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Congressional staff are still not representative of the people they serve — so why did Congress close its Office of Diversity and Inclusion?

The passage of the 2024 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill may have averted a government shutdown, but it also included a provision that disbanded the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI).  

For nearly a decade, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, America’s Black think tank, has been advocating for more diversity among congressional staff. In 2015, the Joint Center released its first report on top staff diversity in the Senate, and in 2018, a similar report covering the House. The latter report found that though the U.S. population was 40 percent people of color, only about 14 percent of all top House staff are people of color. One of our recommendations was for Congress to appoint a chief diversity officer. 

In 2019, the U.S. House passed a Rules Package that created a new Office of Diversity and Inclusion, requiring the appointment of a chief diversity officer, along with a diversity plan. Since 2020, when the ODI launched, the office has dedicated itself to connecting diverse, qualified candidates to careers within the House, while providing resources to ensure that the workforce in the House reflects America’s diversity.  

Last week, the office was forced to close, but the work must not stop. Members still must do more to ensure that congressional staff reflects the diversity of our nation — especially among top positions such as staff directors, chiefs of staff, legislative directors and communications directors. 

The Joint Center has continued to monitor representation, and found in our 2022 report that House personnel office top staff of color increased from 14 percent to 18 percent, which is still far removed from the 40 percent representation of people of color in the United States. African Americans and Latina/os each made up 6 percent of top House staff, though these groups are 12 percent and 18 percent of the population, respectively. Asian Americans and Native Americans were also underrepresented at 4 percent and 0.2 percent, while white Americans made up 82 percent of top House staff, though only representing 60 percent of the population.

To close the House ODI in the midst of such unequal representation is exacerbating the long-standing struggle to end racial inequality in our country. The dissolution of ODI is not just a bureaucratic decision but a stark symbol of a regressive agenda undermining the nation’s long fight for a more inclusive representative democracy.     

At the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, we see greater inclusion of communities of color at all levels of congressional staffing as an integral component of having a government that can address the deep racial economic inequality that continues to haunt our nation. According to our 2023 survey, we found that half of all respondents acknowledged that hiring a staff who reflects the diversity in their community should be an important or top priority for Congress.  

Congressional staff, especially those in top positions, play a crucial role in counseling lawmakers on where to allocate funding, as well as in shaping legislative priorities. Without diverse voices at the table, it is likely that historically marginalized communities, like African Americans, will continue to be under invested and underserved. 

The Joint Center calls on the replacement office — the Office of Talent Management under the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer — to build on the great work of the ODI and create a central repository of data to help guide efforts to make the House of Representatives’ workforce more diverse. While the ODI is closed, the Joint Center will continue to work with our partners, including the Congressional Black Associates, Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association, Congressional Hispanic Staff Association, and the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus, in advocating for a congressional workforce that reflects the diversity of the American people within the U.S. House of Representatives and work to address the racial economic inequality that continues to divide our country.  

LaShonda Brenson, Ph.D., is senior researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and leads the organization’s Hill Diversity work. 

Dedrick Asante-Muhmmad, M.A., is president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. 

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