Administrator Power's Remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference

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Tuesday, September 14, 2021


ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good morning everyone, it’s an honor to speak to you today at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 50th Annual Legislative Conference.

It was 50 years ago that Dr. Samuel Adams, USAID’s first Black Assistant Administrator, testified before congress to defend America’s support to Africa on the Hill.

Dr. Adams—the son of a chauffeur who earned his Ph.D from the University of Chicago—by then had a storied career as a development professional. After working to pay his way through college and serving during World War II, he joined the Economic Cooperation Administration, USAID’s predecessor. He was an education advisor in what was then Indochina, followed by stints in Nigeria, a newly independent Mali, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Morocco. He was eventually named ambassador to Niger, before returning to USAID to direct all of our Africa programs.

But in testifying, he had to face down one of the U.S. Congress’ biggest opponents to foreign assistance, Representative Otto Passman of Louisiana.

Upon laying eyes on Dr. Adams and realizing he was Black, Passman did a double take. He then gathered himself and said, “Welcome, Reverend. I look forward to these budget hearings.”

For the next six hours, Passman would address Dr. Adams as Reverend, the familiar Jim Crow tactic used to avoid calling Black men “Doctor,” “Ambassador,” or even “Mister.”

But Dr. Adams bit his lip, as so many Black people have had and still have to do, and defended USAID’s investments in Africa. Vaccinating children against smallpox and measles, building schools, ushering in the Green Revolution across the continent, and responding to droughts and disasters. He excelled during the briefing and refuted Passman’s arguments, one by one. And together with congressional allies, including the 13 founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus, he successfully defended the budget for foreign assistance in Africa.

Over the last fifty years, the CBC membership has increased fourfold and today it continues to be a leading voice for the worth and necessity of American foreign assistance. Just as the Caucus has served as America’s conscience here at home, so too have you advocated on behalf of the people most in need around the world.

But you’ve also advocated for America’s foreign engagement to actually reflect America—our values, our character, our diversity.

The global challenges we face today—from COVID-19 to climate change to the growing specter of autocracy—are as grave and complex and multifaceted as any we’ve faced in American history. And while there is no challenge America can’t solve, there are many challenges we cannot solve without fresh ideas, diverse thinking, and perspectives that reflect the lived experiences of all Americans, particularly African Americans.

Yet, when we turn the mirror back on ourselves, we see a structure at USAID that doesn’t reflect the diversity we rightfully prize and need. Although nearly 33 percent of our permanent direct hires identify as Black or African American, the majority of them serve in support functions and in less senior roles. Black employees make up nearly half of our administrative management services staff, and are underrepresented in the Senior Executive and Senior Foreign Service—Black women especially so. A majority of our Black Foreign Service Officers occupy lower ranks. And a recent GAO study found that racial and ethinic minority Civil Service staff were 31-41 percent less likely to be promoted than their White counterparts.

USAID’s ability to fully advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in our programming and partnerships will rely on our ability to increase diversity in our workforce and create a culture in which minority employees can thrive and advance. I signaled my commitment to this effort on my first day as Administrator, when I signed USAID’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan.

But as we know, a plan is just a plan. Now, we must move beyond commitment and into action, and assemble the infrastructure necessary to integrate DEI into USAID’s core values, policies, and operations and ensure we are creating an environment where our underrepresented employees can thrive.

To improve our pipeline of diverse candidates, we are expanding our outreach to minority-serving institutions. This month, USAID is hosting its first-ever Annual Historically Black College and University Development Conference, which will highlight panel discussions, networking sessions, and skill-building workshops to raise awareness of USAID’s work and showcase employment opportunities with the Agency.

We are also increasing our support for entry programs that attract candidates from underrepresented groups. Over the coming years, for example, we plan to double the number of Donald M. Payne Fellowships—in partnership with Howard University—to diversify the ranks of USAID’s Foreign Service.

To strengthen our culture, we are hiring advisors in all of our Bureaus and Offices across the Agency to focus specifically on DEI. We are also introducing mandatory DEI training for all staff and new hires, and building out our training curriculum to include tailored courses on unconscious bias, microaggressions, and cultural competency.

And to support and retain our diverse talent, we are strengthening opportunities for their growth and professional development. We plan to increase our support for the International Career Advancement Program by 150 percent next year to build the skills of our staff from groups traditionally underrepresented in foreign policy.

These efforts align with the Biden-Harris Administration’s goals to bring critical perspectives and talents into the national security workforce. We must finally move past the good intentions, and actually recruit and nurture diplomats and development experts who reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our country. We have to show the best of who we are as Americans, and demonstrate that we are living the values of equity and dignity that we seek to advance across the world.

Thank you.

Last updated: September 23, 2021

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