Nominee For Top Military Post Maintains Policies Are Not Racist After Senators Question Race-Based Targets

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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President Biden’s top military nominee committed to upholding merit-based hiring practices in his confirmation hearing Tuesday but refused to disavow a 2022 memo GOP senators said indicates racial quotas for Air Force officers.

Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown faced a panel of senators Monday morning evaluating his qualifications to become the U.S.’ senior-most military officer amid widespread criticism from conservatives for statements and policies appearing to discriminate in favor of minority and female applicants. Brown defended his approach to diversity in his current position as Air Force chief of staff, saying he prioritized opening up service opportunities to the widest range of people possible and would never approve racial quotas.

“There’s a goal to allow those people to understand what the opportunities are, but to be selected [for opportunities], it’s merit-based. If we don’t outreach to them we may miss tremendous talent, but they’ve got to be qualified,” Brown told the Senate Armed Services Committee. (RELATED: Pentagon Officials Deny They Have ‘Diversity’ Targets, But Their Own Documents Tell A Different Story)

In August, Brown signed a memo along with the service’s top leaders ordering the Air Force’s recruiting wing to cultivate an applicant pool that meets racial and gender percentage quotas, a memo shows. The memo instructed recruiters to develop diversity and inclusion plans toward “aspirational” goals decreasing the percentage of white males among the Air Force’s applicant pool.

The memo did not specify whether or how the total size of the applicant pool should increase. “Critically, it also continues our progress towards achieving a force more representative of our nation,” the memo states.

GOP senators took this to mean the Air Force hoped the memo would shift the proportion of white male officers downward in favor of females and minorities. “Do we have too many white officers?” Republican Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt asked Brown at the hearing.

Brown said the numbers were derived from the actual demographic makeup of the U.S. as a whole and only impacted applicants, not those who actually make it into the Air Force officer corps.

“What we looked at was the aspect of providing opportunities of anybody who wants to serve,” Brown said. “If that were what was in this memo I wouldn’t be asking these questions,” Schmitt countered. “Which of the 5,400 of white officers that we have too many should be fired?”

Air Force applicant diversity targets were not to be used to undermine the Air Force’s merit-based accession and promotion processes, according to the memo.

“If that kind of statement was not included, I would have never signed that letter,” Brown said. Earlier the general, who has spoken often about his experience as the only black pilot in his squadron and later as the only representative of his race among senior officers, said “we do not have quotas.”

“I didn’t want to be the best African-American pilot. I wanted to be the best pilot,” he said. The same logic applies to prospective airmen.

“All they want is a fair opportunity to perform … they don’t want to be advantaged or disadvantaged based on their background,” Brown said in response to earlier questioning.

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