Last week, Kerry Eleveld wrote an important column asking if we can continue to advocate while the reelection is underway. Her answer is yes – and, no surprise, I agree.
In her piece, Kerry mentioned the work that our national advocacy organizations had done on the administrative changes we needed in the federal government:
At the outset of the Obama administration, both the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign provided the Obama transition team with a lengthy list of recommendations — mostly for actions by individual agency level — that would vastly improve the lives of LGBT Americans and could be accomplished entirely at the discretion of the president via executive action.
“For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, the election of a fair-minded president provides vast opportunities to advance equality in material ways on an accelerated timetable,” read the opening sentence of HRC’s Blue Print for Positive Change, which was provided to incoming administration officials in December of 2008.
The documents were thorough and exhaustive, with HRC’s running around 25 pages and NGLTF’s coming in at over 200 pages and, while some of the initiatives outlined in these policy papers have been accomplished, the vast majority of them remain either untouched or only partially addressed. In fact, after laying out approximately 80 initiatives in its New Beginnings Initiative, NGLTF lists only nine accomplishments on its success tracker page, which was set up to follow how many administrative actions have been taken by the administration.
I’ll admit that most of my attention over the past two years has been focused on the legislative changes that were possible given the make up of Congress. As we know, that all didn’t pan out.
So, over the weekend, I did some digging to find out what this administrative effort was all about – and who was behind it. Two things struck me that tend to define much of LGBT advocacy: A lot of money was spent and we haven’t seen a lot of results. If you read this full post, you’ll see that despite spending millions on two separate efforts (New Beginnings Initiative and Federal Agencies Project), our advocates have obtained 11 of the over 80 items they asked for from the Obama administration. Remember, we’re talking about administrative changes. The Obama administration didn’t need legislative action to fulfill these requests. These asks were all within the executive authority of the President. Despite this lack of success, we haven’t really heard a single negative thing — or even a request for grassroots/netroots help — from our advocacy groups.
Both HRC and the Task Force heavily promoted their administrative work, but the Task Force made a priority of the administrative work. There was a lot of buzz around a major meeting between Obama transition officials and LGBT leaders. And, for the record, among the attendees at the December 2008 meeting was then-personnel director for the transition/soon-to-be Deputy Chief of Staff/now-campaign manager for the reelection, Jim Messina. Funny how often he’s around when LGBT equality is at stake. Early on, some advocates were quite enthusiastic about hopes for administrative changes.
The Task Force named its project the New Beginning Initiative:
Prior to the 2008 general election, the New Beginning Initiative (NBI) coalition partners developed a non-exhaustive list of priorities for the new Administration. After President Obama’s historic election in November 2008, the NBI shared its policy recommendations with the transition team. Since that time we’ve been working with the Administration and federal administrative agencies to make changes that benefit the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
So, the list was “non-exhaustive” and was shared with Team Obama back in November of 2008. So, apparently, it was even before the big December 2008 meeting that NGLTF gave its presentation to the transition team. From what I understand, working on the administrative policy was the top priority of the Task Force. Their website also informs us that the New Beginnings Initiative at NGLTF is funded by Open Society Institute.
For some reason, the Task Force publicly launched (or relaunched) the NBI initiative again on June 25, 2009. That was an interesting time. The Obama administration was under pressure from the LGBT community for the infamous DOMA brief, which broke on June 12, 2009. Also, it was a couple days before the first White House A-list cocktail party, which Carey attended.
The website of NGLTF invites all of us to “Review Policy Recommendations and Track Success!” But, that’s not really possible. NGLTF’s website used to list all of the 80 initial policy recommendations – with check marks for those that were completed. But, that full list has been removed. So, now, there a list of the items that have been accomplished. Of the initial 80, there are 10 checkmarks for completed actions.
Here’s a screen capture to give an example of what the New Beginnings Initiative document looks like. It was very clearly laid out, including “Policy Recommendations,” “Recommendations for Change,” and, often “Process for Making Changes”:
This was a very well-thought out program.
In January of 2010, one year into the Obama administration, a “new project” called “Federal Agencies Project” was launched.
Here’s the press release from the Haas, Jr. Foundation website:
A new project dedicated to making federal agency policies and practices more responsive to the rights and needs of the LGBT community has been announced by Public Interest Projects (PIP), the effort’s fiscal sponsor. The new project, currently being developed, will work in close collaboration with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation, Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. The effort will bring additional resources to the efforts of organizations already working on non-legislative policy changes critical to the health, well-being and equality of LGBT people.
So, in early January of 2010, we needed this new project to make federal agencies “more responsive.” After a full year of the Obama administration, it must have been pretty clear that the administrative goals weren’t being achieved.
We learned, via Chris Johnson’s reporting, some of the details about this new entity:
According to an undated proposal obtained by DC Agenda, the group plans to aid the New Beginnings Initiative — a project led by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force — and seeks to accelerate policy change within the administration this year while the Democrats control Congress.
The project has three main objectives: providing technical assistance for pro-LGBT policy changes in the Obama administration, ensuring LGBT people are represented in the federal government and advocating for an LGBT voice in the broader administration agenda.
A document outlining the project’s goals says the initiative “seeks no attribution for its role” and will work to provide the New Beginnings Initiative with “needed technical and strategic assistance as it works on many fronts, with many people, in a relatively short timeframe.”
That timeframe is still ongoing. And, it wasn’t cheap:
A source familiar with the project, who spoke to DC Agenda on condition of anonymity, said the Gill Foundation and the Arcus Foundation are among donors to the new initiative.
Matt Foreman, a former head of the Task Force, is project director for the new organization, the source said. Foreman currently works as a program director for the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. He didn’t immediately respond to DC Agenda’s request for comment on the new project.
The project’s budget is about $1.2 million for 2010, according to the documents obtained by DC Agenda. A considerable portion of the budget — about $650,000 — will be allotted for salaries for the staff, which will consist of the project director and three other staffers. Another $400,000 will be used to fund short-term consultants.
That’s real money. A lot of the big donors seem to have chipped in for this. You know who the Gill Foundation is. The Arcus Foundation is the creation of billionaire John Stryker. The Gill Foundation gave the Federal Agencies Project a grant of $100,000.
A lot of money and time has been invested in achieving the administrative goals from the Obama administration. So, where are we now? That’s a good question. The New Beginnings Initiative recently convened an unpublicized meeting here in DC. On March 10 and 11, 2011, 45 groups attended sessions at Task Force’s office on Mass. Ave. They heard from, among other, the White House LGBT liaison Brian Bond.
Secrecy was, of course, demanded from the participants. Most, as usual, complied. But, I did learn that Bond told the participants that they’d see major progress within 15 – 45 days. We’re on about day 32 since he spoke. He also told the advocates “pressure doesn’t work” — and not to leak any news of this undertaking. Obviously, almost all of those advocates accepted his admonition because we didn’t really hear too much.
I have to laugh every time I hear someone from the White House say pressure doesn’t work. First, the President told us to pressure him (although, he really doesn’t seem to like it from the progressive side.) And, as someone who has watched this White House up close, the only thing that makes them move is outside pressure. Unfortunately, too many establishment groups value their access more than their success. Many progressive leaders worry more about relationships than progress. That’s one price they all pay to keep going to the White House-sponsored, top-secret Common Purpose meeting (and trepresentatives from the Task Force and HRC do attend.)
Just for comparison sake, there was a totally inside game on ENDA. No one leaked anything or tried to use an outside game to build pressure. I can’t remember ever getting key info. on ENDA. But, on DADT repeal, there was an intense outside game. Look what happened.
In reading through all of this info over the weekend, it became increasingly clear that we can’t just ask for piecement solutions. A lot of our advocates clearly put a lot of time and energy into this process. But, to what end?
This whole exercise brings me back to Kerry’s column. We really need the President to do what Kerry suggested last week — address five key areas:
Rather than assembling a patchwork of progress agency by agency, President Obama should issue executive orders or amend existing ones that set a government-wide precedent for equality in the following ways:
1) Directing the federal government to include LGBT Americans in all federal level data collection efforts.
2) Mandating that all federal contractors must have policies providing nondiscrimination protections for their employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
3) Prohibiting federal funds from being used to discriminate against LGBT Americans.
4) Prohibiting discrimination against military service members on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
5) Adding gender identity protections to President Clinton’s executive order 13087, which protected civilian federal workers from bias based on their sexual orientation.
As I started putting this post together, I thought it would only be fair to check in with the Task Force to get a status check on NBI — and to ask if the organization agreed with those five points laid out by Kerry. Here’s the response from National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Deputy Executive Director Darlene Nipper:
The administration and individual agencies continue to move forward on policy priorities aimed at the LGBT community.
When we started this work nearly two years ago, the NBI coalition submitted a list of approximately 80 recommendations to the new administration during the transition from the election to inauguration. Since that time, we’ve identified new opportunities and adjusted our strategy to reflect this reality. We have 11 NBI coalition-related accomplishments to date, though that does not count all positive changes at the agency level. And, an HHS announcement on April 1 indicated that several additional changes will be implemented in the coming weeks and months.
While this is progress, we know more remains to be done. The NBI coalition continues to advocate for changes via the White House and federal agencies. The coalition
put forth an extensive list of recommendations that we expect the Obama administration to implement. We’ll keep pushing until the White House delivers on all of them.
While the five elements that Kerry identified represent important changes, we believe each one of the 80-plus recommendations put forth by the NBI coalition is critically important. And, we must ensure that we achieve lasting policy changes that are protected from the chopping block of future administrations that don’t stand with us. Our wins must be achieved in ways that cannot be easily undone.
Um, yeah. When we have 11 out of 80, seems pretty clear “more remains to be done.” We’re batting around .1375. My understanding is that policy changes at the departmental level are far more easily undone than an executive order at the Presidential level. That’s why we’d be way better off with an Executive Order from Obama.
After spending the past couple days reading through a lot of this, I’m still not sure why more hasn’t been accomplished. This was supposed to be the easy part, since the Obama administration didn’t need legislation. The plan was all laid out for them. Yet, we’ve gotten 11 out of the 80 or so recommendations. Sure sounds like the federal agencies — and the White House — still need to be “more responsive.”
Lots of money and time have been spent on both the New Beginnings Initiative and the Federal Agencies Project, over the past 2 and half years. Several of the biggest LGBT donors, including Stryker and Gill, have ponied up. I have to wonder if the big donors are happy with this 14% progress — or if they even know. Because a lot of the LGBT community is unaware that our most basic requests haven’t been fulfilled — not even close.