“Equal opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy, and our diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths. But for too many, the American Dream remains out of reach. Entrenched disparities in our laws and public policies, and in our public and private institutions, have often denied that equal opportunity to individuals and communities … Our Nation deserves an ambitious whole-of-government equity agenda that matches the scale of the opportunities and challenges that we face.”

–President Biden, January 20th, 2021

On the first day of President Biden’s term, the President issued an Executive Order directing the federal government to develop a comprehensive plan to promote equity and support for all individuals and communities, including people of color and those that have been historically marginalized or underserved.

Essential to the functioning of good government are people-centered laws that are implemented in just and equitable ways. Democracy depends on a government that works for all people. Yet, many federal laws and policies are implemented through a federal regulatory process that at times has fallen short of fully serving all people–irrespective of their gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, income, education, or neighborhood they grew up or live in, or any aspect of who they are. Specifically, federal agencies routinely solicit comments and perspectives from the public to ensure those who will be affected by policy and implementation have the ability to be heard, but many voices that need to be heard are routinely ignored or erased.

Pursuant to his Executive Order, President Biden directed the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) to identify how government agencies could more equitably serve individuals and communities, particularly those that are currently and historically underserved. The OMB is responsible for putting together the president’s budget and overseeing the performance of different federal agencies.

Shortly thereafter, OMB issued a Request for Information on methods and leading practices for advancing equity and support for underserved communities through government. At Democracy Forward, we collaborated with organizations across many issue areas and communities to provide information to OMB necessary to advancing equity in government. Here are some of those who worked with our team to weigh in:

  • The sovereign nation and federally recognized Yurok Tribe provided a comment to OMB. The Yurok Tribe often interacts with the federal government regarding government programs that impact the Tribe and its members, and the comment detailed methods the federal government could take to improve these interactions, particularly the formal consultation process and stakeholder engagement, to advance equity and support for the Yurok tribal community. Learn more here.
  • The Tennessee Justice CenterCommunity Catalyst, and Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College provided a comment to OMB. Longstanding health disparities in the United States are well documented, but research into the causes for—and possible solutions to—these disparities is constrained by the lack of basic data collection on race and ethnicity on standard medical billing forms. The comment called for this gap in data to be remedied. Learn more here.

In August, OMB issued its first study in response to the President’s Executive Order. The report acknowledges the critical role of federal agencies in the lives and wellbeing of the American people. It states:

The activities of Federal agencies affect every individual, family, and community across the nation—from the roads we drive on, to the stores where we buy diapers for our children, to the weather data that help farmers plan their week, to the way banks share information about a mortgage a couple is considering for their first home.”

It acknowledges that “Federal agencies have not always or consistently investigated whether these services are truly accessible and fully deliver intended benefits to all eligible individuals.”

And, importantly it recognizes that:

Our ideals are not realized when, for example, burdensome administrative procedures are required to access Federal programs; when historical policies were explicitly designed to exclude certain populations; when communities do not believe programs or policies meet their perceived needs; and when Federal data systems do not disaggregate data precisely enough to identify which groups benefit from a policy, which groups do not fully receive the benefits to which they are entitled, and why.”

It continues:

It is imperative that the ways in which our Federal Government makes these decisions—from the design and execution of policy to communications and outreach about programs to evaluations of which policies work for whom—must more deliberately consider all of the nation’s people.

You can learn more here.

Since our founding, Democracy Forward has been committed to using the law and the administrative process to fight for the promise of good government for all Americans. We held the Trump Administration responsible when it ignored communities and people most affected by governmental policy and when it didn’t follow the legally required regulatory process to ensure that federal policy is implemented with integrity. You can read about some of our work during the prior administration herehere, and here

We continue to seek to elevate the voices in this country that need to be heard in government, especially those that have been marginalized and faced systemic and structural barriers and those that the prior Administration ignored or sought to erase.

We are also committed to ensuring that federal policy is based on sound analysis, data, and facts.

Our team has filed comments and submissions, working with a range of clients and organizations that are engaged in transformative work on behalf of people and communities. We also work with experts to ensure that federal agencies have access to robust data and information.

At Democracy Forward, we use the courts and the agency process to make positive change and to do our part to ensure that democracy and its promise are not nearing their last days.