Dear Leader Schumer, Leader McConnell, Leader Scalise, and Leader Jeffries:
We, the undersigned organizations, are dedicated advocates for civil and human rights, including members of U.S. military families and veteran communities. As Senate and House conferees meet to discuss their differing versions of the FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), we write to express grave concerns about dangerous provisions included in the House and Senate-passed versions. These provisions threaten the health and welfare of servicemembers and their families, undermine diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in the military, and harm recruitment, retention, and force readiness.
We appreciate Congress’ previous support for the military’s DEI initiatives to enhance equity, cohesion, and ensure force readiness. In 2020, Congress mandated that the DoD institute a Chief Diversity Officer, establish Senior Advisors for DEI in each service, and include diversity and inclusion data in the National Defense Strategy. Similarly, DoD leadership has repeatedly emphasized the importance of DEI-related initiatives. This year, the Under Secretary for Military Personnel and Readiness, the Honorable Gilbert Cisneros, Jr., testified before Congress that DEI was as a “force multiplier,” saying “With the Department’s priority mission to provide a combat-credible Force, we must prioritize a force that is lethal, resilient, and reflective of America’s diversity.”
This critical support is under attack. There are eighteen provisions in the House version of the 2024 NDAA (H.R. 2670)and four provisions in the Senate version (S. 2226) that threaten to rollback this progress and severely impede future DEI and related efforts (See Appendix A). For example, H.R. 2670 Sec. 904 would eliminate the Chief Diversity Officer, while H.R. 2670 Sec. 570F would do the same to DEI offices across the DoD. Other provisions target minorities within the military, prohibiting critical types of gender-affirming care for servicemembers and their families (H.R. 2670 Secs. 640C and 717). Another set of provisions target inclusive training and educational curriculum in the DoD, falsely suggesting that content addressing diversity and equity promotes racism and discrimination (H.R. 2670 Secs. 566 and 660, among others).
Investment in DEI initiatives remains critical to ensuring the strength and cohesion of the U.S. military. By 2027, the majority of adults eligible for military service will identify as racial or ethnic minorities. However, a 2021 survey of servicemembers and their families showed that nearly a third of respondents, who identified as racial or ethnic minorities, stated discrimination concerns factored into their decision of whether to remain in the military. Furthermore, the majority of minority servicemembers have witnessed racism in the ranks. Black and Latino servicemembers remain vastly under-represented in the officer Corps, compared to their numbers in the force as a whole. LGBTQ+ servicemembers also report discrimination; one survey showed over 80 percent had faced sexual harassment or assault during their service. Another study showed respondents with multiple historically marginalized identities faced even great challenges, reportedly“feeling isolated, disconnected, and sometimes dismissed by their military peers.” Lastly, it is well-documented that discrimination against minority servicemembers reverberates throughout the force, undermining unit cohesion,exacerbating extremist threats, limiting recruitment and retention, and damaging force readiness.
We urge Congress to support the DoD’s essential work of promoting the welfare of servicemembers and their families to ensure the success of an increasingly diverse force. The FY 2024 NDAA must exclude the 22 provisions that limit or undermine DEI efforts, target health and other benefits for minority servicemembers, and threaten progress made to address extremism impacting the military and veteran communities. Thank you for your attention to this matter.