Pro Farmer Editors
A report released today by the independent investigative arm of Congress,
the Government Accountability Office (GAO), says the civil rights efforts
overseen by Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department
of Agriculture are marked by significant deficiencies and recommends
new accountability structures to correct ongoing failures.
Specifically, GAO found that USDA fails to track and adjudicate civil rights
complaints, fails to provide accurate data regarding minority participation
in USDA programs, and fails to adequately undertake strategic planning with
respect to civil rights. The report was conducted at the request of U.S. Senators
Tom Harkin (D-IA), Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and U.S.
Representatives Joe Baca (D-CA) and Edolphus Towns (D-NY). The lawmakers asked
the GAO to focus especially on the performance of the Office of the Assistant
Secretary for Civil Rights, a position created in the 2002 Farm Security and
Rural Investment Act and tasked with directing civil rights efforts across
Earlier this year, the lawmakers protested directly to USDA when reports
surfaced that the Department obstructed and temporarily shut down the GAO investigation.
According to GAO, USDA officials delayed providing information and, in some
cases, instructed USDA employees not to comply with GAO.
To determine whether, as a result of this legislation, the Department of Agriculture
has improved its civil rights performance, Senators Harkin, Lugar, and Grassley,
as well as Representatives Baca and Towns, asked GAO to investigate USDA civil
rights actions since the 2002 farm bill, including the actions of the Assistant
Secretary for Civil Rights in 1) resolving discrimination complaints, 2) reporting
on minority participation in USDA programs and, 3) strategic planning for ensuring
USDAs services and benefits are provided fairly and equitably.
Key GAO Findings:
- The Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights has not achieved its goal of preventing
backlogs of pending civil rights complaints, with some complaints still pending
from the early 2000s. In addition, GAO found that progress report from the
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights regarding the extent of and resolution
of complaints have been inconsistent.
- The reports published by the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, required
by law, regarding minority participation in USDA programs are unreliable and
of limited usefulness. Furthermore, USDA has not taken the steps necessary
to improve the reliability of the data.
- The strategic planning of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights has
not included the necessary steps to provide fair and equitable services
to all customers and uphold the civil rights of its employees.
To remedy the lack of civil rights compliance at USDA, GAO recommended three
- A statutory performance agreement containing measurable goals and expectations
in key performance areas.
- An independent and empowered civil rights oversight board tasked with approving,
monitoring, and evaluating USDA civil rights activities.
- An effective ombudsperson, independent, impartial, and fully capable
of conducting meaningful investigations of USDA actions.