Congress’ 2023 Defense Legislation Shovels Cash Into DEI Programs. Here’s Where It Will Go

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • Congress’ defense authorization and funding bills for 2023 could allow for millions in spending on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
  • Programs aim to increase participation of women and underrepresented minority groups in the ranks, civilian workforce and some realms that fall outside the DOD’s area of responsibility.
  • “This process was far from perfect, but ultimately it allowed Republican redlines to be adhered to,” Alabama Republican Sen. and Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby said in a statement.

Legislation from a Democrat-led Congress pours funding into enhancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) into defense-related programs over the course of 2023.

President Joe Biden signed the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress’ $858 billion defense bill that approves but does not devote funds for future spending, into law on Friday, while the full-year spending bill sits on his desk awaiting enactment. Legislation provides for focused recruiting on women and racial minority groups and increasing their participation in STEM careers, while leaving out some items like expanding the Department of Defense’s (DOD) DEI office. (RELATED: Congress’ Spending Bill Contains Millions In Woke Handouts)

In research and development, the final $1.7 trillion appropriations bill for 2023, passed Dec. 23, supports $3,000 for a program increase to the Department of Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Account, which funds building a civilian workforce to manage DOD weapons buys, focused on diversity in STEM.

It also sets aside $100,500 to fund department-wide research and development programs, including artificial intelligence and machine learning for ROTC students, at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), $66,712 more than the administration’s request. The NDAA had allocated $131.7 million for the Pentagon to conduct a pilot program aimed at deepening research and development partnerships between the DOD and HBCUs and MSIs.

The legislation follows a report from earlier in 2022 advocating for “social justice” norms across the DOD enterprise.

In an effort to support women in the workforce, one provision under the omnibus bill’s defense heading allocates $5 million for the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations Act, a decades-old program aimed at increasing women’s employment in trade occupations, along with unspecified grant funding “to serve and promote the interests of women in research.”

The NDAA authorizes creation of the Ronald V. Dellums Memorial Fellowship, which would have under a previous House version of the 2023 full-year government funding bill allocated $5,000,000 for underrepresented students, “particularly women of color,” to obtain degrees in science, technology, engineering, arts or mathematics and pursue national security-related careers.

The NDAA also commissioned a report on the DOD’s recruiting efforts in the armed forces after the Army fell 25% below its 2022 goal and the remaining services squeaked by. It also requires a separate report on DOD efforts to “adequately reach” racial and ethnic minority communities with marketing and advertising programs.

Another provision addresses “barriers and lessons learned” in improving long-term participation of women in the armed services. A 2020 government watchdog report found women are 28% more likely than men to quit the service before reaching retirement.

Congress already requires an annual demographic analysis of applicants to military service academies, but the 2023 NDAA broadens the language to include “anything the Secretary [of Defense] determines to be significant regarding gender, race, ethnicity or other demographic information.”

Recruitment initiatives in the NDAA that fall outside the DOD’s purview include a provision to increase access for men and women from underrepresented groups — defined as black and African American; Hispanic and Latino; Asian; American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian; or Pacific Islander — in the maritime industry. Others focus on increasing the number of enlisted Coast Guard members who are female, part of a minority racial or ethnic group or from rural areas.

The House Appropriations Committee in June recommended several provisions that did not make it into the final legislation, including efforts to identify personnel gaps in the DOD’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and protections for “servicemembers’ rights regarding exercise of religion and ethnic heritage” under a Cultural Sensitivity Training heading. It also instructed the DOD to establish new goals and timeframes for increasing the percentage of women in the armed services.

The canned bill featured more gender inclusive language; one provision recommended expanding an existing Air Force policy that intends “to help servicemembers and their families from states that have enacted anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex, plus, legislation” to the rest of the services. Another advocated for enhancing access for men and women of “diverse ages, races, ethnicities, and genders” to receiving infertility treatment while on active duty.

“This process was far from perfect, but ultimately it allowed Republican redlines to be adhered to,” Alabama Republican Sen. and Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby said in a statement. “We need to do our job and fund the government.”

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