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President Obama Issues Memorandum Promoting Diversity and Inclusion on Public Lands

Posted by Rachel Wendling at Jan 13, 2017 03:55 PM |
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During his last full week in office, President Obama signed an historic memorandum calling for increased diversity and inclusion for public lands staff and visitors.

A National Park Ranger high-fives fourth graders at an Every Kid in a Park event. Photo by Erik Haugen-Goodman

During his eight years in office, President Obama proved to be a stalwart proponent of public lands, designating numerous cultural and historic sites as national monuments, restoring Denali to its former name, and creating initiatives like Every Kid in a Park. During his last full week in office, President Obama signed another historic memorandum, calling for increased diversity and inclusion not only in our national workforce, but also our public lands visitors.

Obama stated, “The purpose of this memorandum is to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to experience and enjoy our public lands and waters, that all segments of the population have the chance to engage in decisions about how our lands and waters are managed, and that our Federal workforce -- not just the sites it manages -- is drawn from the rich range of the diversity in our Nation.”

The memorandum was directed at the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce

Section 1 of the memorandum focuses on ensuring that our national workforce more accurately reflects the population of our country. By creating a more diverse and inclusive national workforce, it says, we should be better able to manage our resources responsibly, and take into consideration the challenges facing communities across the country. It recognizes the importance of creating a more welcoming experience for Americans of all backgrounds to engage, and hopefully protect, our public lands and waters for years to come. It calls on agencies to:

  • Provide professional development opportunities and tools to federal agency employees. The memorandum directs suggests optional interviews and surveys with staff to deepen the understanding of why employees choose to stay or leave their organization, as well as receive feedback on workplace policies.
  • Strengthen leadership engagement and accountability. Acknowledging the important role that senior leaderships play in promoting diversity, efforts to promote diversity and inclusion will be rewarded and recognized among leaders and supervisors. There will also be expanded training available on diversity and inclusion, especially for those responsible for outreach, recruitment, hiring, career development, promotion, and law enforcement.
  • Analyze existing data and identify opportunities for improvement. To confirm that progress is being made on the diversity and inclusion front, publicly-available assessments and analyses will be made. Human resource staff will meet twice yearly to evaluate progress and identify areas of improvement.

Hikers enjoying the view atop Church Mountain in the Mt. Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest. Photo by Jason Chiu.

Enhancing opportunities for all Americans to experience public lands and waters

Section 2 emphasizes the users of our national parks and promotes equitable access to all public lands. It called on agencies to:

  • Evaluate barriers to access or opportunity for diverse populations. Updated policy manuals and handbooks will echo the importance of engaging diverse populations in management, planning, and decision-making. Agencies will be mindful of opportunities to promote diverse participation in advisory councils and stakeholder committees.
  • Develop an action plan. Each covered agency was directed to provide an action plan which outlines the steps they will take to improve access for diverse populations and address barriers to their involvement with important historic, cultural, and natural areas. These action plans will be required within one year of the memorandum issue date and will be publicly available.
  • Improve opportunities for all Americans to experience our Federal lands and waters. The memorandum outlines a number of options to accomplish this, including: increasing outreach to diverse populations, forging new partnerships with state, local, tribal, private, and non-profit partners, improving access for diverse populations, expanding the use of multilingual and culturally appropriate materials, promoting youth engagement, and fostering new partnerships in urban areas.
  • Improve opportunities for all Americans to participate in the protection and management of important historic, cultural, and natural areas. The memorandum also directed agencies to consider a number of approaches -- including outreach, breaking down financial barriers and improving access for involvement by diverse populations. 

Read the full memorandum.