The Civil and Human Rights Executive Order Progress Report
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund released The Civil and Human Rights Executive Order Progress Report, a comprehensive overview that analyzes President Biden’s progress in implementing executive orders that advance civil and human rights. The administration has issued important and groundbreaking executive orders to address LGBTQ+ rights, racial equity, police accountability, health care access, and more. The Progress Report assesses the implementation of 41 directives contained in nine civil and human rights executive orders issued by the Biden administration. To date, 11 out of the 41 directives that were assessed have been fully implemented. While meaningful progress has been made to carry out these orders’ directives, more work must be done and with greater urgency to complete implementation before the conclusion of the president’s term.
The Biden administration’s executive action on civil and human rights has been a hallmark of its policy agenda over the last two years. Of the more than 100 executive orders the administration has issued, approximately half have civil rights implications, including on LGBTQ rights, fair labor protections, health care access, and immigration reform, among many others. With several pending challenges to civil rights at the Supreme Court, including on affirmative action, more executive actions may be needed to further strengthen and advance equity protections.
Most notably, this administration has publicly centered equity in its work, and its executive orders on advancing racial equity issued on January 21, 2021 and February 16, 2023 are groundbreaking. However, there is more the administration can and should do.
In many cases, these orders have been responsive to pressing policy needs, and their content has been fairly comprehensive. But that is not true across the board.
Advocates have noted that some executive orders do not go far enough or fail to address crucial issues. For instance, the president’s sole executive order on voting, which has already been assessed in a complementary progress report, does not address ongoing efforts to undermine democratic institutions and processes, including election mis- and dis-information — nor does it seek to remedy pervasive attacks against election officials and poll workers that threaten nationwide shortages during future elections. Similarly, President Biden’s Executive Order on Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices to Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety does not address all areas of concern to civil rights advocates.
Criticisms have been leveled at the administration for ignoring some policy areas altogether or moving too slowly. Executive orders have not been issued on protections against housing discrimination, fair lending policies, and consumer protections. And while this year the administration acknowledged that emerging threats like algorithmic bias and discrimination deserved close scrutiny by agency civil rights offices, it has not yet issued an executive order focused on artificial intelligence (AI).
President Biden deserves much credit for issuing these orders, but issuing them is just the first step. Follow-through and implementation are equally — if not more — important. Few of the directives assessed have been fully implemented, and some have seen only incremental progress. Among the 41 directives assessed, only 11 have been fulfilled in their entirety, while the rest appear to have been only partly accomplished — and to varying degrees.
For these orders to be fully implemented, the White House — as well as federal agencies — must significantly bolster oversight and accountability. The February 2023 racial equity executive order is a strong starting point. It urges agencies to designate teams responsible for implementation, to bolster civil rights offices, and to ensure that civil rights officers report to agency heads. It also creates a White House Steering Committee on Equity. Together, these bodies and designees are charged with asserting a whole-of-government approach to advancing equity and provide a promising path forward for implementation.
While meaningful progress has been made to carry out these orders’ directives, more work must be done and with greater urgency to complete implementation before the conclusion of the president’s term.