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Since taking office, President Bident has signed a flurry of executive orders (EOs). These orders are not simply symbolic; they make concrete policy change and jumpstart the Biden-Harris Administration agenda committed to driving more equity into systems and policies. Most of these EOs are designed to reverse the harmful policies put in place during the Trump administration (see our recent post on work requirements) while also reorienting our country toward a more positive trajectory that centers equity and justice.
Two such EOs include: Ensuring a Data-Driven Response to COVID-19 and Future High-Consequence Public Health Threats and On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. We are excited about the tools these provide the administration to advance an equity agenda that is rooted in transparency and data. Having access to robust disaggregated race, ethnicity and language (REL) data allows policymakers to accurately assess the harm to underrepresented populations, build policy and program interventions that address inequity and collectively shape an equitable future with accountability to one another.
Throughout the campaign, both President Biden and Vice President Harris communicated their commitment to addressing inequities – namely, racial inequity. These EOs represent a first step in addressing the shortcomings of our current data infrastructure. The EOs direct needed resources, design accountability systems and require cross-sector, inter-agency alignment to identify and respond to inequities people confront in their access to public resources. Health equity work is not real unless it is driven by REL data.
What do the EOs do?
The day after his inauguration, President Biden issued an EO on racial equity as a down payment on that campaign promise, Ensuring a Data-Driven Response to COVID-19 and Future High-Consequence Public Health Threats. Coming so early in the administration, this EO was intended to increase public trust and enhance the role of agencies in collecting data around COVID-19 including testing, treatment, vaccinations and hospitalization. The goal is to make this data available in real-time, enabling a more nimble response that is transparent across all levels of government. Specifically, the EO:
The second EO, On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, outlines a set of policy directives that range from cross-agency coordination, equity assessment and a data working group to ensure all agencies are collecting disaggregated data that is both accurate and transparent to the best of their ability. It assigns responsibility to the Domestic Policy Council (DPC) to work across all agencies to “embed equity principles, policies, and approaches across the Federal Government.” The DPC is an important body that is tasked with developing and implementing the Administration’s domestic policy objectives.
Beyond the inter-agency coordination led by DPC, there are several key elements of the EO that are worth lifting up:
What is next?
These executive orders establish a north star for data enthusiasts but also provides a blueprint for advocates to follow as they monitor progress over the next six months. Advocates can be active in assessing these recommendations and weighing in along the way.
On February 26, the Equitable Data Working Group met via zoom – a meeting that was open to the public and provided a glimpse at the issues the group would begin to tackle over the coming months. Led by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the group listened intently to a presentation by Dr. Nancy Krieger as she walked through the deep inequities people face, and offered a window into the complexities and challenges of doing REL data collection well. It will require advocacy for additional resources and a commitment to building the needed infrastructure. But for the first time is a long time, it feels hopeful.