As the transition process for president-elect Donald Trump unfolds, with controversy already swirling around several nominees for key posts, efforts are currently underway to urge the incoming Administration to make appointments and policy decisions that will reflect America's diversity.
Leaders of some two-dozen African-American, Latino, Asian, and Native American groups gathered on Wednesday in the nation's capital, holding a daylong series of meetings with Republican stakeholders and Trump insiders about governing, potential hiring and more.
Participants hailed from myriad professional backgrounds — from Kevin Judd, President of the National Bar Association, to Sonia Pruitt, Vice Chair of the National Black Police Association—along with a cross-section of organizations from around the country.
Among the representatives on hand: the leadership of the African-American Mayors Association, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, among others.
"It was an exciting day. I found the discussions constructive," said State Senator Catherine Pugh of Maryland, the new Mayor-elect of Baltimore, who attended in her role as president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.
"The insight we gained will be helpful when I take office as Mayor, particularly as president-elect Trump has said he wants to fix our inner cities. We'll need federal funding and resources."
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black think tank, co-hosted the gathering in conjunction with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Education Fund. They partnered with INSIGHT America, a policy nonprofit founded in 2013 by prominent black Republicans, among them, former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts, and former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele.
"We've been working on bringing together leaders from both sides of the aisle to discuss issues of importance to African-Americans and other communities of color," said Elroy Sailor, an INSIGHT America co-founder, and a senior advisor to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus (recently tapped as Trump's Chief of Staff). "We want to find common ground on new solutions aimed at solving old problems."
On Wednesday, the various officials were welcomed to the White House, where they engaged in dialogue with members of Barack Obama's Administration. Later that same day, they were guests of the Republican National Committee (RNC) at its headquarters for a sit-down with Congressional aides, lobbyists and at least two African-American members of Trump's transition team, Kay Coles James and Ashley Bell.
James, a former director of the Office of Personnel Management under President George W. Bush, is now the Management and Budget Chair for the Trump-Pence Transition Project. Bell, a senior strategist for the RNC who has helped lead African-American outreach efforts, will serve on the State Department transition team.
"The panel [discussion] was broken up into three areas," said Sailor. "Transition, a legislative agenda for the House and Senate and engaging your Republican state and local leadership."
Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center noted that his staff, INSIGHT America, and dozens of other African-American organizations have been working together on transition issues since this summer.
"We've been in close contact with high-ranking RNC and Democratic National Committee officials," he said. Based on our interactions with [Trump's team], we have every reason to believe that they will have an inclusive administration that draws upon the talents and skills of Americans from all backgrounds and communities," he said.
One key goal, many of the participants agreed, is increasing the pipeline of diversity in federal appointments.
The White House reportedly appoints upwards of 6,000 positions (about 4,000 of them full-time); approximately 1,600 are senior appointments i.e. Cabinet secretaries and ambassadors. Collectively, say experts, these appointees manage more than two million civilian personnel, oversee budgets totaling some $3.5 trillion dollars, and help set policy agenda for the nation.
Historically, inclusiveness in appointments hasn't been a strong point on Capitol Hill. While African-Americans and Latinos account (collectively) for 30 percent of the U.S. population, the groups represented only 8.7 percent of appointees dating back to the Bush Administration.
The numbers are also low for diversity in Congress: according to a Joint Center report on the issue, people of color account for over 36 percent of the U.S. population but represent only 7.1 percent of top staff in personal offices of U.S. Senators.
The Black Talent Initiative and the Latino Talent Initiative (which collectively represent a consortium of 36 African American organizations and 40 Latino organizations nationwide) are currently seeking to identify and vet top candidates of color from various political affiliations for federal appointments, ranging from entry to senior level positions.
Meanwhile, 52 organizations have reached out to the six incoming members of the U.S. Senate asking that they interview and hire candidates of color for top staff positions in their Washington, D.C. offices.
A letter was sent on Friday to newly-elected Senators from California, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada and New Hampshire, and was signed by groups ranging from the NAACP to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).
The timing of these efforts coincides with Trump's recent Cabinet and staffing selections, including the pick of Rep. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for Attorney General on Friday. Early on, the president-elect named Steve Bannon, a so-called "alt-right" conservative, to be a chief White House advisor and strategist. Both men have garnered sharp criticism for allegations of racial insensitivity.
While it remains to be seen what level of diversity will exist in the Trump Administration by inauguration on January 20, 2017, a transition team spokesman said during a media conference call on Friday that there's been great interest in jobs.
More than 51, 000 resumes had been submitted so far via the transition website, Greatagain.gov. He noted that the Administration was seeking "the best and brightest" and that the president-elect "wants to be inclusive."