to be eliminated.

If we cannot identify a clear problem, and we have insufficient data to measure success, then no amount of money will ever achieve the goal.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 6 informed us that former Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, his department’s first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer, was leaving the post.

Blinken credited her with “a series of other concrete, systemic accomplishments in [diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility].”

We now have a two-year track record to assess the “concrete accomplishments” of the State Department’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. To do so, we need numbers, not just press releases.

A June 13 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing asked the right questions, but it didn’t get much data in return. The lone witness was Abercrombie-Winstanley.

What has the Office of Diversity and Inclusion achieved under her leadership?

When she was hired, one of her complaints was that the department’s senior ranks were more white and more male than the country overall. Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., asked Abercrombie-Winstanley what the percentage of white men in senior positions was now, two years after her “equity” crusade. She replied: “I don’t know. I will check and see.”

Abercrombie-Winstanley said that the State Department had started paying interns, to include less-wealthy candidates. That’s a good idea that no one opposes.

She noted ongoing efforts to counter discrimination against Foreign Service officers abroad, said that the State Department was eliminating the confidentiality clause in settlements with aggrieved employees, and that DEIA efforts were now included in the annual evaluations of officers.

However, she conceded that those actions were really within the competency of the State Department’s personnel shop, the Bureau of Global Talent Management or the Office of Civil Rights.

So, what were the achievements of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion alone?

Abercrombie-Winstanley said the State Department had changed the font of standard documents, to be more inclusive. (I’m a Times New Roman guy, but if it helps, fine). Next, she said that although the department already recorded employees’ race, ethnicity, gender, and disability, her office will now encourage employees to “voluntarily respond to 16 new self-identification options,” such as “sexual orientation, gender identity, regional origin/heritage, state of origin … and any caretaker responsibilities for individuals with disabilities.”

The only conceivable use for all this added information is to discriminate either for or against certain employees on the basis of immutable characteristics, to ensure desired outcomes in hiring and promotion—in a word, “equity.”

The expanded “equity baseline” (released on Friday) will decide who belongs in the “underserved communities” enumerated in President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14035, “Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in the Federal Workforce.”

American universities and schools are riddled with expensive and duplicative DEI bureaucracies. Corporations have hired armies of DEI consultants. Following Biden’s executive orders, the military and federal government also fell in line.

The State Department not only created the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in Washington, it also assigned full-time officers to run DEI programs in its bureaus and formed DEI committees in its embassies.

The justification for all this diversity, equity, and inclusion is that there is “systemic” racial discrimination that needs to be eliminated, but this premise has yet to be proven.

Waltz asked at the House hearing: “I grew up poor as dirt … I represent a poor, white county. Are these constituents of mine privileged, systemically?” He continued: “Is there systemic racism in the State Department?”

Abercrombie-Winstanley responded that “we have policies, processes, and procedures we have to take a hard look at to make sure that is not the case.”

That’s hardly a data-driven answer.

The State Department requested $76 million from Congress for 2023, the first year that DEI had its own budget code. The money is spread across bureaus, with 10% going to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion itself. From her roughly $8 million, Abercrombie-Winstanley wanted to increase her staff from 12 to 13 and spend $900,000 on new data analysts.

So far, although she insisted that “we must make evidence-informed decisions,” data and evidence were lacking in her testimony. 

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., asked whether she had any empirical data to support her claim that “European-American men are the vast majority of senior officers … [and that] that does not come about through merit alone.” Her reply? “Just common sense and knowledge. The surveys that we’ve done.”

After two years, the chief diversity and inclusion officer appeared to have no evidence to support her assertion.

When Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked her whether the ratio of applicants to the Foreign Service, by race, was roughly equivalent to that race’s ratio of graduating from college, she said she’d have to get back to him.

Issa also asked how it was decided to reduce the Foreign Service Officer Test to just one criterion for hiring, not a requirement, as it has been for a century. Abercrombie-Winstanley asserted, “We already have Fellows who skip the [Foreign Service Officer Test], and no one complained. And these people have had successful careers.”

While that’s likely true in some cases, she provided no data to back it up. In fact, according to someone with experience at the State Department’s Bureau of Examiners, there was no study done concerning the correlation between Foreign Service Officer Test scores and performance, and thus no empirical basis for such a critical change to the hiring process.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., spoke of “institutional barriers” preventing some minorities from entering or succeeding in the Foreign Service, claimed that “the playing field is not level for vast swaths of our country,” and said that “we need to have a conversation about this.”

That “conversation” should start with: Where is your data?

Although Crow insisted that systemic barriers exist at the State Department, he produced no evidence in support. Contrary to what Crow said, it’s been clear in recent years that preferential hiring, from intake up to senior positions such as ambassador, is happening across the State Department. In fact, bureaus used to send messages (“cables”) to staff bragging that though certain groups were underrepresented in applications for desirable jobs, they were overrepresented in hiring.

Perhaps realizing that this could be perceived as discriminatory and contrary to law, they haven’t sent out such messages recently.

Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., asked Abercrombie-Winstanley if her work has made the State Department more diverse, according to her own metrics. Her answer: “I don’t know. I hope we’ve communicated to every American that we are a good place to come.”

That being the case, here’s the core question for Congress to ask about DEI in all federal agencies: Is there a quantifiable problem, and if so, can money fix it?

If we cannot identify a clear problem, and we have insufficient data to measure success, then no amount of money—not $76 million, not $760 million—will ever achieve the goal. DEI will continue to be a bottomless pit into which liberals will pour tax dollars to assuage their consciences.

The case against diverting government resources to DEI was effectively made by Mast, Waltz, and Perry and by Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio.

Mast said the chief diversity and inclusion officer’s mission to make the department look “more like America … tries to justify bigotry in favor of certain groups.” However, “to hire or not hire, promote or not promote, based on appearance is un-American,” he concluded.

“In combat, thank God we didn’t have a DEIA officer in my platoon,” the disabled veteran of half-Mexican ancestry said, concluding: “I believe that [the Office of Diversity and Inclusion] is mandating division within the State Department. … This is not what I fought for, and not what my friends of any color have died for.”

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal