U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams has gone all-in on wokeness, labeling the push for diversity, equity and inclusion her top priority at an agency whose mission is to protect species and preserve their habitats.
Under Ms. Williams, the agency has removed the limit on how much paid time off workers can use to take part in employee diversity organizations, such as gay rights groups. They can now ask for as much time as they feel they need, and Ms. Williams has directed supervisors to approve the requests.
She also has poured millions of dollars into what the agency has labeled a “Values Journey,” which employees say is a demand to become “sufficiently woke.”
Documents obtained by The Washington Times show how the agency is trying to reach that goal.
Ms. Williams said in a memo late last month that the “need to be our true selves at work” is crucial to the agency’s mission. One of her top deputies, Wendi Weber, said in a memo that the diversity, equity and inclusion agenda is the agency’s most important work right now.
“Director Williams has identified this work as her number one priority because the creation of a true culture of belonging at the Service will unlock the fuller potential of our workforce to drive mission success far into the future,” Ms. Weber and Paul Rauch, an assistant director, said in a memo urging employees to take the diversity push seriously.
Employees say they are being sent to diversity training, are constantly receiving emails offering seminars and webinars on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) training, and have any number of DEIA committees on which they can serve.
The Times previously reported on “eco-grief” training that the agency offered to help employees cope with the trauma of global warming or other environmental changes.
Employees called that the tip of an iceberg of wokeness. They also say it diverts resources from the agency’s stated mission of protecting wildlife and habitats.
It’s tough to quantify how much focus the Fish and Wildlife Service puts on its DEIA agenda, but there are some yardsticks.
Last month, the agency’s director of human capital issued rules canceling a two-hour-per-month limit on how much paid time employees could use to participate in employee organizations.
In a memo, Rebekah Giddings said the two-hour limit was meant for clubs with only a “minimal nexus” to the agency’s mission. Now that DEIA is front and center, participation in diversity-style employee groups can go above the two-hour limit.
She said an employee who wants to use five hours a week working on gay pride events should be able to ask for that time, all paid.
Ms. Williams, the agency’s director, issued a memo late last year directing supervisors to approve those kinds of diversity-related requests.
“We must show our commitment by supporting employees’ leadership and participation in groups, initiatives and activities that support advancing DEIA and creating welcoming workplaces,” Ms. Williams wrote. “To foster engagement in DEIA groups, managers and supervisors are encouraged to approve a reasonable amount of official time for employee participation in meetings, events and staff-work related to DEIA activities, while balancing operational needs.”
Promoting LBGTQ issues seems to get particular attention at the agency, which has even created a special rainbow logo and slapped it on T-shirts that employees can wear while on official duty at pride events.
The campaign has been dubbed “Pride in the Wild.”
The 2022 campaign included a booklet to help employees “make your June as gay as possible.” Among the options was snapping pride-related photos, which led to at least one unsuspecting bird being photobombed by the agency’s rainbow logo.
In response to questions from The Times, Fish and Wildlife declined to provide an estimate of the amount of official government work time the agency expects will be spent on the employee organizations. Nor would it give an estimate for overall time spent on broader DEIA efforts, such as required or voluntary training.
Laury Marshall, assistant chief of public affairs at FWS, did provide a statement describing the agency’s employees as “dedicated professionals and committed public servants.”
“Ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of these employees is a top priority of the service and foundational to effectively carrying out our mission,” the spokeswoman said. “The service offers a variety of tools and resources for employees to ensure health, reduce stress and promote employee wellness.”
Employees told The Times that the time spent on diversity activities would vary by individual. Some are more involved than others.
One agency official, who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity, said any money spent on the diversity and equity agenda is money not spent on wildlife.
“We have field leaders begging every day for resources to complete our mission. Their pleas are met with diminishing budgets to pay for mandatory radical training that excludes and divides, rather than conserves and protects,” the official said. “They ask for a vacancy to be filled, and get eight more hours of mandatory training. So now they stop asking.”
Rep. Ryan Zinke, Montana Republican and former interior secretary, pointed out that the current secretary testified last month that her department is desperately short of staff. The Interior Department oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Yet now it’s exposed she is pulling staff out of their offices to attend woke indoctrination at taxpayer expense,” Mr. Zinke told The Times. “I don’t care what people do on their free time, but on the taxpayer dollar, they’d better be doing the work ‘We the People’ pay them to do.”
Mr. Zinke has proposed adding language to the upcoming spending bill for the Interior Department that would ban taxpayer funding for training, awareness efforts or other communications regarding gender, identity and ideology.
Ms. Williams also used a pool of money she controls to pump cash into MetGroup, an Oregon-based outfit that has been tapped to lead the Fish and Wildlife Service’s “Values Journey.” It was the biggest line item on Ms. Williams’ list of “deferred decisions” spending, even topping grizzly bear management and refuge planning.
The agency said the $1 million infusion would help MetGroup run focus groups and provide Values Journey training. The agency declined to reveal how much money it has given to MetGroup nor say whether that contract was put out for bid.
MetGroup staff members are committed donors to the Democratic Party. They made nearly 100 donations over the past decade to party committees and candidates, according to records kept by the Center for Responsive Politics.
MetGroup has completed 100 listening sessions, and the agency says 9% of its workforce took part in what it labeled “conversations about shared purpose, values, behaviors and workplace culture change.”
Some 2,000 employees were part of the “Values Jam,” which sought to solicit ideas about where the agency was making employees feel unwelcome. Another jam is slated for this summer.
The eventual goal is to rewire the agency so that “key behaviors become cultural norms.”
All employees are now urged to take part in 90-minute sessions on “unconscious bias,” “understanding power dynamics” and “working across differences of identity and culture.”
For now, except for mandatory annual diversity training, attendance is voluntary, but internal emails obtained by The Times show that supervisors are pushing for employees to do more.
One outcome is a set of instructions to employees to clean up their language. The 2021 document warns that words may be revealing staffers’ “implicit bias” through “microaggressions,” or hurting fellow employees by using language that presents gender in an either-or, male-female paradigm.
The guidance says it is “critical” to use preferred pronouns.
That was particularly galling to employees who pointed out that the agency provides most of the government’s wildlife biologists.
“The USFWS is a scientific, biological agency staffed with hundreds of well-educated biologists who are trained to know the difference between male and female,” one employee said.
The 18-page language memo also recommends the use of “Latine” or “Latinx” for people from Latin America — though in an aside, it notes that the terms were invented by English speakers and have “come into question recently.”
Employees are also cautioned against talking about disabled parking and urged to call it “accessible parking.” Yet those without a physical disability are “currently able-bodied” or “non-disabled.”
When it comes to terms in frequent rotation at the environmental agency, employees were told to avoid “urban sprawl” in favor of “poorly planned growth”; avoid “environment” and use “land, air and water”; and “green” is out while “clean energy” is suggested.
Diversity efforts predated the Biden administration.
A 2017 agency report identified “barriers” to a more diverse workforce. Minority employees were more likely to say supervisors weren’t receptive to their ideas and were more likely to say mentorship and training opportunities were lacking.
That report urged the agency to elevate the “urgency” of diversity by casting it as crucial to the “success of the FWS mission.”
A 2019 document called for the agency “to move beyond plans and good intentions” on employee engagement, hiring and removing internal barriers.
“I cannot think of a single more important issue for us to be focused on at this current time, because only when we are able to consistently attract and develop a workforce representative of America and provide them with an inclusive work environment, will the service’s mission be assured,” wrote Margaret Everson, who was principal deputy director at the time.
One of the agency officials who spoke to The Times said Americans should be concerned about the direction of an agency that is more consequential than most people understand.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s portfolio includes managing the country’s wildlife refuges and ruling on species that end up on the endangered list. That gives it an expansive say in all sorts of activities, including permitting for major energy and infrastructure projects.
“We are an agency that will regulate your existence. We will tell you how to live, what to drive, what to eat and where to work — and we have the regulatory power to make you do it,” the employee said. “Under the guise of equality, you will wake up some tomorrow without the power to make decisions previously routine to all Americans. We are small, but you should fear us.”
Several employees wondered about the severe focus on DEIA at an agency that isn’t known for problems in that area.
Indeed, the Fish and Wildlife Service placed in the top third of all government agencies in its DEIA efforts in the Partnership for Public Service’s 2022 rankings of best places to work in the federal government.