IDAHO FALLS — National laboratories nationwide, including Idaho National Laboratory, have been ordered to suspend all diversity, equity and inclusion-related trainings pending an investigation of all such programs.
U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette named a task team on Aug. 25 “to investigate all aspects related to certain allegations and reports concerning diversity, equity and inclusion workshops and training sessions provided to personnel at Department of Energy laboratories, among other places,” DOE General Counsel Bill Cooper wrote in a Sept. 4 memo to the chief lawyers at INL and the nation’s national laboratories.
“According to media and other reports, the training sessions involved methods and content offensive to employees and their personal values and common notions of diversity and inclusion,” Cooper continued. “This appointed task team has been delegated departmental authority to take any and all actions, consistent with the law and regulations, to determine whether all activities promoted and conducted by the department’s contractors or subcontractors are in full accordance with the law, department policies, and applicable contracts.”
The memo directs national laboratories to preserve any and all documents and materials related to diversity workshops or training programs, such as contracts, memos, emails, training materials, financial records and employee feedback, so DOE can review them. In the meantime, the memo tells national laboratories to “suspend the training sessions until further written notice.”
INL and the DOE’s Idaho office declined to comment for this story or discuss what trainings were being conducted at INL before, deferring to DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Brouillette’s actions and this suspension of diversity training programs at national laboratories are part of a recent push from President Donald Trump to end such programs across the federal government. Also on Sept. 4, the same day as Cooper’s memo, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought sent a memo to federal agency heads condemning critical race theory, a school of thought that views white supremacy as something perpetuated by societal and governmental institutions and that has been responsible for introducing concepts such as white privilege into the wider discourse. Vought called these trainings “divisive, anti-American propaganda” and directed agencies to identify all contracts and spending related to trainings involving critical race theory or white privilege or that portray the U.S. as “an inherently racist or evil country” or paint any particular group as such.
“The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the federal government,” Vought wrote.
Trump’s push to end federal employee diversity training programs may at least in part trace its origins to conservative pushback against a diversity training given at Sandia National Laboratories in 2019. Christopher Rufo, a conservative filmmaker and writer, went on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight in mid-August to criticize a training program there at which, he said, white male executives had to “essentially break down their white male identity, confess their sins to diversity trainers” and write letters of apology to women and people of color. A day later, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., wrote to Brouillette to express concerns about the trainings at Sandia and request a review similar to what Brouillette has ordered.
Outgoing INL Director Mark Peters, who will be leaving soon for a job as executive vice president for laboratory operations at Battelle, has been a public supporter of efforts to increase diversity in INL’s workforce. A couple of times he has indirectly criticized Idaho lawmakers over policy debates that, he feared, would make recruitment harder by making the state look intolerant. For example, Peters expressed concern about two bills that passed earlier this year to ban transgender girls and women from female school sports teams and bar transgender people from changing their birth certificates.