A general view of the U.S. Agency for International Development headquarters in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Graeme Sloan / Sipa USA

BURLINGTON, Vt. — The U.S. Agency for International Development has paused diversity and inclusion trainings in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order on combating race and sex stereotyping.

The guidance released by USAID on Wednesday night, and obtained by Devex, ordered the heads of all bureaus to “put a hold on upcoming diversity and inclusion trainings, seminars, and other related fora as we, in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), conduct a review of the content of these programs.”

The guidance said implementation of the executive order would be led by Rick Guy, deputy director of the Center for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.

"I know that there are many unanswered questions regarding the implementation of this Executive Order. Not only are there questions about our own training, but there are also questions about training undertaken by our implementing partners as well," said the guidance, signed by USAID Acting Administrator John Barsa.

“To highlight the complexity of this issue, it is worth noting that many of our implementing partners work not just with USAID but with other organizations as well — hence the need for close coordination with OMB and interagency partners to ensure consistent guidance,” Barsa added.

On Sept. 22, Trump issued an executive order in an attempt to “combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating,” based on the administration’s belief that trainings including terms such as "critical race theory," "white privilege," "intersectionality," "systemic racism," "positionality," "racial humility," and "unconscious bias" are divisive and discriminatory.

An accompanying memorandum instructs agencies to identify training programs related to diversity and inclusion held during fiscal year 2020, including those conducted by outside vendors, and determine the amount spent on them. They are also ordered to review the trainings to determine whether they “teach, advocate, or promote the divisive concepts” and to include provisions in future contracts prohibiting training that is inconsistent with the executive order.

Earlier on Wednesday, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s new Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization sent an email to staff that ordered a pause on all training.

“Effective immediately, if not already implemented as a follow up to last week’s [senior management meeting], all training must be put on pause,” Pete Marocco, a political appointee who serves as the bureau’s assistant administrator, wrote Wednesday in an email to staff members under the subject line “All Training Paused,” which Devex obtained.

“This includes all partners, programs and implementers in the field. This pertains to the E.O. on combating race and sex stereotyping. We anticipate that we will be getting additional guidance as soon as possible,” Marocco wrote.

It was not immediately clear why Marocco's email appeared to suggest a broader pause on all training, as opposed to those related specifically to diversity and inclusion.

The executive order and accompanying memo do not appear to suggest that agencies should immediately freeze all trainings to carry out their review and reporting obligations.

“Agencies should continue all training that will foster a workplace that is respectful of all employees,” reads the memo for the heads of executive departments and agencies sent by Russell Vought, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, on Monday.

Marocco has generated controversy — and sharp criticism from his own staff — for previous efforts to alter and disrupt the operations of the Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization. He has previously required that he personally approve funding and hiring decisions, sought to end country programs he deemed expendable, and redirected funding toward his own priorities.

Update, Oct. 1, 2020: This article has been recast and updated with more details from USAID.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.