President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has asked the State Department to provide a list of existing programs and activities intended to promote gender equality, according to sources at the agency, raising fears that these programs may be the target of cuts.
A one-page memo earlier reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post asks the State Department to outline existing programs on gender equality, including funding, positions and programs on women’s empowerment and combating gender-based violence, department officials told CNN.
The questionnaire comes in the wake of broader efforts by the Trump transition team to quiz Obama administration agencies on programs and issues that the President-elect has expressed doubt about, including climate change. And though Trump has said little about gender, his attitudes toward and treatment of women became an incendiary campaign issue, particularly after leaked tapes of him bragging about sexually assaulting women.
Initiatives aimed at supporting women and girls are a cornerstone of international development, as they’ve proved to benefit broader societies. They were a signature issue for Trump’s election rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
While some senior State Department officials caution that the transition team is asking basic management, budgetary and program questions typical of previous transitions and not suggestive of an ideological agenda, the questions have nevertheless raised concerns that Trump will work to roll back work on Obama administration priorities.
A message left with the Trump transition team was not immediately returned.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said he and Secretary of State John Kerry were aware of the anxieties, but he added that the requests were not unusual.
“Change is difficult for everybody to deal with,” Kirby said. “I understand that and the secretary understands that changes in leadership and potential changes in policies going forward can cause angst.”
“Obviously, we would have concerns if, for instance, there were issue-specific lists of names that were being provided,” Kirby said. “I mean, clearly, that would be something that would be of concern of us, and would not be the kind of thing that we would want to engage in.”
“But 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 said.
Even so, the highest ranking woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, expressed concern, saying the Trump “transition team should clarify their intent.”
“These are vital foreign policy programs that promote stability, peace and development around the world,” Shaheen said. “I pledge to work with the incoming administration to advance policies that support and protect women and girls worldwide, but I can promise that if the next administration intends to roll back programs designed to lift women up, it will very quickly meet stiff opposition in the Senate.”
The transition request didn’t include any mention about programs focused on gender identity or sexual orientation, according to one State Department official.
US administrations have, in the past, incorporated their values into decisions about how to fund development and aid programs. Under President George W. Bush, the US cut funding for development programs that supported abortion. And in the 2000 budget, Congress enacted a “global gag” rule that denied US funding to any private development group that used non-US funds to provide abortion services.
Two other State Department officials said the Trump transition team requests were part of a broader set of inquiries that included a request for information about the war against ISIS and how many political appointees would be leaving in January.
These officials suggested that the concerns being aired might be the work of people trying to taint the State Department transition. They added that none of the questions indicated what actual policy would be pursued under Trump’s candidate to be secretary of state, retiring ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson.
“I think you can understand that in helping any new team get a grip on a new organization, that as they try to understand bureaus and how they’re manned, that there’s going to be a discussion,” Kirby said. “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 because they’re being filled with, say, career Foreign Service officers or civil servants.”
This month, Trump’s transition team also asked the Energy Department to provide the names of all employees who have worked on climate change, which Trump has called a “hoax,” as well as the professional society memberships of lab workers.
Trump’s team has also asked the State Department about funding levels for international environmental groups, according to several sources familiar with the matter. But some State Department officials described the inquiry as part of a much broader set of questions about State Department operations, programs and funding.
The Energy Department refused to comply with the Trump team’s request, saying it would provide all publicly available information to the transition team, but wouldn’t hand over individual names. The request left many at the Energy Department “unsettled,” a spokesman told Reuters.