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The Biden Administration is working to ensure racial equity priorities are embedded into all levels of the federal government as it enters its second year, a White House official said recently.

The administration’s commitment is part of “a truly historical agenda” that began on Biden’s first day in office when he signed an executive order to advance racial equity and support underserved communities, said Chiraag Gains, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House.

“We recognize that rooting out systemic racism isn’t a one-year project, it’s a sustained commitment,” Gains said during a Feb. 3 webinar hosted by nonprofit advocacy groups PolicyLink and Race Forward, which both worked with Biden’s transition team on its approach to racial equity.

Gains said one goal is to make sure equitable decision making in the federal government outlasts the current administration.

“An equity agenda has never been attempted at this scale,” he said.

A recording of the Feb. 3 webinar “Racial Equity: The Whole of Government Responsibility.” (Video courtesy of PolicyLink/YouTube)

A guiding principle

The administration’s focus on equity can be seen in its approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, childhood poverty, health care, federal contracts and spending, transportation funding, higher education and Native American tribal sovereignty, among other things, Gains said.

A key tenant of Biden’s agenda, voting rights, was defeated by Senate Republicans in January and a move to end the filibuster — which Republicans used to force a 60-vote threshold for the legislation — was also unsuccessful after two Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, refused to back its elimination.

“Nothing is more important that protecting the right to vote, that’s why the president is pushing for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and ending the filibuster,” Gains said.

“An equity agenda has never been attempted at this scale.”

Chiraag Gains, deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity

“We recognize that a fully functional democracy is a multi-racial democracy,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, another webinar participant, said Biden’s executive order and the administration’s work on racial equity “is a huge step in the right direction,” but a lot of work remains.

“It’s really a testament to the administration’s commitment to racial equity that the executive order was signed on the first day,” Pressley said. “This has never been done before.”

She praised Biden’s efforts on the American Rescue Plan, the Build Back Better Plan, voting rights and ending the filibuster but also said he has “a responsibility” to cancel student debt, should work to end mass incarceration and to stop the “weaponized” use of Title 42, a provision in U.S. health code that former President Donald Trump and now the Biden Administration have used to expel migrants and asylum seekers.

Working with people of color

Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, a voter registration and engagement organization, said one of the most important things the federal government can do is work in partnership with communities of color.

“That doesn’t mean when it’s time to sell a bill, you run out with your latest focus group tested messaging,” Ufot said. “(It means) addressing problems we actually have that have been articulated by citizens.”

A PolicyLink report on the Biden Administration’s racial equity agenda can be found on the organization’s website.

“The mission of government is true, there’s no debate about the mission — to serve,” said PolicyLink President Michael McAfee. “Can we recognize now that the North Star of that mission is equity?”

Race Forward president Glenn Harris noted that there are now tools to help government agencies incorporate racial equity into all manner of policy decisions, including the recently released report “Advancing Racial Equity: A Framework for Federal Agencies.”

“The tools for achieving equity are caching up with our aspirations for equity,” Harris said. “There is no functional multi-racial democracy without racial justice.”