Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released an independently produced report that provides a Civil Rights Assessment of USDA's field-based program delivery and makes recommendations intended to ensure that all Americans have fair and equal access to USDA programs.

"From the day I took office as Secretary, I made it a department-wide priority to ensure that all eligible Americans receive equal access to USDA programs, and this report provides a roadmap that will help us continue moving forward in this effort," Vilsack said. "USDA employees and our partners throughout the country are to be commended for the commitment being made to diversity, inclusion, and accessibility and that they realize our work must continue."

The Civil Rights Assessment report was promised in Secretary Vilsack's April 2009 memorandum to employees that detailed an aggressive plan to promote equal access and opportunity at the department. The report makes department-wide recommendations that will help USDA improve service delivery to minority and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and also suggests agency-specific changes to enhance program delivery and outreach to promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility.

A significant number of the recommendations included in the report already have been or currently are being integrated into USDA operations. An internal working group chaired by Secretary Vilsack has been established to implement many of the recommendations within the framework of cultural transformation. While many recommendations can be implemented administratively, some of the recommendations will require policy or statutory changes, and others will need to be considered as part of the 2012 Farm Bill deliberations.

The recommendations include adoption of a new workforce analysis process, customer service analysis, and increased measurement of objectives through managerial employee performance plans. The report also outlines some department successes, including socially disadvantaged group participation in some USDA housing loan programs. At the same time the report provides recommendations designed to improve outreach, documentation of public contact and streamline program application processes for the program.

To develop the various recommendations within the report, Jackson Lewis LLP Corporate Diversity Counseling Group, surveyed Washington, D.C. and field office staff in four agencies: The Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Risk Management Agency.