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White House's first chief diversity and inclusion officer is leaving Biden's administration

NEW YORK (AP) — The White House’s top diversity officer and first ever aide in the role is leaving the Biden administration after three years in his position.

Michael Leach, a special assistant to President Joe Biden and the chief diversity and inclusion officer for the White House, departs after serving as a top aide to the Democrat since his 2020 presidential campaign, the White House said on Thursday. Both in office and during the campaign, Leach, who's Black, spearheaded efforts to create the most diverse general election and White House staffs in history. He was frequently involved in conversations advancing inclusive perspectives in administration policy.

Leach said the role “has been the honor of a lifetime” and expressed “great optimism” about the administration’s future diversity and inclusion efforts. Leach, who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday ahead of Thursday's announcement of his departure, will take time to reflect on how to best increase equity across institutions before his next role. The White House has not immediately replaced its top diversity officer role but has launched a job search for the position.

“President Biden promised to build an administration that looks like America and delivers for the American people," said Jen O’Malley Dillon, the White House deputy chief of staff. "From the campaign to now, Michael Leach was an instrumental partner to us in fulfilling this promise.”

Leach’s departure comes as diversity, equity and inclusion efforts face growing backlash across major sectors including business, government, education and health care. Right-leaning organizations have increasingly challenged diversity and inclusion efforts, which are premised on decreasing bias, as themselves discriminatory. Republican politicians and activists have depicted “diversity, equity and inclusion,” or DEI, efforts as harmful to the country and enacted laws restricting such policies.

Democrats, by contrast, see such policies as ensuring the perspectives of different communities in society are reflected in public life. Leach said he hoped the Biden administration reaches “a new level of intentionality to continue building on the progress that we’ve made.”

Anthony Fauci, who served as a chief medical adviser to the president and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he knows Biden takes diversity and inclusion “very seriously” and he had “the right person in Michael, who is very passionate about it.”

“As we’re getting deeper and deeper into the issue of diversity, equity and inclusion, a lot of people have skepticism,” Fauci said. “But I have found in my own experience, having lived through both eras — the era when there was no diversity, there was no equity and there was no inclusion, versus now when we’re seeing a fair amount of it — it is a value and has made us really better off.”

“If you don’t have people working there who reflect the community of afflicted people," Fauci continued, “then you’re not really doing it right. You’ve got to get your reaching out into the community. You’ve got to reach out with people that look like and are part of the community.”

About half of the White House staff identifies as a person of color, and nearly 60% of staffers are women, according to a White House staff report last year. Biden has also signed an executive order promoting diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce broadly.

“President Biden committed to building a federal government that looks like America, and he has kept that promise with the help of leaders like Michael Leach,” said Stephen Benjamin, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. “Michael has set the bar high as an exemplary public servant, and he will be missed.”

Before joining Biden’s 2020 campaign, Leach worked at the National Football League for a decade in labor relations roles and earlier as an assistant to the head coach at the Chicago Bears.

“You could tell that Michael was destined for bigger things," Bears Chairman George McCaskey said. “We weren’t surprised at all when he was in the White House.”

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Matt Brown is a member of AP's Race and Ethnicity team.

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