The Air Force is taking the first steps toward canceling any contracts for diversity and unconscious bias training that include segments on white privilege and other controversial subjects, as called for by the White House.
The Air Force’s move follows a Sept. 4 memo from Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought, which alleged executive branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars “'training' government workers to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
Vought ordered agencies to identify, and then look for ways to cancel or defund, contracts or agency spending for training on critical race theory, white privilege, “or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either … that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or … that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil.” Vought also called such courses "un-American propaganda training sessions.”
An Air Force judge advocate document obtained by Air Force Times, dated Sept. 10, said that Air Force organizations should look at any existing or planned training, including diversity and unconscious bias training, to see if it meets the criteria barred by the OMB memo.
In a Tuesday email, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the Air Force is complying with the guidance laid out in the OMB memo, and is looking to identify and cancel contracts that run afoul of the memo’s guidance. Stefanek also confirmed the JA issued guidance to other judge advocates throughout the Department of the Air Force, which includes the Space Force, about the OMB memo.
“The Department of the Air Force continues to provide unconscious bias training in accordance with Department of Defense directives and is reviewing all course material to ensure it is compliant with the OMB memorandum,” Stefanek wrote in a Tuesday email.
The Air Force has for years tried to improve diversity in its ranks. In the months since the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed at the hands of Minneapolis police, and the nationwide conversation on race that followed, the Air Force has particularly sought to address its own racial disparities and unconscious biases in things like promotions, career opportunities and the military justice system.
The Air Force’s inspector general is also in the process of a major review of racial disparities in the ranks.
It’s unclear how much Air Force training teaches airmen that the United States is inherently racist or evil. However, the unofficial Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco last month posted a slide from a presentation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, that listed some examples of white privilege.
The slide asked airmen to “please take a moment and understand” the concept of white privilege. The slide showed two news stories about burglary suspects, with a group of white suspects pictured wearing suits and ties, and the Black suspects portrayed in police mug shots. Task and Purpose confirmed the slide was part of a presentation at Langley.
In the OMB memo, Vought cited unnamed press reports that federal employees have been “required to attend trainings where they are told that ‘virtually all White people contribute to racism’ or where they are required to say that they ‘benefit from racism.'”
Vought also said that, in some cases, the training materials have further claimed there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity or the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job.”
The Air Force JA memo noted that examining training on issues of race, and whether that training contains elements barred by the OMB memo, “can be subjective.”
This memo said the JA does not believe that training consistent with the principles laid out in the Defense Department’s diversity management and equal opportunity and Air Force equal opportunity guidelines violates the criteria laid out in the OMB memo.
That means, the JA said, that training on the Air Force providing opportunities for all of its personnel to reach the highest level of responsibility their abilities will allow does not cross the boundaries laid out in the OMB memo. Training on equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion initiatives to increase opportunities for personnel, and against unlawful discrimination, harassment or reprisal on the basis of race is also not barred by the memo, the JA said.
However, the Air Force memo said, any training that teaches “virtually all White people contribute to racism,” requires service members or civilians to say they “benefit from racism,” includes “white privilege” or “critical race theory," teaches or suggests “the United States is an inherently racist or evil country,” or teaches or suggests that “any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil” is out of bounds.
The JA’s memo cites the dictionary definition of white privilege as “the set of social and economic advantages that white people have by virtue of their race in a culture characterized by racial inequality.” And it says critical race theory, in general, “is a theoretical framework which posits the belief that institutional racism is engrained in American society.”
Valerie Insinna contributed to this report.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.