Inslee updates decades-old affirmative action guidance to better achieve equity in hiring, education and contracting

Gov. Jay Inslee today signed an executive order that rescinds Directive 98–01, a 23-year-old document that was supposed to provide agencies with instructions on how to implement Initiative 200 (I-200) on affirmative action. Instead, the directive was overly restrictive.

The governor announced earlier this month his intention to rescind the outdated directive and today’s replacement executive order that will instruct agencies on how to move forward with achieving equity while still complying with I-200. The executive order provides agencies with new instructions, which marks our commitment to the work to identify, document, and eradicate discrimination and disparities in all forms, for the benefit of all Washingtonians.

“Today, as we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I am taking action to change how we achieve equity within the law in our state. Achieving equal opportunity has always been foundational to our country’s history and each of us bears the responsibility to stand up and keep this unalienable right for all Washingtonians. Everyone deserves a fair chance to live to the fullest — everyone,” Inslee said.

Rescinding directive 98–01 — YouTube

Moving forward:

Within public employment, State Human Resources will ensure that all agencies have put in place diversity, equity, and inclusion, anti-discrimination, and reasonable accommodation plans. In addition, all executive and small cabinet agency staff would be required under the governor’s plan.

In public education, the Washington Student Achievement Council will provide a report on student success across subpopulations and the effectiveness of existing programs designed to identify and remedy discrimination in our higher ed system.

The governor will solicit feedback from the Superintendent of Public Instruction on additional steps needed to address discrimination within our K-12 schools.

The Office of Equity will set the path forward in their upcoming comprehensive strategic plan for the state. In response to that strategic plan, the governor will request that all executive and small cabinet agencies develop their agency’s pro-equity, anti-racist strategic plan.

“This the first step toward transforming state government into one that embeds equity and justice into our state culture, into our DNA, so everyone has a fair shot to achieve their dream and the dream Dr. King held for each of us,” Inslee said.

The rescission of Directive 98–01 does not alter other state and federal legal requirements related to affirmative action and agencies are required to consult with the Office of the Attorney General on how to comply with this directive and applicable laws.

Former Governor Gary Locke, who originally signed 98–01, applauded Inslee’s actions.

“I applaud Governor Inslee’s actions today. Our state has a deep commitment to providing equitable opportunities for all and now that the attorney general’s office has modified its opinion, it is absolutely appropriate to repeal 98–01 and replace it with something that better reflects our values,” Locke said.

Other community leaders weighed in as well.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell

“I applaud Governor Inslee for taking the right and necessary step of rescinding this restrictive directive and issuing a new executive order that centers equity and opportunity,” said Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. “I’ve directed my staff to develop our own executive order focused on strengthening and increasing opportunities for businesses owned by women, veterans, LGBTQ+ neighbors, and communities of color. In partnership with efforts from Governor Inslee and the Office of Equity, I know Seattle can accomplish this holistically — meaning not only signing more contracts — but also by seeking out ways to mentor and support entrepreneurs and small businesses, streamline certification requirements, and ensure comprehensive, inclusive and robust RFP processes. Seattle and Washington state must be places where any person — regardless their background — feels encouraged to pursue their dreams with the support to succeed and thrive.”

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards

“The City of Tacoma prides itself on advancing issues of equity, but this is not work that we can do alone. A number of interconnected systems, including County, State, and Federal governments, influence the outcomes of the lives of our friends, family, and neighbors every day. This is why I am proud that Governor Jay Inslee is rescinding Directive 98–01 and putting forward an updated state policy on race and gender-conscious affirmative action,” said Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards. “While Initiative 200 still limits the ways we can solve for the disparate outcomes caused by systemic racism, today’s actions are a welcomed victory in our long march toward justice.”

Port of Seattle Commissioner Sam Cho

“The Port of Seattle stands with Governor Inslee today as he leads our state in the direction of our shared values,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner Sam Cho. “Washingtonians have spoken out loudly about the need for equitable access to opportunity and just treatment of underserved groups. The Port of Seattle Commission has long sought the repeal of Initiative 200, as we see first-hand the harm it has done to our minority business partners, and this Executive Order begins the process of restoring equity. This is a big step for our state, and it is long overdue.”

King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay

“I-200 and its implementing Executive Order have had devastating impacts on women and communities of color, particularly Black Washingtonians. Thank you, Governor Inslee, for recognizing these impacts and for taking action to pave the way for ALL Washingtonians to share in the prosperity of this state,” King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said.


In 1998, voters passed Initiative 200, which said that the state should not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, education or contracting. And after the initiative was passed, Directive 98–01 was issued by the sitting governor to instruct agencies on how to comply with the initiative.

Subsequent court decisions and legal guidance have clarified the scope of options available to state agencies to address evident discrimination.

“As Dr. King said, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ All of us are responsible for doing our part to bend this arc. I want to thank our many leaders that have worked for years to improve equity in our state. And I call on all Washingtonians to continue their work on this important issue,” Inslee said.

Read the executive order here.

Photo: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, May 2021

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