Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Shalanda Young has delivered a report to Joe Biden assessing equity in government practices, and identifying significant existing barriers preventing historically underserved communities from accessing benefits and services in Federal programs.

Discussing the imperative to close those gaps, the OMB report finds that many Federal agencies don’t currently have access to the right data to evaluate to what extent they promote equity, or the structures in place to employ relevant data if that information already exists.

While Federal agencies serve collectively as the nation’s largest employer and buyer of goods, “too many people have been historically underserved and experienced marginalization, disenfranchisement, and lost opportunity,” wrote Young in a blog on August 6.

The OMB report assesses methods for how government practices create or exacerbate barriers to full and equal participation by all eligible individuals. The report follows up on President Biden’s executive order on diversity, equity, and inclusion issued on his first day in office. The EO calls for advances in racial equity and support for underserved communities through the Federal government.

The EO instructed government agencies to submit equity assessments identifying barriers, gaps, and obstructions that routinely affect underserved communities. The OMB report found that agencies have some tools to assess the equity of their work “but need expertise across several disciplines to evaluate the equity of their programs better,” Young wrote.

OMB recommended that agencies focus their assessments on high-impact services, like programs with a high volume of transactions or schedules that cover significant agency spending. By January 2022, agencies will provide the White House’s Domestic Policy Council with action plans that outline a plan to improve the equity of their services.

Additionally, OMB found that Federal agencies generally lack the data they needed to understand how they serve the public across demographics such as gender identity, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

Many agencies have acquired an abundance of administrative data gathered throughout implementing Federal programs and services. However, many agencies lack structures, processes, or mechanisms to deploy that data to assess equity.

“It is a difficult realization that Federal agencies have not fully delivered value to all of their constituents,” Young wrote. “And yet, it is only through this ethic of learning and a commitment to evidence that governments become truly able to serve their people.”

The report also states that the advancement of equity requires long-term change management, attention to culture, and a dedicated strategy for sustainability. To fully capitalize on the impact of the EO, the OMB report recommends that agencies recognize that the work of advancing equity requires attention to deliberate planning for long-term change, including institutional and cultural elements within agencies.

To ensure that the government works for all people, “we must face our work with ongoing learning from scientific data and analytical tools to ask more sophisticated questions about inclusion, outcomes, and possibility,” Young wrote.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.