Advancing Equity at the Department of the Interior


An All-of-Government Approach

The Biden-Harris administration is mobilizing an all-of-government approach to advance equity and justice across the federal government.  

On Day One of his term, President Biden signed the “Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.” The Order established that the federal government would pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.  

Since then, the Department of the Interior has worked to implement an ambitious agenda to center justice, equity and inclusion in our work. 

Interior Department’s Action Plan

In February of 2022, Secretary Deb Haaland established the first-ever Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) Council to incorporate these practices into the Department’s work across its many bureaus. The establishment of this council was a proactive step toward embedding DEIA principles and actions into the mission of the Department and its bureaus. The DEIA Council established executive leadership across the Department to coordinate the development and implementation of specific policies, programs and initiatives. With representatives from senior leadership in every bureau, the Council works to ensure that decision-making processes include input from employees at all levels. 

The Department followed up on these efforts with the launch of its first Equity Action Plan, which outlined efforts to advance equity through all operations, remove barriers to equal opportunity, and deliver resources and benefits equitably to the general public.

The 2023 Equity Action Plan, released this month, focuses on five areas of high equity impact: Equitable Access to Public Programs, Trust in Law Enforcement, Equity in Contracting, Access to Public Lands, and Environmental Justice. 

Equitable Access to Public Programs 

Hands together

The President’s Investing in America agenda provides historic funding to the Department, allowing it to expand existing programs while creating new, transformative initiatives focused on creating good-paying jobs and building prosperity from the bottom up and middle out.

The Department is actively working to identify and remove barriers to accessing these programs. Public lands accessibility focuses on ensuring that everyone benefits from the experiences offered by America’s public land, such as national parks, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas. This means removing existing and potential barriers by reasonably modifying the Department’s programs and activities to permit equitable access for people who have disabilities as well as provide meaningful access for members of the public who may be limited English proficient.  

The Department is also increasing staff to better meet communities where they are, including reaching out proactively to communities to advertise opportunities. Increased staff in this area also means more compliance reviews, partnerships to uphold civil rights statutes and better enforcement of antidiscrimination policies. 

Trust in Law Enforcement 

Woman in LE uniform poses in front of National Monument

The Department continues to develop and implement policies that advance transparent and accountable policing practices while providing mental health and wellness support to officers in order to foster greater trust in law enforcement.

The Department’s Law Enforcement Task Force, established in 2021 by Secretary Haaland, was charged with implementing a vision of utilizing an equity lens and evidence-based decision making to identify opportunities for improvement in the agency’s law enforcement programs.

In October 2022, the Department announced new policies that established clear guidelines on use of force standards, required law enforcement officers to wear body-worn cameras, and restricted the use of no-knock warrants. The updates were part of the Department’s continuing implementation of President Biden’s May 2022 Executive Order to Advance Effective, Accountable Policing and Strengthen Public Safety.

In October 2023, the Department released a new report offering a series of recommendations to assist federal law enforcement and communities strengthen trust, accountability and collaboration through community-focused law enforcement. The report lists 12 overarching improvements to enhance the trust afforded to Interior Department law enforcement, support the safety, health and wellness of officers, and ensure that law enforcement programs effectively continue to provide for safe and equitable access to public lands and the free exercise of fundamental rights in public spaces. 

Equity in Contracting 

President Biden signing paper at table with 5 others standing behind him

The Department is committed to advancing equity by eliminating barriers in the way we award contracts.  

The Buy Indian Act is one of our best tools for empowering Native-owned businesses as federal contractors. Passed over 100 years ago, this law gives the Department the authority to set aside procurement contracts for Indian-owned and controlled businesses – eliminating certain barriers that might otherwise disqualify these businesses from federal contracts.  

The thoughtful implementation of this essential law means that we are not just advancing our mission, but that we’re doing so while empowering and uplifting Native businesses. It also allows the Department to help remedy decades of underfunding across Indian Country by harnessing the purchasing power of the federal government.

In 2022, the Department announced new regulations to improve implementation of the Buy Indian Act and promote meaningful economic development opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs across Indian Country.  

Through a new web resource, employees, Tribes and the public can now access training and stakeholder engagement opportunities, and obtain information for Native American-owned businesses, providing an easily accessible way to identify and enhance the use of Indigenous vendors for federal contract opportunities.

Last year, Interior’s bureaus awarded over $1.4 billion to Native-owned businesses, with Indian Affairs bureaus awarding more than 70 percent of eligible contract funds to Native business owners. The Department also held the first joint “Buy Indian Industry Day” with our partners at the Department of Health and Human Services. The event drew more than 152 non-federal attendees and facilitated nearly 700 meetings between vendors and federal buyers.  

Equitable Access to Public Lands

Adult and two kids in a field of yellow flowers.

At the Interior Department, we understand that nature is essential to the health, well-being and prosperity of every family and every community in America. These are the places that connect us, that support our economies, and that keep us healthy. President Biden reflected this priority by making expanding access to outdoor recreation one of the six focus areas of the America the Beautiful initiative and re-launching the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation.

Outdoor recreation is a huge economic driver for the nation, generating more than $374 billion in revenue in 2020 and accounting for nearly 2% of the economy, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The Department is committed to supporting the outdoor recreation economy and the many benefits that it provides for healthy communities, economies and wildlife.

The Department is helping advance the America the Beautiful initiative in various ways, including through the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program, which enables urban communities to create new outdoor recreation spaces, reinvigorate existing parks, and form connections between people and the outdoors in economically underserved areas.

In 2022 the Department increased the program’s flexibility and recently announced a more than $224 million investment in 2024 – the largest grant funding since the launch of the program.

Environmental Justice

Secretary Haaland and group of youth at San Diego National Wildlife Refuge.

Communities of color, rural and Indigenous communities, low-income families, and people in the U.S. territories have long suffered disproportionate and cumulative harm from the climate crisis, from air and water pollution to environmental hazards left behind at toxic sites.    

As we acknowledge that reality, the Biden-Harris administration has mobilized an all-of-government approach to advance environmental justice. As directed in Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, the Department is working with agencies across the federal government to develop a strategy to address current and historic environmental injustices and ensure accountability.

President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative aims to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of climate, clean energy, and related investments to disadvantaged communities that have historically been marginalized, overburdened and underserved. There are 65 covered programs within the Department and 10 bureaus, each of which advance the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to environmental justice.

Urgent action on the climate crisis includes creating a more equitable and sustainable future. Every community faces the devastation caused by extreme weather events, but communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities face disproportionate impacts.

We have no time to waste in taking action to protect public lands, the environment, and Americans’ lives and futures. Interior will continue to take the bold action desperately needed to ensure all communities — including communities of color and urban, rural, and Indigenous communities — benefit from an aggressive and all-of-government response to advancing environmental justice.