On his first day in office, President Biden signed Executive Order 13985 on “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.” In doing so, the President called for a total transformation of the government into an entity that centers the concerns of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and underserved communities.
At the Department of Energy (DOE), this meant embarking on a range of efforts focused on identifying barriers for underserved communities to access DOE programs, benefits, services, or procurement opportunities, all areas that further the Biden Administration’s whole-of-Government approach to advance equity.
Across the complex we engaged in a comprehensive evaluation of the whole of our activities, including deep assessments in Procurement, Financial Assistance, Research and Development (R&D), Demonstration and Deployment, and Stakeholder Engagement. These five subject areas were led by senior leaders from across the Department and supported by over 150 personnel.
Finally, after over 10 months’ worth of planning, the Department submitted its first-ever plan to advance equity and diversity at the agency to the White House.
DOE Equity Action Plan
DOE’s new Equity Action Plan puts a spotlight on equity and justice which are at the heart of the agency’s mission. From households that experience the brunt of energy burdens and battle energy insecurity to universities using Department funding to accelerate the deployment and adoption of cleaner, more affordable power, we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to deliver on this promise.
Within this new roadmap are five strategic equity goals which are the foundation for helping us create a more inclusive, diverse environment. These pillars, which will be carried out over the next several years, include:
- Addressing gaps in data collection to facilitate data-informed decision-making
The first action is foundational because it will allow the Department to know where it stands regarding who participates in its business opportunities. With this information, we will be able to effectively strategize to ensure all communities benefits from the Department’s resources. From then on, each successive goal aims to increase participation by underserved communities.
- Increasing opportunities for new applicants to DOE funding opportunities
Our second goal aims to improve how the DOE communicates about its opportunities and alleviate resource constraints (e.g., financial, IT, human resources, etc.) through a range of activities, including the creation of a central portal for DOE acquisition opportunities and streamlining and/or relaxing subcontracting requirements.
- Increasing participation in DOE R&D and financial assistance programs
The third goal seeks to increase diversity in financial assistance from the agency. This goal includes the full spectrum of R&D activities, including basic and applied research, for women; Small Disadvantaged Businesses; Minority Serving Institutions, persons with disabilities; Black, Latino, Indigenous, and Native American persons; Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other persons of color; and the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Expanding strategic Tribal and stakeholder engagement across DOE programs
Goal four stands alone because we understand that stakeholder engagement is critical to building trust with diverse stakeholders and Tribal entities. We aim to build this trust by bringing in experts in stakeholder engagement that can create a unified, DOE-wide tribal and stakeholder engagement plan.
- Improving access and equity in DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)
Finally, DOE will take actions to improve the accessibility of WAP by lowering deferral rates and improving the efficiency of the energy auditing process so that dwellings owned or occupied by low-income persons can receive the benefits of WAP.
Embedding Equity into DOE
While our Equity Action Plan is a big leap forward in bringing the President’s executive order to life, this is just one way we’re advancing equity within the Department. Within the past year since this legislation was signed, we’ve provided $12 million to 13 Native American and Alaska Native communities for projects that will reduce energy costs and increase energy security and resiliency, piloted a program requiring all financial assistance applicants to submit a plan demonstrating how federally funded financial assistance projects will incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion elements to promote the representation and participation of different groups in the R&D space, and designed the Communities Local Energy Action Program pilot, specifically open to low-income, energy-burdened communities to help develop community-driven plans to more effectively leverage public and private sector resources to reduce local air pollution, increase energy resilience, lower utility costs and energy burdens, and create good-paying jobs. Transforming our energy system into any equitable one starts with us – and it starts with ensuring our own practices and policies support America’s diverse energy prosperity.
Bottom line: we can no longer think of equity, justice, and fairness as only ideals. Instead, they must be guiding principles we are held accountable for every day that turn into meaningful actions. Through these commitments at the Department – and across the entire federal government – we can begin the work to undo the injustices faced by our country’s BIPOC citizens and underserved communities.