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New Bill Aims to Promote Diversity in Diplomatic Workforce

Washington, D.C., February 4 – Whenever a new Administration settles in at the White House and a new Congress convenes, the tone in Washington shifts. Following a presidential campaign built around commitments to diversity and equity, the Biden Administration has already taken several critical executive actions to fulfill those commitments. Now, the gauntlet has been thrown down and it’s up the 117th Congress to match that commitment.

One of the potential vehicles for Congress to do that is the “Represent America Abroad Act of 2020.” This bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL-20), would seek to diversify the diplomatic workforce of the Department of State. By creating a new America Mid-Career Foreign Service Entry Program, this bill would directly recruit new diplomats from underrepresented communities across the country. 

The Represent America Abroad Act is part of a suite of proposed legislation supported by organizations committed to building a government that better reflects the diversity of the United States of America. This advocacy effort is being championed by Inclusive America, a 501(c)3 nonprofit working to increase diversity and inclusion efforts in leadership positions across the federal government. Their work includes tracking key data on race, ethnicity, gender, and disability status in government. 

If the Respresent America Abroad Act is signed into law, the State Department would specifically be charged with working to recruit mid-career professionals from minority communities into the Foreign Serivce. This would significant diversify the composition of America’s diplomatic workforce and send a strong message to the world.  

Even before the Biden Administration came to town, the State Department was grappling with ways to build a stronger, more efficient, and modernized foreign service. These efforts have been outlined in the Department’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan (DISP). The plan to revise its DISP was based on the new regulations from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) aiming to increase diversity in the federal workforce. 

Major challenges remain in making these aspirations a reality. According to publically available data, workers with disabilities account for only 5 percent of State Department employees. At the same time, there are more than 61 million adult Americans living with some form of disability. As such, many disability inclusion organizations, including RespectAbility, are calling for the Biden Administration to recruit, hire and retain more workers with disabilities. 

RespectAbility, a proud partner of Inclusive America, organized a series of webinars on how to join the Biden-Harris Administration as well as need-to-know facts of applying for a career position in the federal government as a professional with a disability. You can access the webinar on how to join the Biden-Harris Administration here and need-to-know facts of applying for a career position in the federal government here.

The bill, if it becomes law, would ensure the nation’s diplomatic workforce reflects the diverse composition of the United States. It also would represent more opportunities and visibility in the workforce for people with disabilities – a far-reaching cause championed by Judy Heumann during her time serving in the Obama administration.

For more information and the latest legislative updates from the new Congress, please follow RespectAbility’s work at https://therespectabilityreport.org.

RespectAbility is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of their communities. RespectAbility does not rate or endorse candidates. 

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