Every February, our nation honors and celebrates the history of Black Americans and our immeasurable contributions to every aspect of American life.
Black History Month reinforces the ideal that representation matters. In government, business, academia, or the private sector, it makes a difference when people can see themselves in roles they aspire to fill. At the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), upholding that ideal is vital to carrying out our mission. Simply put, we are better equipped to fulfill our mission of safeguarding our homeland and our values when we boast a dynamic, diverse, and determined workforce that looks like the country we serve.
I have the honor of serving as the Department’s Chief Privacy Officer and Chief FOIA Officer. I am keenly aware of how serving in this role can impact the way that younger Black Americans visualize themselves in a leadership position – and how it can challenge the notion that there aren’t enough qualified Black members of the workforce for management and senior leadership roles.
Many believe that you must attend the “right schools” or come from the “right background” to achieve success, but that kind of thinking often systemically undervalues the experiences of many minorities, and their contributions. I am the daughter of a schoolteacher and an insurance claims specialist, and quite frankly, going to an Ivy League school was not in the cards for me. But I do have a passion for privacy. I do have the desire and ability to give back. And like so many of my Black DHS colleagues, I have dedicated myself to the mission of the Department.
DHS and the Biden-Harris Administration remain committed to advancing equity, racial justice, and opportunity for Black Americans as the nation continues striving to realize America’s founding promise. Each day, I see that promise being realized when I look at the incredible work performed by my DHS colleagues – work that positively impacts so many Americans, including communities of color, across our country.
As a member of the DHS leadership team, I meet regularly with the Secretary to discuss this critical work – and did so as early as this morning. Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas is eager to embrace the opportunities to address the challenges of our time and believes that each day we can advance the cause of equity in our ranks and our policies.
In the first year of the Biden-Harris Administration, we have made significant efforts towards realizing this change:
The Administration recently announced an increase in federal contract prime award dollars for small, disadvantaged businesses, including Black-owned businesses.
In September, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) implemented policy changes to make it easier for people living on heirs’ property to more equitably access disaster assistance, thereby reducing a vital barrier and eliminating a longtime disparity experienced by many Black Americans in urgent need of aid after a hurricane, tornado, wildfire, or major storm.
Last year, we formed the Law Enforcement Coordination Council (LECC) — the Department’s first unified law enforcement coordination body, chaired by the Secretary — to comprehensively review and revise, as appropriate, policies and training on use of force and several other law enforcement-related matters, including to ensure the protection of privacy rights and civil rights and civil liberties. This work is undertaken in close collaboration with the Privacy Office.
This work builds on the Department’s ongoing recruiting and outreach efforts. Examples of this work includes executing Memoranda of Understanding with Minority Serving Institutions, to conducting live webinars where potential applicants can speak directly to DHS recruiters. The Leader Development Program, the Department’s policy and strategy for developing proficiency in leaders at all levels, serves as a catalyst to increasing current and future leadership capability to enhance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility to ensure a workplace environment that fosters a sense of belonging, well-being, and purpose among DHS employees.
As the Chief Privacy Officer, a top priority is to increase the use of technologies to protect privacy and reduce the impacts of bias in data across the Department. Bias exists in data no matter where it is used or why it is captured. Data bias has often negatively impacted communities of color and explicit steps should be taken to better protect people’s privacy as we improve the technical design for how data is captured and subsequently used.
As we continue these efforts to impact change, I would encourage young Black professionals in search of meaningful careers to seriously consider working at DHS. Our Department interacts with the public daily, and more frequently than any other federal agency. Our agency’s responsibilities run the gamut – from aviation, maritime, and border security, to emergency management and response, to cybersecurity, chemical facility inspections, counterterrorism, and so much more. A diversity of life experience helps DHS better predict the impact of its activities, inform its programs and operations, and produce stronger decision making.
DHS is recruiting from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), where many of the next generation of top professional talent are completing their undergraduate and graduate studies. Whether you are interested in privacy, law enforcement, intelligence, immigration policy, cybersecurity, emergency management, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), your skills are needed at DHS – and our diverse experiences across the Black diaspora can fill that demand and provide the representation critical to our work.
Join us and be a part of the Black history that is made here every day.