Asian Americans get boost from White House

By Meg Beasley
Federal News Radio

Several agencies have released plans intended to increase Asian American and Pacific Islanders’ access to the government. Depending on the agency, improving access will mean improved education, employment, contracting and a host of other initiatives.

The plans are the first of what will be several waves of reports in response to Executive Order 13515. President Obama signed the directive on Oct. 14, 2009, requiring agencies to facilitate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAIP) participation in programs in which the population is underserved.

The order also created the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Interagency Working Group (IWG) to oversee the initiative.

“The agency plans are part of the administration’s commitment to assure that all Americans have a seat at the table,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who serves as initiative co-chair along with Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. “We have an extraordinary opportunity to break down barriers and address challenges that the AAPI community has faced for decades as a result of the model minority myth.”

The initiative focuses on areas that span all issue areas and agencies, such as research, data collection, analysis and dissemination for the AAPI community. The report also highlights the need to ensure access, especially linguistic access and cultural competence, and involvement in public service and civic engagement opportunities.

Twenty-three participating agencies developed agency plans with input from numerous offices within each agency, AAPI community groups and the President’s advisory commission on AAPIs. Each plan details the agency’s strategic activities and performance outcomes for the next one to two years.

On Tuesday, 11 agencies released their plans, with each objective described in four categories: Strategic activity, timeframe, leadership contact information and performance outcomes/benchmarks. While each agency has different specific plans, there are common themes on which they are all concentrating.

Priorities include increasing the AAPI community’s access to federal funding, fostering the recruitment, career development and advancement of AAPIs in government positions, improving civil rights protections for the AAPI community and enhancing outreach activity to AAPI business community.

The agencies that released plans are:

“The agency plans will drive the Administration’s effort to improve the quality of life for AAPIs,” Initiative Executive Director Kiran Ahuja said. “In order for the federal government to take meaningful steps, it is crucial that people go online, view the plans, and provide feedback.”

The public comment period for agency plans is 30 days from the posting date. Feedback for this first wave of releases is Feb. 17. The remaining agencies will roll out their plans through the end of February. As new plans are released they will be available on the IWG website.

According to the IWG, the AAPI population is currently 16.6 million, 5.4 percent of the U.S. population. The agency expects that number to double by 2050.

Though the overall poverty level of the AAPI population is not significantly different from the national average, certain demographics face severe poverty and other challenges. According to the initiative’s report, one in four AAPI students has limited English proficiency, an obstacle to education, health care and employment. In a recent Gallup poll cited by the IWG, one-third of AAPIs surveyed reported incidents of employment discrimination, the largest of any group. A study conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found one in five AAPI’s faced discrimination in the housing process.

The IWG has not set any government wide goals or benchmarks but hopes each agency will fully implement its program over the next two years.

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