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Advancing Equity at DHS

In January 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. The Executive Order outlines a whole-of-government mandate to advance equity for the American public through a comprehensive approach to all government practices, including: management; policymaking (including through regulation and guidance); procurement, contracting, and budgeting; delivery of benefits and services; and data collection, reporting, and use, to tangibly improve the lives of every person across the nation, in particular, those who have been underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.

With the issuance of Executive Order 14091, Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government in February 2023, DHS has reaffirmed its commitment to center equity in policy and decision-making.  Executive Order 14091 makes clear that advancing equity is not a one-time project, but an ongoing imperative and a multigenerational commitment.  As such, it requires federal agencies to issue an equity action plan annually.  Building on the successes in DHS’s inaugural plan and seeking additional opportunities to advance equity in a broader array of programs, the DHS Equity Task Force is presently leading efforts to develop the 2024 DHS Equity Action Plan.

DHS, along with other departments and agencies across the Federal Government, answered the call to review its programs and policies and assess whether members of underserved communities face systemic barriers in accessing benefits and opportunities available pursuant to those policies and programs.

In 2021, DHS created its first-ever Equity Task Force, bringing together senior leaders from DHS Components and Headquarter Offices across the Department to take a hard look at our programs and policies to assess whether underserved communities are facing barriers to accessing DHS’s programs and services.

DHS Equity Action Plan

In 2022, DHS developed a comprehensive Equity Action Plan to identify seven key programs with the greatest potential for advancing equity in DHS operations and activities. The programs were selected based on input from the DHS Equity Task Force in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, as well as public feedback and input from stakeholder organizations representing underserved communities.

The key program areas include:

1. Applying for naturalization

DHS will conduct a comprehensive review of policies, regulations, forms, and operations to identify barriers that may impede access to naturalization among underserved communities and make recommendations on how to appropriately and lawfully remove these barriers.

2. Accessing humanitarian protection during immigration processing

DHS will improve access to humanitarian protection during immigration processing by addressing language and disability access gaps and enhancing access to relevant information and resources.

3. Bidding on DHS contracts

DHS will expand engagement with small businesses owned by or supporting members of underserved communities to ensure more equitable access to DHS contracting opportunities.

4. Countering all forms of terrorism and targeted violence

Diverse communities are disproportionality impacted by domestic violent extremism and targeted violence. DHS will further expand its efforts to provide underserved communities with the tools and resources they need to prevent individuals from radicalizing to violence and increase local capabilities to combat all forms of terrorism and targeted violence.

5. Filing complaints and seeking redress in DHS programs and activities

DHS will enhance its communication with the public regarding the right to file complaints and seek redress without retaliation regarding DHS programs and how those processes work.

6. Airport screening

DHS will enhance and standardize employee training and improve screening-technology capabilities to advance equity for members of underserved communities.

7. Accessing Trusted Traveler Programs

DHS will expand gender-identification options for certain trusted traveler programs, including TSA PreCheck®, and enhance access to these programs for individuals with limited English proficiency.

In the coming weeks and months, the DHS Equity Task Force will continue to engage with stakeholders regarding the DHS Equity Action Plan and other equity-related activities and initiatives.

2023 Update to the DHS Equity Action Plan

Over the last several months, DHS developed the 2023 Update to the DHS Equity Action Plan, setting forth strategies to advance equity in nine focus areas selected based on their potential for advancing equity and in light of feedback from external stakeholders representing underserved communities. 

  1. Reduce barriers to citizenship and naturalization through continued evaluation of programs, policies, and outreach opportunities. 
  2. Promote equitable use of AI technology across the Department through the development and application of new guidance as well as intra-agency coordination.
  3. Counter Domestic Violent Extremism and targeted violence through a public health-informed approach.
  4. Advance equity for persons who are Limited English Proficient (LEP) by strengthening language access programs.
  5. Advance equity in DHS’s screening activities through updates to training, policy, and procedures.
  6. Advance equity for the 574 federally recognized Tribal Nations and their citizens by ensuring appropriate Tribal consideration and representation in the Department’s work.
  7. Advance equity for persons seeking humanitarian protection during immigration processing by strengthening programs available to assist them.
  8. Advance equity in the FEMA Individual Assistance Program to increase participation of undeserved communities.
  9. Advance equity through Community Disaster Resilience Zones.

DHS Equity Accomplishments

DHS is pleased to share the following highlights of activities and priorities aimed toward to improving equity across the Department:

  • Updated USCIS Form N-648 (Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions) and related Policy Manual guidance: Applicants for naturalization with a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment may request an exception to the English and civics testing requirements for naturalization.  This form and Policy Manual update streamline the process for applicants to claim and substantiate a disability by eliminating unnecessary and duplicative questions. 
  • Prioritized reaching the most vulnerable populations, including victims of trafficking, in their languages and in a culturally appropriate manner: This work of the USCIS Language Services Branch, which spanned two fiscal years and involved multiple language specialists, resulted in approximately 1,000 pages of translated materials. 
  • Updated the PreCheck® application process by allowing individuals to select their gender marker based on self-attestation, regardless of sex assigned at birth: The TSA application was updated to include additional gender marker options to better serve non-binary and gender non-conforming travelers.
  • Deployed TSA’s new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) software for screening systems at airports across the country: This update eliminates the need for Transportation Security Officers to determine a passenger’s gender prior to AIT screening and is projected to reduce the instances of enhanced screening for transgender persons and members of other underserved communities.
  • Exceeded all small business prime and socioeconomic goals as negotiated with the Small Business Administration in FY 2022: This equated to $9 billion awarded to small businesses, including $4 billion to small, disadvantaged businesses. DHS is the largest spending agency to have this level of goal achievement.
  • Released the Operational Draft of the Public Assistance Program Delivery Guide, which included considerations for FEMA recipients and applicants to conduct response and recovery efforts in an equitable manner: The Guide, released in September 2022 by FEMA's Office for Public Assistance, includes a performance metric for the prioritization of communities rated as highly socially vulnerable, including underserved rural areas. 

Other Equity Resources

Last Updated: 02/26/2024
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