President Trump is quietly undermining federal data collections to roll back the enforcement of civil rights laws.
Trump drastically rolled back investigations into discrimination in public schools. In addition to investigating specific complaints of discrimination, the Department of Education has historically conducted investigations into systemic discriminatory practices in America’s schools. These “compliance reviews” are often prompted or informed by the Civil Rights Data Collection, a survey that collects data on issues like suspensions and expulsions. The latest data are troubling. One example: Racial disparities in school discipline are on the rise. But as of March 8, 2018, Trump’s Education Department has opened only two compliance reviews, paling in comparison to the 15 opened by the Obama Administration in the same timespan. Oh, and neither of those Trump Administration compliance reviews addressed race discrimination.
SIDEBAR: It’s not the only way Trump is rolling back efforts to stop discrimination in schools. In June 2017, a Trump appointee charged with leading the Department of Education’s civil rights enforcement instructed the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to scale back their investigations. Under the Obama Administration, reports of discriminatory conduct could be used as a basis to investigate and uncover patterns of discrimination within a school. Now? OCR staff are instructed to keep investigations narrow, initiating a broader inquiry “only” if a pattern of discrimination is made explicit by the complainant.
He eliminated a requirement that police departments report their use of military-grade weapons. In 2014, images from Ferguson ignited a national debate over militarized police forces and prompted President Obama to place limits on the 1033 program, which provides excess military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. In part, President Obama banned the sale of some military gear and required police departments to collect and report data on how and when they use military equipment. But Trump scrapped these reforms, undercutting efforts to build police-community trust and eliminating a promising source of information that could have informed policing policy.
SIDEBAR: Trump also ended the White House’s participation in the Police Data Initiative (PDI), an effort to connect data scientists with over 50 local law enforcement agencies to make policing more transparent and effective. The effort was paying off: In Dallas, PDI reforms helped lead to a “67% reduction in excessive force complaints and a 45 percent reduction in deadly force incidents in 2015.” Recognizing the power of data transparency, PDI became a part of the collaborative reform work done through DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Police Services. But despite the collaborative reform program’s noteworthy successes, Trump effectively scrapped that too.
He’s making it easier for banks to engage in discriminatory lending. To ensure banks follow federal law—which requires, for example, that loans be issued without regard to race—the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) needs data about a bank’s actual lending practices. One useful source of data is account-level loan information, which details loan terms and demographic information about consumers. But CFPB’s new data policy effectively prevents its investigators from analyzing these data, making it difficult to uncover discriminatory lending practices. That’s not all: Trump also announced that mortgage lenders would not be fined if the lending data they submit to the CFPB this year (data they are required to submit by law) contains errors.
SIDEBAR: Purposefully limiting the collection of data is a great strategy if your goal is to ignore discrimination and other predatory lending practices. And that’s exactly what Trump seems intent on doing. Since installing Mick Mulvaney at CFPB seven months ago, the agency effectively dismantled its Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity, and has filed zero new fair lending enforcement actions. That means no new fair lending actions against banks, credit card companies, debt collectors, or payday lenders.
He even rolled back requirements that companies report Title VII violations when competing for federal contracts. In 2014, President Obama signed an EO requiring companies competing for federal contracts to disclose whether they violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or other anti-discrimination laws within the past three years. The EO also prohibited contractors from mandating that their workers arbitrate certain civil rights claims. Last March, President Trump revoked the EO, potentially causing harm to millions of workers and their families. In 2017 alone, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed 107 federal lawsuits against employers alleged to have violated Title VII. Until Trump rescinded the EO, any employers found liable for that employment discrimination would have been required to disclose that violation on bids for federal contracts for the next three years. But, without this critical reporting requirement, companies that discriminate can once again avoid scrutiny in the bidding process for lucrative federal contracts.
SIDEBAR: That wasn’t enough, so Trump also illegally halted data collection efforts intended to root out pay discrimination in the workplace. The collection would have provided the EEOC with summary pay data, broken down by gender and race, from large businesses. The goal was simple: Use this information to identify, and begin to rectify, patterns of pay discrimination in the workplace. But Trump ended the effort, empowering the roughly 60,886 covered employers—which collectively employ 63 million workers—to continue shielding discriminatory employment practices from scrutiny.