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The 117th Congress tackles congressional staff diversity within its Rules Package, making the Office of Diversity and Inclusion permanent. Photo: Getty Images
The 117th Congress tackles congressional staff diversity within its Rules Package, making the Office of Diversity and Inclusion permanent. Photo: Getty Images

Rep. Cárdenas raised alarms on staff diversity in Congress. Now there are permanent changes

Tony Cárdenas called out the glaring lack of diversity within White House staff in 2020.

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The 117th Congress is the most diverse class of legislators ever, but diversity among staff members on Capitol Hill has historically not seen the same levels of progress, even now. 

Last Summer, Rep. Tony Cárdenas called-out the longstanding issue in Congress, saying “we are failing” on staff diversity, and that the diversity of staff among representatives and senators is not reflective of their staff members. 

Cárdenas first wrote a letter to House Democrats in the height of Black Lives Matter protests in June, a period of self-reflection when racial tensions were put at the forefront of the national conversation. 

“The data is clear: people of color are not being promoted or hired for senior staff positions. This is not for a lack of diverse candidates who are dedicated and qualified,” he wrote at the time. “How can we expect to address issues of racial discrimination when the vast majority of our staff working on these issues cannot speak directly to the experiences of racial injustice?” 

He referenced a study by the Joint Center, which revealed in 2018, that 84% of chiefs, 88% of legislative directors, and 87% of communications directors were white. 

Out of 1,110 senior staff positions, just 152 were BIPOC.

Cárdenas called for the formation of a task force made up of lawmakers to identify best practices in hiring a more diverse staff and ensuring more equitable hiring practices.

Mere hours after his exposé, House Democrats adopted a new caucus diversity rule urging that congressional offices should “to the extent practicable,” work with the House Diversity and inclusion Office, created at the start of the 116th Congress. 

A year later, more has come from Cárdenas’ critique of the representation on Capitol Hill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rules Committee Chairman James P. McGovern (D-MA) recently released the rules for the 117 Congress, claiming to “modernize” the House of Representatives. 

One of the ways is through “Inclusion and Diversity.” 

It’s a fancy way of advancing long-overdue diversity standards at the Capitol, which include a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and creating the first-ever permanent Diversity office, as the previously established diversity office wasn’t for the long term.

The rules state that they will, “honor all gender identities by changing pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender neutral; make permanent the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to facilitate a diverse workforce that is reflective of our Members and the districts they represent.”

They also clarify that members and staff are officially allowed to wear religious headwear on the House Floor and required members to reimburse taxpayers for discrimination settlements.

Witness panels at committee hearings will also be surveyed to ensure Congress hears from diverse groups of experts to craft legislation.

While the changes did not entirely stem from Cárdenas, the new rules in inclusion and diversity would not have been possible without heightened pressure. 

“Earlier this summer, I wrote a sent (sic) to the caucus highlighting the lack of staff diversity in Congress. I'm proud that the Rules Package for the 117th makes the Office of Diversity and Inclusion permanent,” responded Cárdenas on Twitter.

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