In response to President Biden’s first executive order in office that aims to advance racial equity and support for underserved communities, the White House on April 14 released summaries of the equity plans agencies have put forth to meet the EO’s requirements.

Plans from the Department of Defense (DoD), Small Business Administration (SBA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Labor (DoL), Department of Education, Department of Energy (DoE), and Health and Human Services (HHS) reveal the myriad of ways that agencies plan to focus on technology, procurement opportunities, and funding to advance equity in their agencies’ missions.

“Advancing equity is not a one-year project – it is a generational commitment that will require sustained leadership and partnership with all communities,” the White House said. “These plans are an important step forward, reflecting the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to make the promise of America real for every American.”

Using Tech to Advance Equity

Plans from the DoD, SBA, DOE, DoL, and Department of Education key in on utilizing technology and data to look to advance the equity of services that citizens receive from those agencies.

DoD is looking to utilize and address the safe and ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI) in order to help drive equity in the agency’s services. The agency notes that the use of AI and machine learning technologies currently raise ethical issues due to the scope, scale, and speed at which they operate. Their use of historical data can also potentially bake in and magnify prior discrimination and inequities.

DoD said it has seen such examples in non-DoD systems, like AI facial recognition performing poorly with people with darker skin tones, and AI resume-screening tools simply magnifying the biases that human screeners hold.

“To address these barriers, the Department will invest in an agency-wide responsible AI development framework to ensure ethical (to include equitable) AI in business as well as battlefield operations and invest in the development of a more diverse AI workforce,” the DoD wrote.

As far as the SBA and DoL, the two agencies are working on incorporating technologies that would make access to their services more accessible. SBA is working on investing in technology to allow its marketplace to more easily connect underserved borrowers with commercial financial institutions. DoL is working to “launch a comprehensive initiative” to address the systemic barriers to accessing unemployment insurance, including working to improve unemployment insurance systems.

DOE is focusing on increasing underserved individuals involved in its research and development process but also has to address current gaps in its data collection process as its number one priority. “DOE will rely on newly-collected demographic data to analyze trends and to determine whether applicants from underrepresented institutions and underserved communities have equitable access to these programs,” the agency wrote.

The Department of Education is working to make sure all students receive an equitable impact from the American Rescue Plan funding.

Procurement and Funding

In addition to investing in technology that would make their services more equitable, Federal agencies also are heavily focused on changing the funding process for entities looking to receive money from their agencies.

Each of the agencies included making the contracting and procurement process more equitable and accessible to underserved and unserved entities.

A more equitable procurement process is a through-line for Federal agencies, with each of the agencies including some form of goal to reform the process through with entities receiving funding in a way that is more equitable, either through grants or the contracting process.

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.