Connecticut Veterans Legal Center Plays Key Role in Enacting Defense Bill Provision to Promote Racial and Gender Diversity in Military Service Academy Nominations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 7, 2021
Liam Brennan, Executive Director
The PANORAMA Act will modernize service academy congressional nominations to combat racial, ethnic, and gender inequities in the schools and the officer corps.
NEW HAVEN, CT—The Department of Defense will now be required to report data on the race, gender, and ethnicity of students admitted to the military service academies thanks to federal legislation initially proposed by the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC). The PANORAMA Act, which was included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 enacted January 1, will enable the Department of Defense, Congress, and the military service academies to build a more equitable and transparent academy nominations process and better ensure that the nation’s officer corps reflects the diversity of the people they lead and defend.
“The PANORAMA Act will finally shed light on the glaring racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in service academy nominations,” said Liam Brennan, Executive Director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. “Almost every service academy applicant needs a nomination from a Member of Congress to apply for admission, and until now, many of our representatives have awarded nominations inequitably and behind closed doors. This new requirement that the Department of Defense report on race and gender in service academy nominations and admissions will show the public who our elected officials in Congress are selecting and reveal when young women and people of color are being excluded.”
The PANORAMA Act grew out of CVLC’s 2019 report Gatekeepers to Opportunity, which revealed a wide gender gap in nominations to the three military service academies, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the U.S. Air Force Academy. The report showed that Members of Congress overall nominate nearly three times more men than women to the academies. However, obtaining the data for that report was exceedingly hard and required years of Freedom of Information Act requests to each service academy. The PANORAMA Act will bring much-needed clarity and transparency to the nominations process by requiring the Department of Defense to annually report data showing the gender, race, and ethnicity of nominees.
Women represent only around 27% of service academy cadets and midshipmen, and Latinx students and Black students represent only 11% and 9%, respectively. The academies commission nearly 20% of the active-duty officer corps, whose members are disproportionately white and male. Both the enlisted ranks and the country as a whole are much more diverse.
“Understanding whom Members of Congress are nominating to the academies is the key first step in identifying reforms and improvements,” said Margaret Kuzma, former Director of the Veterans Inclusion Project and current strategic consultant for CVLC. “Congress and the service academies each have a role to play, as increasing diversity in military leadership must happen at every stage of the process. The academies recruit students to apply, Congress then nominates students, and the academies make the final decision to admit or deny an applicant. Data made public thanks to the PANORAMA Act will help the Department of Defense, the service academies, Congress, and the public pinpoint and address when and how women and students of color are falling out of the pipeline.”
“The PANORAMA Act is a vital step toward transparency in Congressional appointments to the military service academies,” said Ellen Haring, research fellow at Service Women’s Action Network and member of the West Point Class of 1984. “The Department of Defense’s annual review of nomination statistics will improve operational readiness by providing greater diversity where our military most lacks it today—at the most senior leadership levels.”
Brennan added: “The Department of Defense has called for policies and programs to improve diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity for service members, recognizing that shared experiences and backgrounds lead to a stronger, more competitive military force. Yet these efforts are still falling short. The PANORAMA Act will bolster our national security by improving recruitment and retention of service academy candidates from underrepresented communities, fostering officers whose experiences align with those of the enlisted soldiers they command.”
The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center was represented by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic in promoting the PANORAMA Act. The Act received additional support from the Service Women’s Action Network, Protect Our Defenders, and the Military Women’s Coalition.
About Connecticut Veterans Legal Center
Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) helps veterans recovering from homelessness and mental illness overcome legal barriers to housing, healthcare, and income. Formed in 2009, CVLC was the first medical-legal partnership to integrate legal services on-site at VA mental health facilities. In addition to in-house legal staff, hundreds of volunteer attorneys across the country work with CVLC to help low-income veterans resolve legal issues that destabilize their housing, employability, disability income, transportation, and family relationships. Through its national policy arm, the Veterans Inclusion Project, CVLC uses impact litigation, reports on key issues, practice manuals for veterans and advocates, and national media outreach to advance veterans law.