Trump team seeks info on gender equality programs at State Department

FILE - In this photo taken May 7, 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Spokane, Wash. Donald Trump faces a struggle proving himself to white, suburban women, who could be crucial in the November general election.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Last Updated Dec 23, 2016 7:38 AM EST

Donald Trump’s transition team asked the State Department this week for information on its “gender-related staffing, programming, and funding,” raising questions over whether the incoming administration will slash U.S. efforts promoting women’s equality worldwide.

A one-page memo, obtained and published by the New York Times, was sent to senior State Department staffers Wednesday requesting that the offices provide further information “outlining 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.”

While the document did not request specific names of employees working on these programs, it asked for the specific positions dedicated to gender parity issues and more information about funding amounts to these programs over the last year.

Employees were instructed to respond by 5 p.m. on the same day it was sent out, according to the Times.

The president’s transition team explained it in a statement as a way to find methods to better such programs. 

“President-elect Trump will ensure the rights of women across the world are valued and protected,” the team said in a statement to CBS News. “To help fulfill this promise, the transition team inquired about existing programs at the State department that helps foster gender equality, ends gender-based violence, and promotes economic and political participation—finding ways to improve them, along with hundreds of other requests.”

During a State briefing Thursday, department spokesperson John Kirby said that “it is normal, it is usual, it is typical, it is expected” for such questions on the bureaucracy to be asked during a presidential transition period.

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 is going to be a discussion, 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 added. “When a new captain comes aboard a ship, you tell him who’s on board and what jobs they have and how the ship operates. That’s the way it works.”

Still, though Kirby suggested there was nothing unusual about the memo, the New York Times and Washington Post reported that the document unnerved some State Department employees who feared that some would be singled out over work they’d done on gender-related issues.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, the top ranking woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was equally wary of the Trump transition team request, calling it “concerning” and requesting the transition “clarify their intent.” 

“I pledge to work with the incoming Administration to advance policies that support and protect women and girls worldwide,” Shaheen wrote in a statement to CBS News, “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.”

During Hillary Clinton’s time as the nation’s top diplomat, she prioritized women’s issues as an important facet of America’s foreign policy agenda.

“I want to pledge to you that as secretary of state I view [women’s] issues as central to our foreign policy,” Clinton said at her confirmation hearing, “not as adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser than all of the other issues that we have to confront.” Shortly after, she created the Office of Global Women’s Issues within the department, appointing a U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for global women’s issues.

While Mr. Trump has pledged to be “the best for women” when it comes to domestic policy, it isn’t known yet how much emphasis his secretary of state pick, Rex Tillerson, will place on women’s issues at the State Department.

The Trump transition team has also been questioned over similar memos to the Energy Department and the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. In those cases, the Trump team seemed focused on climate change and environmental conservation policies.