President-elect Donald Trump's transition team has asked the State Department to list its workers who focus on gender equality and ending violence against women, in what's being seen as an echo of an earlier request for the Energy Department to list employees who work on climate change.
In a brief email that was sent Wednesday morning, the Trump team asked the State Department's bureaus and offices to list any programs or activities that "promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women's participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc."
The email was acquired and published by The New York Times, which reports:
"Although the wording of the memo is neutral and does not hint at any policy change, it rattled State Department employees, even those at senior levels. Some officials said they feared that the incoming Trump administration was trying to determine what programs were focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, though the memo did not refer to them."
The team also asked the department offices to "note positions whose primary functions are to promote such issues" and to highlight any funds for the current financial year that are "already allocated to such programs and activities."
Affirming the Times' characterization of the email's reception, The Los Angeles Times quotes a senior State Department official who said, "People are freaked out."
The topic also came up at Thursday's daily State Department briefing — but NPR's Michele Kelemen says it seemed that spokesman John Kirby sought to calm nerves about the request.
In a report for our Newscast unit, Michele quotes Kirby as saying, "To the degree that there is interest in the way that we have approached pursuing gender equality and human rights around the world by the transition team, we will certainly provide them the context, the information that is appropriate for them to make their own decisions going forward."
Kirby acknowledged that there could be "anxiety" at a time of transition, but he refused to go into details about the email or to verify the accuracy of the leaked documents.
Addressing his agency's approach to gender issues, Kirby told a reporter, "Obviously, gender equality issues here at the Department of State are a priority. Secretary Kerry has made them a priority; Secretary Clinton before him made it a priority, and it remains one for us here."
Kirby also suggested that the State Department might balk at naming its employees who have worked on those priorities, saying that in a hypothetical case, "if there were issue-specific names requested, obviously that would be of concern to us and it would not be the kind of information that we would deem to be appropriate to be passed along."
Shortly after the transition team's email became public, the Twitter account of the State Department's Political-Military Affairs bureau posted a note of support for the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, & Security — a program that was celebrated in a State Department tweet Wednesday, as the agency marked five years since the plan was introduced by President Obama.
In response to reports about the memo, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement saying in part:
"In light of previous requests made by the Trump transition team, today's report that the incoming administration is requesting all information related to State Department programs that promote gender equality is concerning and the transition team should clarify their intent.... Women and girls' equality is transformative for communities and economies, and the existing State Department programs have achieved great successes to advance education access for girls, protect women from trafficking, end child marriage, and combat gender-based violence."
The Trump team's request, which set a deadline of Wednesday afternoon to produce the lists, comes one week after the Energy Department rebuffed a request from Trump's transition team to name employees working on climate change.
As NPR's Brakkton Booker has reported, the Trump team's 74-point questionnaire on climate change "raised fears among civil rights lawyers specializing in federal worker whistleblower protections, who say the incoming administration is at a minimum trying to influence or limit the research."
In refusing the Trump team's request, the Energy Department said many of its staff members were "unsettled" by the gesture, stating that while it would share any information that was already public, it would not produce a list of individual names.
Early last week, Trump said he is nominating Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson to lead the State Department.