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Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks at the Department of Justice Diversity and Inclusion Speaker Series


United States

Thank you, Tony [West], for those kind words, and for your leadership as Associate Attorney General.  I would also like to thank Richard Parker, every member of the Diversity Management Advisory Council, and the entire Executive Staff for bringing us together today – and for your continuing efforts to strengthen our nation’s legal and law enforcement communities.  It is a pleasure to join you, once again, for the Diversity and Inclusion Speaker Series.

Every day, leaders in and far beyond this Great Hall are charged with carrying out some of the most demanding – and, at times, dangerous – work in all of government.  The responsibilities that this Justice Department is called to fulfill are widely varied.  And the work we do serves every segment of American society – and defends the values, of diversity and inclusion, that have always been among our nation’s greatest strengths.

During the last year alone, Department employees have led our efforts to challenge voting restrictions that may disproportionately affect communities of color; to combat health care and Medicare fraud targeting vulnerable citizens; and to hold lenders accountable for housing discrimination against Americans with disabilities.  With last year’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, you helped secure crucial new provisions that are bringing hope and healing to victims of intimate partner violence – and expanding access to justice for LGBT individuals and victims on tribal lands.  You’re improving our ability to prosecute hate crimes under the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2009.  You’re formulating new policies, helping us to operate more efficiently, and providing critical support to state and local law enforcement allies.  And ever since the Supreme Court’s historic decision last summer – in United States v. Windsor – you are striving to ensure that lawfully married same-sex couples can finally receive the federal benefits, the rights, and the protections they deserve. 

Thanks to your tireless efforts – in all of our activities – today’s Department of Justice has proven its commitment to preserving the principles of equality, opportunity, and justice for all – from America’s courtrooms to our voting booths; from our military bases to our schools; and from our boardrooms to our border areas.  We’ve shown our dedication to upholding the fundamental rights of everyone in this country – regardless of race, creed, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, economic means, social status, or sexual orientation.  And thanks to Richard and other key leaders who are here this morning, we’re not merely upholding these rights through our day-to-day investigative and enforcement efforts.  The Justice Department is leading by example. 

Especially over the last 12 months – a time that’s been defined by sequestration, unprecedented budgetary challenges, and even an unnecessary government shutdown – the Department’s work has in many ways never been more difficult.  And yet – even in the face of significant hardship – your extraordinary efforts, and those of your colleagues, have enabled us to make essential progress – reinforcing our determination to ensure integrity and equal justice in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community. 

And whether you’re here at Main Justice today, or watching this program on the Justice Television Network; whether you investigate and prosecute crimes committed in remote communities, or sift through reams of evidence or discovery materials; whether you place your life on the line to bring dangerous criminals to justice, or facilitate diversion and drug treatment programs; and whether you’re stationed here in Washington, around the country, or even overseas – your perspective is unique.  Your work is valuable.  Your skill set, and individual background, qualifies you to serve your fellow Americans.  And it is because of these unique qualifications – and the fact that we’re making a concerted effort to recruit and retain a workforce that’s reflective of our nation’s rich diversity – that the Department of Justice is as strong as it is today. 

This is something I’ve come to appreciate over the course of my career – since I first joined this institution more than three and a half decades ago: that this Department can only be both credible and effective when we foster an inclusive work environment that allows every employee to learn, to grow, and to thrive, personally as well as professionally – no matter who they are or where they’re from.  By seeking out the very best and brightest, we strengthen this institution and improve its work.  And by ensuring a supportive atmosphere, we enhance our collective ability – as government leaders – to achieve better results, to develop new innovations, and to make the most of everyone’s skills and talents by building a cohesive team.

This is why, more than a decade ago – as Deputy Attorney General – I made it a priority to advance Department-wide efforts to foster increased diversity.  When I returned to this building as Attorney General, I expanded and further institutionalized these efforts by issuing a new Diversity Management Plan.  And since then, thanks to the leadership of Channing Phillips, Richard Parker, and many others, we’ve made great strides in enabling the Department to tap – and to broaden – the knowledge, the skills, and the potential of every employee and every member of our nation’s legal and law enforcement communities – from the lawyers and administrative personnel in this building, to our law enforcement officials on the front lines. 

 Together, we have developed initiatives like the Diversity and Inclusion Dialogue Program – a six-month pilot program under which five DOJ components – the Antitrust Division, the Environment and Natural Resources Division, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Tax Division – will convene discussions related to diversity in our workforce.  They will address topics like self-identity and privilege, gender and generational differences, race and sexual orientation.  And I’m confident that this program – which is modeled on an immensely successful initiative developed by agency leaders at NASA – will serve to increase collaboration across our components and maximize resources in the process.

In addition, a variety of new and expanded mentorship initiatives – including our Attorney Mentor Program, Flash Mentoring, and the Justice Management Division’s Formal Mentoring program – which will grow this year to include the Office of Justice Programs and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys –are helping us make good on our commitment to professional development for all employees.  Other formal and informal mentoring opportunities are providing employees at various levels with new ways to strengthen their skill sets, to contribute to our mission, to network with colleagues, and to obtain the tools they need to advance their careers and achieve their aspirations. 

This is promising work.  But like you, I also recognize that building a stronger and more effective Justice Department is about much more than cultivating current talent.  It’s about creating new avenues for qualified individuals, and especially young professionals, to join our efforts – and get connected with appropriate job resources in offices nationwide.  That’s why we’ve launched a DOJ Ambassadors program, which has identified and trained approximately 160 Department recruiting ambassadors to conduct outreach to law schools and student organizations – and to encourage an exceptional field of diverse candidates to consider careers in federal public service.  We’ve introduced a hiring initiative – called FedRecruit – which works to recruit and hire interns with disabilities.  And we’re taking a variety of steps to encourage similar individual efforts that are being led by DOJ components – and U.S. Attorneys’ offices across the country – to engage and retain hardworking men and women from widely varied backgrounds.

Particularly with the new resources Congress has provided under the recent bipartisan funding agreement – which have finally enabled us to lift the hiring freeze that had been in place for just over three years – I believe we have an important opportunity and responsibility to be proactive in our diversity efforts, and to cast an increasingly wide net as we seek to bolster the Department’s workforce.  Statistics show that, in recent years, women and people of color have made up a greater percentage of both licensed lawyers and law students.  Progress remains too often slow, and the law continues to lag behind many other fields.  So we need to ensure that the coming decades witness an uptick in the number of women, people with disabilities, people of color, and new immigrants finding productive avenues into this profession and others across the American workforce.  And the Department will need to continue to adjust and adapt in order to faithfully serve – and to draw upon – the strengths of an increasingly diverse population. 

That’s why it’s essential that we redouble our efforts – starting here and now – to ensure that young people consider careers not just in public service, in the legal profession, or in law enforcement – but here at the Department of Justice.  A Department that’s representative of the nation we protect.  A Department that’s prepared to compete for the most qualified people in America.  And a Department that’s equipped to empower each of them to develop their skills – and bring their talents to bear – in service of their fellow citizens. 

Now, I know it may be tempting, for some – when they look at the accomplished professionals in this room, or the lawyer who works in the Oval Office, or consider the fact that I have the privilege of serving as Attorney General of the United States – to feel that this country’s long struggle to overcome disparity and discrimination has ended. But as Justice Sonia Sotomayor said  just yesterday in her courageous and personal dissent in the Michigan college admissions case, we ought not, “wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. …The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race.” The reality is that, as you all know – and as many of you see in your work each day – this great country still has a ways to go before our founding promise of equal justice and equal opportunity is fully realized.  And progress will require not just open and honest dialogue, but a willingness to confront these difficult issues through principled action – to address and remediate the lingering impacts of racial discrimination.

Throughout history, America’s success has always rested on our ability to imagine new solutions and confront new frontiers; on the capacity of citizens from different backgrounds and walks of life to use their unique understanding to move us forward.  This country has been a global leader in innovation since its earliest days.  And as we seek to safeguard the progress that’s been made over the years, and extend the efforts of our forebears, we must be able to match their ingenuity, and muster new resources, to create 21st century solutions to the 21st century challenges we face.

Today, thanks to the dedicated efforts of employees in every office and component, we are taking meaningful steps to do just that; to promote diversity within our ranks; and to build upon the hard-won progress our nation has made in opening the doors of opportunity for all Americans.  I want to assure you, this morning, that I remain as passionate, as idealistic, and as personally committed to this work, as ever before.  I am excited to see our efforts reinvigorated by the new resources the Department has secured.  And like you, I am determined to keep expanding on the advances we’ve seen in order to allow today’s leaders as well as future attorneys general – and future administrations of both parties – to benefit from the great work that you all have set in motion.

I have no illusions that this task will be easy, or that deeply ingrained disparities can be erased overnight.  But as long as we can count on the insights, the experiences, and the contributions that Americans from every background and circumstance have to offer, I’m confident that we can meet the challenges, and seize the opportunities, now before us.  And I’m certain that we’ll be able to address the most urgent and seemingly intractable issues of our time.  It is this unique ability that makes this country exceptional.

So I want to thank you all, once again, for your dedication to this work.  I am grateful for, and inspired by, your leadership of this effort.  I urge every one of you to keep it up – and never stop calling on our country to aim higher, to become better, and to grow more inclusive.  And I look forward to all that we must, and surely will, achieve together in the months and years to come.

Updated August 18, 2015