In support of President Biden’s Executive Order to advance racial equity, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has released its first-ever Equity Action Plan designed to ensure that the agency eliminates barriers to access, transforms programs and policies to open even broader pathways for underrepresented groups to access DOE resources, and stands up new programs to better serve communities.
In furtherance of the new Equity Action Plan, DOE unveiled a commitment of up to $102 million in funding and support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) as foundations for talent in STEM fields. DOE also released its framework for President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which commits 40% of the benefits of federal investments in climate and clean energy to frontline, underserved and overburdened communities.
“President Biden is committed to increasing diversity in the clean energy workforce to put it on the strongest footing to deliver solutions to the climate crisis, and I am proud of our efforts to ensure that equity remains at the core of everything we do,” states U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “We are creating transformative change throughout DOE that will break down barriers to funding and investments and forge stronger bonds with HBCUs and MSIs. The return on that investment will be profound: cultivating the scientific brilliance honed at these institutions to strengthen U.S. competitiveness in a new net-zero economy.”
E.O. 13985 was signed on the first day of the Biden Administration and required every federal agency to undertake a comprehensive review of programs, policies and practices to better ensure that they equitably serve all eligible individuals and communities, particularly historically underserved and underrepresented communities.
DOE has created a new framework to incentivize partnership with Minority-Serving Institutions for every relevant funding opportunity under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This framework will encourage recipients like higher education institutions, industry, and local and state governments to incorporate HBCUs as financial partners in research, development, demonstration, and deployment of clean energy, and job creation in underserved and overburdened communities.
DOE’s comprehensive examination of its methods and policies focused on procurement, financial assistance, research and development (R&D), demonstration and deployment, and stakeholder engagement.
DOE’s Equity Plan outlines the top five priority actions to advance equity, including addressing gaps in data collection to facilitate data-informed decision-making, increasing opportunities for new applicants to DOE funding opportunities, and growing participation in DOE R&D and financial assistance programs. In addition, it expands strategic Tribal and stakeholder engagement across DOE programs and improves access and equity in DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program.
The department’s current approaches to data collection limit visibility into who is participating in its business opportunities, outreach events and programs. To address the data gaps, DOE intends to create a data collection system for underserved communities and individuals for all DOE contract and financial assistance opportunities.
Though no specific policy, program or regulation contributes to the limited applications from BIPOC communities, rural communities, LGBTQIA+ persons, and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality, DOE aims to increase the opportunities for new entrants and alleviate resource constraints (e.g., financial, IT, human resources, etc.) through a range of activities, including the creation of a central portal for DOE acquisition opportunities, and streamlining and/or relaxing subcontracting requirements.
DOE recognizes that current practices do not do enough to support diversity in financial assistance, and that underserved communities face barriers within each aspect of the R&D process. DOE will increase opportunities for underrepresented groups by incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion requirements into all DOE financial assistance processes, broadening diversity of DOE merit reviewers and reducing the administrative burdens associated with applying for financial assistance funding.
DOE learned that the department has not had a comprehensive or coordinated strategy for outreach and engagement with Tribal Nations, underserved communities, MSIs and other communities that historically have been underrepresented in the DOE programs. To build trust with diverse stakeholders and Tribal Nations, and to increase the public’s awareness of DOE opportunities and activities, DOE will explore the establishment of positions within the department to shepherd department-wide tribal and stakeholder engagement to institutionalize and expand community engagement activities.
Low-income households sometimes face delays in getting weatherization assistance when buildings in need of significant non-energy related home repairs are not deemed cost-effective when evaluated for potential energy saving. DOE plans to take actions that will reduce these delays through a newly proposed Weatherization Readiness fund that will ensure DOE funding is available to all grantees and low-income households, as well as a competitive grant program that will provide financial assistance to make homes weatherization ready.
Read the complete DOE Equity Action Plan here.