The U.S. Department of Energy has suspended racial sensitivity training for its employees, including those at its national laboratories, while it investigates how public money was spent and whether the programs imparted divisive messages.
The agency created a team in late August to investigate its diversity and sensitivity training and ordered all related materials to be retained so they could be examined for objectionable and even unlawful content.
“The training sessions involved methods and content offensive to employees and their personal values and common notions of diversity and inclusion,” William Cooper, the agency’s general counsel, wrote in a Sept. 4 letter.
Energy Department officials would not comment beyond the letter and said it could not be distributed publicly.
President Donald Trump earlier this month ordered a halt to federal spending on diversity training that addressed topics such as white privilege and critical race theory, contending it fosters resentment in the workplace. He has said systemic racism is exaggerated by protesters and Democratic Party leaders.
“It has come to the President’s attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date ‘training’ government workers to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda,” wrote Russell Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a Sept. 4 letter.
Citing unnamed media reports, Vought said many federal employees were required to attend “trainings” where they were told that “virtually all white people contribute to racism” or where they must say they “benefit from racism.”
The move to scrap diversity training comes after months of protests following George Floyd’s killing while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
“It’s a shame that the Department of Energy would discontinue programs that help attract a diverse workforce and teach employees from all backgrounds how to better communicate and collaborate with each other,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “This is simply another attempt by the Trump administration to sow division in our communities and distract the American people from its failed leadership.”
In an email, Sen. Martin Heinrich also denounced the decision.
“The move to halt federal diversity trainings at our national labs is clearly politically motivated and prevents important efforts to create more fair and inclusive work environments for New Mexicans,” Heinrich said.
Sen. Tom Udall’s office released a statement saying diversity, equity and inclusion are essential values that must be upheld in the workplace, especially in federal agencies at a time of “reckoning on racial justice.”
“He [Udall] has worked hard to encourage New Mexico’s national labs to diversify their workforce and hire more New Mexicans from all backgrounds to fill their important positions,” Udall spokesman Ned Adriance said in an email.
Joseph Cotton, head of the New Mexico NAACP, said Trump is trying to appeal to “a certain group of people” in his reelection bid.
“I think it’s sad that we’re in the place that we’re in right now,” Cotton said. “We’re better than that in America, and we should be bigger than that.”
Unless people are taught as children about diversity and racial injustice, they need to learn about it somewhere, such as the workplace, Cotton said.
“Anyone can be discriminated against on the job,” Cotton said. “Everybody needs the sensitivity training.”