Donald Trump's Team Should Be More Transparent About Its State Department Requests
On Thursday, The New York Times reported that the Trump transition team emailed a questionnaire to State Department employees reportedly requesting information on gender equality-related programming. Since the news was released, there has been much speculation as to why this particular information was supposedly requested. While such information requests are often part of standard bureaucratic transitions, the Trump administration would nonetheless do well to clarify its intentions — if any — behind the email. Bustle has reached out to the Trump transition team directly requesting a comment about the impetus behind the request, but has not received a response.
It's entirely possible that there was no underlying intention, as the purpose behind the email remains unknown. But addressing it publicly would certainly help ease anxiety about any linkages this request could have to future gender equality programming under the Trump administration.
According to The New York Times, the email requested that State Department employees provide information on "existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc.” It also asked that employees provide a list of positions “whose primary functions are to promote such issues” and to indicate how much funding was dedicated to gender-focused programming in 2016.
The State Department's press secretary, John Kirby, indicated during a press conference that this email request is generally reflective of queries made by new incoming administrations, saying, "In terms of organizationally where people are, what jobs they have, who's in the chair, and whether that person is going to be here after the 20th, that's, those are fair questions for us to have to answer."
Kirby also suggested that the request was likely just a way for the administration to get a handle on the State Department's structure and staffing. "There needs to be a discussion about what positions will remain open for them to fill and what positions they might not have to worry about filling," he noted.
The State Department's press secretary gave the public no reason to believe the transition team's requests fall outside of standard protocol. However, State Department employees, elected officials, various media outlets, and other organizations have expressed concern about the Trump administration's request for information specifically related to gender issues.
Given his past comments about women, some are fearful that his transition team's query might not be merely a bureaucratic request, but rather reflective of a possible desire to diminish or cut gender-based programming and funding. Sarah Margon, head of the D.C. office of Human Rights Watch, encapsulated this sentiment well when reflecting on reactions to the email request:
While the transition team has a right to seek this information, given the misogynist comments and statements that have come from President-elect Trump’s campaign, this request inevitably sends a very worrisome signal about possible intentions to eliminate important programs and policies that have supported women and girls around the world.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the highest ranking woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also expressed similar concerns via a statement released Thursday afternoon, which indicated that she found the report about the request for gender programming information "concerning." Shaheen further emphasized the vast importance of gender-related programming and indicated that the new administration would face significant opposition in the Senate if it attempts to cut funding or support for it.
Overall, while the request for further information about gender programming and funding at the State Department could have been made for a variety of reasons, it would behoove the Trump Administration to merely clarify the rationale behind its request. Releasing an official statement regarding why the request was made would go a long way to reduce anxious speculation.