ADC Statement on Directive 15 Revisions (MENA Box)

Washington, DC | | March 28, 2024 – This morning, through a notice in the Federal Register, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) revised Statistical Policy Directive 15 (SPD15), which outlines the minimum racial and ethnic categories that all federal agencies are required to use when collecting demographic information. The final revisions include the addition of a new “Middle Eastern or North African” (MENA) minimum reporting category, the use of a combined question format for collecting race and ethnicity, and the requirement of more detailed data collection by federal agencies beyond the minimum Standards in most situations to allow for greater data disaggregation.

The revision and inclusion of the MENA box marks the first time that the Arab American community will be counted and recognized on all government forms. The federal government will now be able to better understand and address the unique issues that our communities face while also ensuring that our voices are heard, and our rights protected. This will also make it easier for Arab American organizations, including ADC, to have a better understanding of the community we serve.

ADC has been advocating on this issue since being founded in 1980. Throughout the years we have partnered with community groups, and advocated directly with the federal government for inclusion of the box. When a proposed revision to SPD15 was published last year, ADC submitted a formal comment outlining the multiple ways that the inclusion of a MENA category would benefit Arab American communities. The benefits highlighted spanned economics, healthcare, and civil rights, while also emphasizing the importance of recognition within the Census. With this final rule now published, ADC is committed to realizing those benefits for MENA communities.

This is a welcomed revision; however, it does fall short in many ways. Disappointingly, OMB did not heed the communities’ call to refine how they presented the MENA category. As ADC said last year, accurate and comprehensive information is the only way for the government to make progress in effectively serving our communities. OMB’s narrow definition of MENA and unprecedented mandating of specific subpopulation groups puts the reliability of its demographic data at risk and diminishes the value of recognizing our communities in the first place.

The rule published this morning denies the racial and ethnic diversity of Arab American communities by excluding Black Arabs and describing MENA without Armenian Americans, one of its largest populations. ADC shares concern with our Armenian partners over the fact that they are not included in the MENA category. Additionally, OMB prescribed check boxes and write-in examples without sufficiently testing them to assess their impact on response rates and data accuracy.

It is important to recognize that the term MENA is problematic to many in the community, given its origins. Moving forward ADC will be committed to advocating for additional changes, including the inclusion of Arab in the category title, based on the fact that an overwhelming majority of those who are from the region are Arab.

ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub said, “This is a long-awaited day. We have a lot of work ahead of us, particularly as the federal government begins to apply this revision. From programming designed to uplift our businesses to addressing health disparities and beyond. This is a good first step, however, we are aware that more work needs to be done to ensure there is a full and accurate representation of the Arab American community.”

ADC National Government Affairs and Advocacy Director Chris Habiby said, “Inaccurate classification has had profound impacts on our communities’ political representation, our access to necessary government services, the ability of our business communities to grow and develop, and the medical community’s understanding of the unique health issues we face. Throughout America’s history, our government has never considered that Arab Americans are a unique piece of the American fabric, and today’s announcement finally takes steps to change that.”

The federal register notice mandates that government agencies must submit to OMB an action plan on how these revisions will be implemented. ADC will stay engaged with government agencies and community members to ensure proper government-wide implementation.

Scroll to Top