EXCLUSIVE: Air Force Slapped With Lawsuit After Claiming It Has No Records On Officer Diversity Quotas

Members of the Coalition Team, comprised of U.S. Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force civil engineers, plan before an event during Readiness Challenge X at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, April 21, 2024. Readiness Challenge X was a multi-day competition between teams of civil engineering squadrons from around the world that tested unit readiness, strengthened camaraderie and sharpened skills through joint training in a simulated contested environment. (U.S. Space Force photo by Airman 1st Class Spencer Contreras)

A watchdog group filed a lawsuit against the Air Force on Wednesday for allegedly withholding records shedding light on the service’s efforts to set racial diversity quotas when taking on new officers, the Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., then Air Force’s top officer, updated demographic goals for applicants to become officers in the Air Force in an August 2022 memo, calling the effort “aspirational.” The Center to Advance Security in America (CASA), a watchdog group focused on security and civil liberties, requested communications related to the memo using a federal transparency law the following year, and when the Air Force said it couldn’t find anything, CASA decided to sue, according to a copy of the filing obtained by the DCNF in advance.

CASA appealed the denial in October, arguing it “cannot be accurate” the Air Force was unable to produce any responsive records to the request, the appeal letter states. The explanation contained in the denial did not even address major components of the FOIA request. The Air Force has not responded to the appeal, CASA said.

CASA reasons that Brown’s August 2022 memo “undoubtedly” triggered internal discussions among staff, according to the letter. Further, since the request included some of the same language in the memo that was emailed out to staff, it’s almost “impossible” that AETC was unable to find any communications matching the request.

The watchdog “lost hope” the Air Force would comply with the records request without involving the court, CASA Director James Fitzpatrick told the DCNF.

In the memo, Brown, who now serves as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other Air Force chiefs directed Air Education and Training Command (AETC)  — the component that oversees pilot training — and the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) to “develop a diversity and inclusion outreach plan aimed at achieving these goals no later than 30 September 2022.” The organizations were to report their progress on a yearly basis, including detailed description of measures enacted to increase applicant pool diversity.

“Many Americans interpret directives such as this as appearing to be in violation of federal discrimination laws and prioritizing race over merit in the recruitment of future officers in our nation’s armed forces. This raises questions about the dedication of scarce resources to politically charged issues and the impact on military preparedness and operations,” CASA wrote in the initial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, addressed to AETC.

But, the Air Force said it was unable to find any emails or communications among key officials containing terms like “Officer Source of Commission Applicant Pool Goals,” “DEI,” “race,” “African-American” and more, CASA said in the appeal.

CASA also asked for copies communications between Brown, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, now-Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin and about 15 other officials on the issue, the letter states. The Air Force did not explain its rationale for denying that element of the request, according to the watchdog.

“CASA will continue to push for more records and information related to this unprecedented push by the U.S. Air Force to develop racial quotas for Officers and Airmen in violation of federal nondiscrimination law,” Fitzpatrick told the DCNF.

The memo set an objective to increase the percentage of non-white Americans in the applicant pool as the service focuses attention on perceived racial and gender disparities at the higher ranks. Women and racial-ethnic minority groups were often underrepresented in terms of accessions, retention and career and promotion opportunities, Air Force reviews, conducted in 2020 and 2021, found.

Brown said the numbers were derived from the actual demographic makeup of the U.S. as a whole and only impacted applicants, not those who actually make it into the Air Force officer corps at a hearing in July.

“There’s a goal to allow those people to understand what the opportunities are, but to be selected [for opportunities], it’s merit-based. If we don’t outreach to them we may miss tremendous talent, but they’ve got to be qualified,” Brown told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

AETC did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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