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Congresswoman Escobar and Bipartisan and Bicameral Coalition Introduce Legislation to Codify Diversity and Inclusion Amendments in FY21 NDAA

El Paso, Texas, August 26, 2020

Today, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16), member of the House Armed Services Committee, joined Vice Chair Anthony G. Brown (MD-04), Chair Jackie Speier (CA-14), and Reps. Gil Cisneros (CA-39), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Chrissy Houlahan (PA-16), Mike Turner (OH-10), and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) to introduce legislation that would codify amendments included in the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act to foster and improve diversity and inclusion within the armed services. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) will introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

Throughout its history, the military has served as a critical actor in the United States’ efforts to combat bigotry, provide economic opportunity and close gaps that have existed for far too long in this country. Congress has historically played an important role in pushing reforms to increase diversity within the ranks.

Ensuring Latinas and Latinos who serve our country in uniform get a fair shot at leadership, along with all their fellow servicemembers, is a top priority and has driven Congresswoman Escobar to improve demographic reporting and strategic planning for inclusive diversity in our military. In 2011, the Military Leadership Diversity Commission submitted recommendations that are the basis for many of the additional diversity and inclusion provisions found in the FY21 NDAA. The provisions included in the Diversity in Defense Act and broader NDAA represent one of the most significant steps towards diversity and inclusion that Congress itself has taken since the desegregation of the armed forces in 1948.

“Our nation’s strength is in our diversity and our armed forces should reflect that,” said Congresswoman Escobar. “I am proud to co-lead the Diversity in Defense Act to meet this crucial moment in American history by fostering a more diverse and inclusive military that reflects our values and bolsters our national security.”

“Although we’ve made progress, there is still work to be done to ensure that our military fosters an inclusive environment that can attract, retain, and advance our nation’s top talent,” said Senator Jones. “I am proud to lead this legislation in the Senate and to advocate for continued efforts to diversify and strengthen our armed forces. We have the greatest military in the world and this effort will ensure we can tap into the strengths of Americans who for too long have been underrepresented throughout our ranks.”

“As this body moves into conference with the Senate, we cannot lose sight of our responsibility to the next generation of troops and the importance a diverse and inclusive armed services has to our military readiness,” said Congressman Anthony Brown. “Our work fostering diversity ranks and in leadership will never be finished, but this legislation represents and the hard work of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and Capitol, represents an important step forward at this pivotal moment. Our military must lead the way, as it has done before.”

“The U.S. military has longstanding and pervasive problems with racial disparities, requiring us to take bold action to address these longstanding injustices. That includes identifying the problem and requiring the military services to set goals—and create a plan to achieve them—to achieve real representation of women and people of color among the officer corps and high-ranking enlisted servicemembers,” said Chair Speier. “Until all of our brave servicemembers are treated equally – regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or race – our armed forces and the Department of Defense will have failed to live up to its core values of ‘duty, integrity, ethics, honor, courage, and loyalty.”

"There's a lot more work that needs to be done to increase diversity and inclusion in our military. As a Latino Navy Veteran, this has been one of my biggest priorities in the 116th Congress," said Congressman Cisneros. "I firmly believe that our military, including military  leadership, should reflect the rich diversity of our country. I'm proud to work across the aisle and across the Capitol to introduce this legislation and improve diversity and inclusion in our armed services."

"Every person who commits to serve our country should have the opportunity to have a long, successful career in the military, but we learned during several Congressional hearings that diversity in the ranks is not fully being realized. In the 1960s, my father served in the Marine Corps and was proud of the integration process that came with the Civil Rights movement, and today I’m honored to continue that work. We've taken a big step toward equality since then, but we can all agree, we still have a long way to go. The Diversity in Defense Act is one step we can take to ensure our armed forces are a diverse and inclusive environment for all our service members," said Congresswoman Haaland.

“When I was a young Air Force officer, I didn’t see a lot of women engineers like me, whom I could emulate,” said Congresswoman Houlahan. “We need to be intentional about building a military that reflects our nation’s diversity, in part so that young people considering military service can see a path for themselves among the ranks of our servicemembers. I’m proud to help introduce this legislation with a diverse, bipartisan coalition of members – some who have served in the military, some who haven’t – all of whom are committed to making our Armed Forces a more diverse and inclusive place to work.” 

“Our armed forces are some of the most respected institutions in our nation and should lead by example and encourage increased diversity in their ranks,” said Congressman Turner. “I am proud to work across the aisle with Congressman Brown on this issue, and I am pleased we were able to include these provisions in the House-passed FY21 NDAA. It is critical that the forces that protect our nation also reflect the diversity of our country. We must achieve diversity within the ranks of our military, and these provisions are strong steps towards achieving that goal. I will continue to advocate for the inclusion of this bill throughout the conference process of the NDAA.”

“As a FBI Supervisory Special Agent, I saw firsthand that diversity is incredibly important and can contribute so much to any organization’s mission. Our armed forces have always led the way, and we should be doing everything we can to foster an even more inclusive military,” said Congressman Fitzpatrick. “I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce this bipartisan legislation that will make our military—the greatest fighting force in the world—even better.”

The Diversity in Defense Act is a compilation of several diversity and inclusion provisions, all of which are included in H.R.6395, and each was incorporated in a bipartisan manner, either in the Chairman’s mark or adopted via an en bloc amendment.

The bill includes the following provisions:

  • Chief Diversity Officers. Establishes a Chief Diversity Officers for the Department of Defense and requires that the Chief Diversity Officer report directly to the Secretary of Defense. Establishes a similar Officer and reporting structure for the Department of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Coast Guard. This action is Recommendation 15 from the 2011 final report from the Military Leadership Diversity Commission.
  • Establishment of Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council of the Department of Defense to provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary on matters concerning diversity and inclusion in the Department of Defense. 
  • Diversity and Inclusion Reporting Requirements. Sets forth specific criteria and requirements for reports related to diversity and inclusion that are to be submitted to Congress. 
  • Report on Demographics of Officers Appointed to Certain Grades. Requires each Secretary of a Military Department to submit a report to the Armed Services Committees summarizing the gender and race of each individual who received an appointment under section 531 or 601 of Title 10 during the immediately preceding fiscal year.
  • Establishment of Mentoring and Career Counseling Program. Directs the Department to create a mentoring and career counseling program that ensures that all military occupational specialties and career fields reflect the demographics of the armed forces and ensures members in all ranks and grades reflect the demographics of the armed forces. This action implements recommendation 8 from the 2011 final report from the Military Leadership Diversity Commission.
  • Diversity in Selection Boards. Requires membership of selection boards to represent the diversity of the Armed Forces as a whole.
  • Redaction of Personally Identifiable Information from Records Furnished to a Promotion Board.  Requires the Secretary of each Military Department to redact any personally identifiable information from records furnished to a promotion board.
  • Plans to Increase Female and Minority Representation in the Armed Forces. Directs the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of each Military Department will develop plans to increase female and minority representation in recruiting, retention, and ranks above the grade of E-7.   
  • Establishment of Special Inspector General for Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Armed Forces. Creates a Special IG look into racial and ethnic disparities in the military and in the military justice system. The Special IG would have the authority to make recommendations for improvements and the Special IG would also be able to look into recruitment and promotion processes, as well as investigate white supremacist activity. This action follows recommendations from the Government Accountability Office that the Department needs to improve their capabilities to assess racial disparities.
  • Tracking mechanism and reporting requirements for supremacist, extremist, and criminal gang activity in the Armed Forces. Directs the Secretary of Defense to develop and implement a process to track investigations, criminal and administrative actions, and final determinations with respect to conduct of members of the covered Armed Forces that is prohibited under Department of Defense Instruction 1325.06, “Guidelines for Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces.”
  • Punitive Article on Violent Extremism. Creates a punitive article on violent extremism in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
  • Plan to Improve Responses to Pregnancy and Childbirth by Members of the Armed Forces and Employees of the Department of Defense.  Requires the Secretary of Defense to develop a plan to ensure members of the Armed Forces who are pregnant or recently gave birth will not have their careers unduly affected.
  • Improvement to Breast Cancer Screening.  Includes digital breast tomosynthesis as a covered procedure under TRICARE.
  • Pilot Program for the Temporary Issuance of Maternity-Related Uniform Items. Directs the department to carry out a pilot program to enable the establishment of offices to issue maternity-related uniform items to pregnant members of the Armed Forces on a temporary basis at no cost to the servicemember.

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