What is in this article?:
- Civil rights report details new USDA approach to discrimination issues
- New recommendations
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 sampling of recommendations that have been or are currently being implemented into USDA operations include:
- The Secretary will continue to emphasize to the entire workforce rigorous enforcement of a comprehensive USDA "Zero Tolerance" Policy, clearly prohibiting all forms of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, along with related standards of conduct, and including mandatory discipline for violations regarding both employment and program delivery.
- USDA will hold all managers accountable for utilizing a diverse pool of applicants for vacancies/promotions, with limited exceptions to be approved/denied by the USDA Chief Diversity Officer, who will direct follow-up actions to remedy the reasons for exceptions, where such exceptions are temporarily approved.
- Farm Service Agency employees will be required to thoroughly explain to applicants the reasons when they deny loan or program applications and what the applicant can do to improve chances of securing approval in subsequent applications.
- Farm Service Agency employees involved in the lending and/or outreach processes will learn what assistance they can and cannot provide to customers and potential customers in connection with completing their applications to avoid unequal treatment that could be construed by any customer or potential customer as discriminatory.
- Rural Development will seek organizations such as community based organizations to enhance the success of existing program dollars that are not reaching socially disadvantaged communities, and the agency will 1) identify Rural Development programs appropriate for their constituents; 2) identify eligible participants; 3) educate potential applicants to build capacity; 4) assist with the application process; and 5) work with borrowers to increase the likelihood of success after funding is provided.
- Rural Development will utilize flex-time policies and encourage the use of evening/weekend hours to ensure greater customer/potential customer access to programs.
- Natural Resources Conservation Service will create a consistent protocol in every field office for tracking applications, informing applicants of the status of their application in writing on a regular basis, providing customers with reasons as to why they are ineligible for programs or not funded, and providing guidance for future applications.
- Natural Resources Conservation Service will set consistent training goals at the national level for and tailored training should take place at the local level.
- Risk Management Agency will incorporate explicit, comprehensive, measurable outreach requirements into regulations and the Standard Reinsurance Agreement, and rigorously enforce the requirements.
- Risk Management Agency will utilize the offices of other USDA agencies to promote and distribute informational materials about programs and services.
Under Secretary Vilsack's leadership, USDA is addressing civil rights complaints that go back decades to resolve allegations of past discrimination and usher in "a new era of civil rights" for the Department. In February 2010, the Secretary announced the Pigford II settlement with African American farmers, and in October 2010, he announced the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers. In February 2011, Secretary Vilsack announced the establishment of a process to resolve the claims of Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers. An overview of Secretary Vilsack's comprehensive efforts is available here.