Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has 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. 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.
"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 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.
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.
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.