LifestyleCongress's $1.2 trillion spending bill defunds House ODI

Congress’s $1.2 trillion spending bill defunds House ODI

Members of Congress recently voted to approve a $1.2 trillion federal spending bill on March 23. A majority of the funds will go toward the Department of Defense at $824 billion and a $1 billion investment went to childcare Head Start programs, but funding for education and national diversity and inclusion programs were rolled back. 

After signing the bill, President Joe Biden wrote, “This agreement represents a compromise, which means neither side got everything it wanted.”

One of the many entities adversely impacted includes the House of Representatives Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI). It was formed over four years ago with the goal of advising offices within the majority and minority parties.

“Over the past two years, I’ve had the honor of working at the pleasure of three Speakers of the House across both sides of the aisle, to include Speaker Emerita Pelosi and Speakers McCarthy and Johnson, as well as in collaboration with the House Democratic Leader Jeffries,” said Dr. Sesha Joi Moon, former director of ODI. “As I led a non-partisan and non-legislative office, I leaned into not making our mission to help create and cultivate a congressional workforce that’s reflective of the American people a red or blue issue – but more so a reflection of all hues of every corner of our country.”

To date, the office has served 453 members of the House, reaching over 228 Republicans and 197 Democrats. Their office officially dissolved on March 25, just two days after the bill passed. 

“Again out of desperation provoked by the Republican conference, compromises and bad deals had to be made to prevent our government from shutting down,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) proclaimed. “Obviously, the Congressional Black Caucus and other members who believe in the value of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness have been and continue to be strong supporters of the DEI philosophy.”

She adamantly shared that Congress would “continue to fight for racial and language diversity.” Her colleagues share the same sentiment.

“Republicans ought to join Democrats in our work to ensure that diverse thoughts, experiences, backgrounds and identities are represented in the People’s House,” expressed Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) who served as majority leader when ODI was first established. “This office served as an important resource for recruiting and retaining people of color to work in Congress and ensure that our government better reflected the country it represented.”

The entity was often charged with presenting analysis on demographics throughout Congress. 

One of the studies ODI administered was the House Witness Representation Study, which is designed to examine the level of representation among nongovernmental witnesses called to testify at hearings before House Committees and/or Subcommittees throughout each congressional session. Their last study in 2022 found 61% of non-government witnesses were white, 15% were Black and 7% were Asian Americans which strongly limits the perspectives considered among lawmakers. 

ODI also managed to launch a LinkedIn Recruiter Pilot Program during the 118th Congress to help encourage a more diverse influx of staff among Congress. Thousands of applicants responded and a majority self-identified as people of color. 

The office’s closure comes despite unprecedented results and their ability to act efficiently while spending less.

“ODI operated below its funding level at a 44.5% spend rate of its full operating budget in fiscal year 2023,” wrote Moon. 

The spending bill officially replaces ODI with the Office of Talent Management. Moon plans to transition off the Hill but all nine of her team members have been invited to retain their employment in the newly formed division. 

Elizabeth Mihalcea has been selected as director. She did not respond to The Informer’s request for comment.

“It has been an honor to help ensure that the United States Congress embodied a qualified and representative workforce that reflected the country’s vast tapestry,” Moon said reflecting on the conclusion of her inaugural appointment. “As I prepare to transition [from] the Hill after 15 years of federal service at the end of the month, I walk away feeling fortunate for what has been the best job ever.”

Source: Washington Informer

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