Rep. Cisneros Leads Bicameral Letter to Promote Diversity and Inclusion at the Department of Defense

August 13, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.Congressman Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-39), member of the House Armed Services Committee and 10-year Navy veteran, co-led a bicameral letter with Representatives Anthony Brown (MD-04), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Katie Hill (CA-25), Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06), Andy Kim (NJ-03), and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), which was sent to the Chairpersons and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees as they begin conference negotiations on the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

In the letter, the Members and Senators assert that diversity and inclusion is a strategic imperative that must be prioritized, especially at a time when the military services are facing a shrinking recruiting pool. Improving access to a wide a range of talented individuals is critical to our military readiness an overall national security strategy.  Additionally, preserving diversity across our military supports creative problem solving and decision making and contributes to mutual understanding of other countries and cultures.

“Diversity is one of our country’s strengths and our military should reflect the diversity of our nation,” said Rep. Gil Cisneros. A diverse military helps create a more intelligent, capable, and effective fighting force.”

“Our institutions thrive when they reflect the people they serve,” said Sen. Kamala Harris. “Diversity, inclusion, and representation in our military is fundamental to our strength and our security, and we must be committed to promoting these values from top to bottom.”

“Our diversity is one of our greatest military assets, and our difficulty recruiting remains one of our most pernicious challenges,” said HASC Vice Chair Anthony Brown. “Increasing diversity in the military is not only critical to the mission of building a fighting force that looks like America but is also crucial to building a military that is strong enough to defend America from any and all threats. I am proud to have added a number of provisions to increase diversity in the military in the House-passed NDAA, and I urge the conference committee to maintain those provisions in the final bill.”

“When I was a young Air Force officer, I didn’t see a lot of women engineers like me, whom I could emulate,” said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan. “Fast forward to earlier this year, when as a member of the Armed Services Committee, I sat across from the Department of Defense’s senior research and engineering leaders – all white men. We can do better. Intentionally building a more diverse Department of Defense will bolster our national security and ensure that our next generation of national security leaders sees a path for themselves in public service.”

“Our nation’s strength is in our diversity and our armed forces should be no exception,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar. “Diversity and inclusion in our military not only reflects our values, it gives us more resilient and innovative forces with servicemembers that bring unique perspectives and talents to address our national security challenges. Now more than ever, Congress should work to ensure our Department of Defense has the resources needed to preserve and grow a diverse workforce that looks like America.”

The letter led by Congressman Cisneros is also co-signed by: Representatives Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Elaine Luria (VA-02), Andy Levin (MI-09), Alcee Hastings (FL-20), Lou Correa (CA-46), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), TJ Cox (CA-21), Susan Davis (CA-53), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Harley Rouda (CA-48), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Norma Torres (CA-35), Chris Pappas (NH-01), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Bobby Rush (IL-01), Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), James McGovern (MA-02), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Judy Chu (CA-27), Lori Trahan (MA-03), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), André Carson (IN-07), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Ben Ray Luján (NM-03), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), William Keating (MA-09), Jaime Raskin (MD-08), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Frank Pallone (NJ-06), David Trone (MD-06), Al Green (TX-09), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Gregory Meeks (NY-05), Sean Casten (IL-06), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Susan Wild (PA-07), Donna Shalala (FL-27), Jason Crow (CO-06), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26), Jennifer Wexton (VA-10), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), G.K. Butterfield (NC-01), Bennie Thompson (MS-02), Lacy Clay (MO-01), Terri Sewell (AL-07), Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Grace Meng (NY-06), and Tony Cárdenas (CA-29); Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

You can find the full text of the letter below and download the text here:

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August, 12, 2019

Dear Chairman Smith, Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Thornberry, and Ranking Member Reed:

As you begin conference negotiations on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), we write to urge the preservation of bipartisan provisions related to diversity and inclusion. At a time when the military services are facing a shrinking recruiting pool, improving the Department of Defense’s (the Department) ability to access a wide range of talented individuals is critical. Our armed forces must be at the forefront of grappling with our most difficult tasks and challenges – it is only appropriate that we take steps to ensure our military has the diversity that can help it tackle them.

As stated in the Department’s most recent five-year Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion, “diversity is a strategic imperative, critical to mission readiness and accomplishment, and a leadership requirement.”  Preserving diversity across our military – including enlisted personnel and the officer corps – supports creative problem solving and decision making and contributes to mutual understanding of other countries and cultures to ensure we maintain our position in the world. Moreover, a diverse military force reflects our values as a democratic society, improving public perception and trust in our armed forces. 

Beyond reflecting our democratic values and building a force that looks like our nation, diversity leads to improved performance.  Studies have shown that diversity leads to innovation, improved problem solving, and greater ability to anticipate alternative viewpoints, thereby increasing the capacity and capability of the force.  For example, female Marines in combat units deployed to Iraq were able to conduct searches and collect actionable intelligence among local women.  Additionally, American troops with diverse backgrounds bring cultural and linguistic knowledge that are essential as the United States conducts operations or maintains a presence in locations around the world.

Despite progress in recent decades – racial and ethnic minorities comprised 25 percent of the active-duty military in 1990, but now make up approximately 40 percent – more work needs to be done.  Diversity has increased overall, but not in the officer corps.  For example, those of Hispanic origin account for approximately 18 percent of enlisted personnel, but only about 8 percent of the officer corps and 2 percent of General/Flag officers.  Similarly, African-Americans account for nearly 20 percent of enlisted personnel, but only 8 percent of the overall officer corps and 8 percent of General/Flag officers.  Women make up just 17 percent of the active-duty force, and while they account for nearly 19 percent of the officer corps, they comprise less than 10 percent of the highest leadership positions.  Native Americans, it should be noted, serve at the highest rate per capita of any ethnic group, despite experiencing continued discrimination within the ranks.  Additionally, in FY 2017, minority and women applicants to every service received a lower average Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score than white and male applicants. Not only is this broadly concerning, but as AFQT scores determine what applicants are able to pursue upon enlistment, this phenomenon undoubtedly also contributes to the lack of diversity in certain fields and pathways. We must ensure that the force is both generally diverse and diverse within all fields – and we must invest in education in our disadvantaged communities to ensure that they are able to meet the standards for all aspects of military service.     

Addressing this discrepancy requires investments in our servicemembers, our institutions, and our education system to ensure the Armed Services has the diverse talent it needs to meet our national security challenges. We are pleased to see many important bipartisan provisions on this subject included in the FY 2020 NDAA passed by the House, H.R. 2500.  To ensure we build upon the progress made in recent years and continue to grow our strategic advantage, we urge you to preserve the following bipartisan provisions in the conferenced bill:

  1. Sec. 222. Diversification of the science, technology, research, and engineering workforce of the Department of Defense. Requires the Department to issue a report on the number of minorities and women in the workforce, the effectiveness of incentives, and a plan for increasing their participation.
  2. Sec. 240. National Security Commission on Defense Research at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Other Minority Institutions. Forms the National Security Commission on Defense Research Conducted by HBCUs to address inequality in defense funding.  This provision was included via an en bloc package in committee.  Additionally, the Commission, in consultation with the Secretary of Education and Secretary of Defense, will provide a list of eligible institutions that may apply for funding.  This provision was included via an en bloc package on the House floor. 
  3. Increase to the HBCU/Minority Serving Institution (MSI) program. Maintain a $50M funding level for the HBCU/MSI program.
  4. Sec. 526. Strategic plan for diversity and inclusion. Requires the Department of Defense to develop an updated strategic plan for diversity and inclusion.
  5. Sec. 530. Nondiscrimination with respect to service in the Armed Forces. Codifies the military’s existing non-discrimination standards and requires that all service members be afforded equal opportunity in an environment free from harassment, including sexual harassment, and unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity), or sexual orientation. Included via a bipartisan vote on a House floor amendment, 242 to 187.
  6. Sec. 597. Report on certain waivers received by transgender individuals. Requires the Pentagon to report on individuals affected by the transgender service ban, thus helping track and quantify the costs of exclusionary policy. This provision was included via an en bloc package on the House floor.
  7. Sec. 540A. Assessment of racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in the military justice system. Requires the Department of Defense to improve its ability to detect and address racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in the military justice system. This provision was included via an en bloc package on the House floor.
  8. Sec. 594. Questions in workplace surveys regarding supremacist, extremist, and racist activity. Directs the Department of Defense to update the workplace and equal opportunity and workplace and gender relations surveys to include experiences with supremacist activity, extremist activity, or racism. This provision was included via an en bloc package in committee.
  9. Sec. 871. Consideration of subcontracting to minority institutions. Requires the Department of Defense to ensure that the system used by the Federal Government to monitor or record contractor past performance for a grant or contract awarded to an institution of higher education includes incentives for the award of a sub-grant or subcontract to minority institutions. This provision was included via an en bloc package in committee.
  10. Sec. 881. Permanent authorization and improvement of Department of Defense Mentor-Protege Program. Provides permanent authorization for the Department of Defense Mentor-Protege program that encourages the growth of disadvantaged business enterprises through partnerships with established defense contractors. This provision was included via an en bloc package in committee.
  11. Sec. 913. Modernization of certain forms and surveys. Requires the Department of Defense to review their forms for racially insensitive terms and develop a modernization plan to address identified issues. This provision was included via an en bloc package in committee.          

The provisions listed above – all of which were included in the bill on a bipartisan basis – will enable and encourage the Department to more effectively diversify its workforce and retain diverse personnel. Additionally, these provisions will enable the Department to more fully access the broad range of diverse talent available in the United States.

We commend you on your leadership and commitment to our servicemembers, and we urge you to preserve these bipartisan provisions related to diversity and inclusion in the final FY 2020 NDAA. 

Sincerely,