A month ago, in one of his last official actions as President of the United States, President Obama turned his attention to the strength of our nation’s federal security workforce. The bottom line, according to the memorandum, certain Federal agencies aren’t making it when it comes to growing the diverse pool of talent necessary to effectively achieve national security goals in defense of an immensely diverse country against threats emanating from an immensely diverse world.


On October 5, the President signed Presidential Memorandum “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the National Security Workforce.” The memorandum argues, “Our greatest asset in protecting the homeland and advancing our interests abroad is the talent and diversity of our national security workforce. . . . The purpose of this memorandum is to provide guidance to the national security workforce in order to strengthen the talent and diversity of their respective organizations.”

As quickly becomes clear, the President is providing additional guidance to certain segments of the Federal government—specifically segments related to “diplomacy, development, defense, intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security“—because they’ve have failed to achieve the kind of diverse pool of talent the President and our Congress as far back as Lyndon B. Johnson have directed. The President specifically calls out the Department of State, United States Agency for International Development, Defense, the intelligence community en masse, Treasury, Justice, the FBI and Homeland Security.

DIRECTing diversity

In five sections, the memorandum provides specific direction on human resource elements like collecting and analyzing personnel data that can better facilitate achievement the kind of diverse pool of talent in the Federal security sector that other Federal agencies have achieved. It directs making personnel numbers public to assure both transparency and accountability, without compromising security. It requires a broader and deeper sampling of data, from the lowest employee to the highest levels of leadership, across all offices. It requires hiring initiatives that respond to the story data tells about diverse pools of talent. And it directs better professional development programs, leadership accountability for diversity, and more.


It’s not a partisan initiative. The memo reminds, for instance, of calls for diversity in 1980’s Foreign Service Act to strengthen the Department of State. It reminds of President Bush’s 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. The Intelligence Reform Act orders the Director of National Intelligence to “ensure that the personnel of the intelligence community are sufficiently diverse for purposes of the collection and analysis of intelligence through the recruitment and training of women, minorities, and individuals with diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds…”

This latest action simply reminds of and reinforces 5 United States Code § 2301. The United States Code is the Federal law of our nation. They’re the volumes and volumes of our federal statutes. The Code is penned by our legislative branch, Congress. It’s signed into law by our President in the Executive Branch. All of that’s a fundamental constitutional process.

More specifically, 5 US Code § 2301 mandates in regards to Federal workforce hiring, “Recruitment should be from qualified individuals from appropriate sources in an endeavor to achieve a work force from all segments of society…” That section continues to require that “selection and advancement should be determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills, after fair and open competition which assures that all receive equal opportunity” and “fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of personnel management without regard to political affiliation, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or handicapping condition…” The value of diversity in a strong national policy is a matter of law. It reflects the character of our nation.

Obama’s executive order legacy

President Obama’s October memorandum directed at our national security workforce is just one in a series of actions and executive orders related to diversity in Federal agencies. In July 2014, President Obama amended President Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 to include sexual orientation and gender identity among discrimination prohibitions. A year after he was elected, President Obama issued Executive Order 13518 “Veterans Employment Initiative.” That particular order is one reason Veteran unemployment has dropped by half in the last five years. It’s a reason Post-9/11 Veteran unemployment has dropped by more than 70 percent.

the strength of our diversity

President Obama argues in his August 2011 Executive Order 13583, “Our Nation derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all.  We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society, and our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspectives are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges.”

And it’s a good reminder of some language we all hold dear: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.