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Reflections on Civil Rights at USDA

Before I was sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture, I took time to meet with a handful individuals who held the job before I did.  I asked them for advice, and two recent Secretaries mentioned that it was important that I focus on civil rights.  As I soon learned for myself, USDA has an unfortunate and checkered history with regards to civil rights, with a multi-decade history of discrimination against our customers and our employees.

So since becoming Secretary in January 2009, I have made civil rights a priority at USDA, working to turn the page on the Department’s tragic civil rights record.  I pledged that we would correct past errors, learn from mistakes, and take definitive action to ensure that there is no disparity in program benefits based on race, color, sex, age, sexual orientation or disability.

Over the past 20 months, I have implemented a comprehensive program to move us into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider.  And I made it clear to every employee that USDA will have zero tolerance for any form of discrimination, and that each employee and customer must be treated fairly and equitably, with dignity and respect. We have made substantial progress towards these goals, and civil rights will remain a priority at USDA until we have truly moved into the new era I envision.

But for our work on civil rights to be successful and lasting, it must be part of a broader cultural change at USDA.  We began this process last year when I created a task force to build a more open, responsive, collaborative, transparent, and effective USDA.

So there is irony in the fact that my commitment to civil rights was a factor in the run-up and decision to ask for and accept Shirley Sherrod’s resignation as USDA State Director for Rural Development in the State of Georgia.

Following that incident, I directed the USDA Acting General Counsel to conduct a review of what took place.  I wanted to determine what mistakes were made to ensure that the USDA could learn from the incident and avoid similar pitfalls in the future.

Today, I met with Mrs. Sherrod to discuss, among other things, the review we completed of this incident and how USDA will be moving forward to address the recommendations it contains.

This review identified a handful of significant lessons.  Among them is that we need to improve protocols for internal communications at the Department, and create a set of safeguards to avoid the sort of hasty action which led to the mishandling of the matter with Mrs. Sherrod.  I have accepted all of these recommendations and asked that they be implemented immediately.  I know that they will help us build a more inclusive and deliberative decision-making environment and prevent similar mistakes from occurring again at USDA.

This experience provides an opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  But it also provides an opportunity to build a Department that empowers and respects its employees and customers.  And at the end of the day, I know that we will build a stronger Department and better serve the American people.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meets with Shirley Sherrod in his office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, August 24, 2010. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meets with Shirley Sherrod in his office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, August 24, 2010. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols

116 Responses to “Reflections on Civil Rights at USDA”

  1. Carl says:

    I applaud the Secretary,because he learned to ask forgiveness,and Shirley have learned to forgive.This is a wake up call for us all, the lesson we learned is to think of tenth times before making a big decision that will put us in the embarassing situation.

  2. Bea says:

    I commend the Secretary for stepping up to the plate, however, I believe that in order to make a difference in Civil Rights, a lot of changes need to be made in the make up of the Civil Rights staff beginning with the Assistant Secretary for CR on down to the clerical staff.

  3. Clueless in Texas says:

    Wow, I was always told there was always two sides to every story and then the truth. Secretary Vilsack did the right thing to apologize, but it’s the same old one-sided story when it comes down to discrimination. I work in a USDA office in Texas and discrimination prevails. It is not getting any better. Discrimination is supposedly not seem on the surface, but underneath the surface it lies. Our managers/employees think they are hidding it, but we see and know it clearly. They talk about us, look over us for promotion, have birthday celebrations among themselves, and talk as if they are chrisitian, yet we see straight through them. It has happened over and over and over. But this one thing I know, that our consciences are clear and we sleep in peace at night. Yet is Secretary Vilsack’s conscience clear? Well yes, it is now, he apologized, but was it before? Is yours clear? Those that are discriminated against sometimes have a heavy heart, but with a clear conscience we can go home and sleep in peace. Those who do discriminate, have subconscience dreams that rage at their being, but yet they continue to discriminate. We are not stupid, we hear and we see it, yet one day justice will prevail. And lastly to Mrs. Sherrod, be triumphant my sister in your new venture AND to Secretary Vilsack, I hope you can see some changes in the future, unfortunately ALL individuals must seek your type of change also.

  4. anomalous says:

    as a USDA employee, I wonder what would happen to my job if I admitted I didn’t help a person of another race as well as I could (SHOULD) have, BECAUSE of their race, as Ms Sherrod admitted to–how exactly has she become a “hero” because of that?

    the USDA continues to pay out millions to black farmers who won a discrimination suit from years ago, and we ALL have to take the Civil Rights courses yearly or we lose access to our computer login (or so we’re told)

    I think the Agency is doing all it can, but lets be fair to ALL categories of employees: EQUAL TREATMENT FOR ALL

  5. Stephanie says:

    I am a USDA Employee I commend Mr.Vilsack on the quick response. I filled that USDA managers need to take training Civil Rights and actions should be taken on manager’s not just appology. I myself was threaten to be fired back in February of this year a letter was sild under my door threaten to fire e if I did not do duties that were perform by a higher grade employee. I filed a EEO Case there is a investigation going on I have work for usda 19years I have 23 years of federal Service this was unacceptle for me to be threten has a employee I was saddened the things that were being said to me by employees and mangers hopefully it will get better. I was told by a manager to find myself another job.

  6. James R. says:

    Mistakes are made in any organization. USDA is still a great place to work. Our mission is to protect public health by ensuring food safety and that is a worthy goal. Secretary Vilsack has been honest and open about this matter and he deserves our respect and understanding. He obviously won’t allow discrimination in any form in the Agency and acted in good faith to address what appeared to be misconduct. The information provided to him was not complete and therefore not conclusive but it was all he had at the time. We are provided with annual training on civil rights and are constantly reminded of the importance of treating our colleagues and customers with equality and respect. Let’s look at this as an unfortunate event and move on. Every effort is being made to rectify the situation. Don’t allow this mistake to divert or divide us on our civil rights committment or to cause us to lose faith in our leadership.

  7. just wondering says:

    As many have said, how did this happen. Although I do not have a need to know on particulars, the thought I shared with my husband when this happened was the question of what type of advice and reasoning the human resources/relations folks utilized behind the scenes in advising The Commissioner and his staff initially. That is part that I imagine was hasty and full of holes. And what were to repercussions to their careers, as hatchet men/women. Shirley Sherrod is definately not the only Federal employee negatively impacted by not only their haste, but their cavalierness to humanity. As discussed in previous submissions, this occurs all too often, no matter the employee rank or whether part of any EEO protected class. In their haste to powerfully demonstrate their authority and knowledge, they fail to build a stronger agency. The lack of maturity in utilizing neutrality in the business at hand continues to concern me as a government employee and as a taxpayer. Are we on purpose, or simply attempting to look purposeful.

  8. ImSpartacus says:

    And thanks for playing: Missing the Point Entirely! This FUBAR was not about civil rights; rather it was a personal mistake by a few individuals who were concerned more about immediate, scare-politics of race -rather than the longterm integrity of their Department and its agencies. The real lesson is this: leaders should believe first in the integrity of your department and its employees.

  9. Steve says:

    Shirley Sherrod seems to be a mature and independent person who will recover and probably excel from this incident. The lack of objective treatment she received represents the tip of the iceberg in the federal government. I do not want to see her receive special treatment for the mistakes of poor leadership. The apology must be extended to all employees who have been treated so callously across the nation, especially those at levels hidden from public view. A good company recognizes the value of its employees and treats each one with respect to help maximize good morale and quality and quantity of work.

  10. alisa says:

    I’m glad that this situation did not go beyond what could have happen, I have seen many situations in which this agency still needs to stand back and view , if handled in accordance to due process.. but on the other note I’m glad that you being the person implementing this issue will get it resolved. It’s just sad on how you have tried to push diversity, and some officals, co-workers, and even in the insdustry still do not understand that without working together we as a group fail together. But I do not blame her for her final decison. I hope that in the future what you addressed here with be implemented from now on on all issues, we are trained to GAD before assuming any issues..

    Have a good one,

  11. Outraged in New Orleans says:

    Just the fact that Shirley Sherrod was able to THINK ABOUT doing something like treating someone with less than her best support because of the race differences, even if not following up her her thoughts which I do commend her for, is a form of racism.

    Why should she be treated as a HERO for doing her job the best she should/could have?

  12. Bill says:

    I failed to see where Mr Vilsack took responsibility for his actions. It all seems like lip service. Change the culture of the agency? This action was a major setback for civil rights and undermined any action that may appear to make progress in creating a culture of transparency,collabrotivness,responsiveness, and effectivness in USDA. Mr. Vilsack should resign over this travesty of civil rights violation. USDA will have zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior, yeah right.

  13. concerned employee says:

    Unfortunately, The knee jerk reaction without all the facts is a real problem in much of USDA’s dealings with issues. I am extremely concerned about the tendency to fly forward without all the facts. We see this all the time. How many reactions or programs have been started at a higher level that have no consideration for the employees who actually do the work, their time, their resources, not to mention reality. We are often expected to just “handle it”. Because of the fine people who work in my area, we do whatever we need to get the job done. We do it because of our personal work ethics.

    This agency also approaches employee issues with the attitude and belief that we are GUILTY until proven innocent. Again, a lack of caring about the complete facts of the issue is an overriding problem.

    Conversely, the agency is hopelessly bad at recognizing great work and work above and beyond the job description. I wonder what will happen when the “older” generation of employees who have strong work ethics disappear and a newer, more self centered, generation comes to work.

  14. Bill says:

    I failed to see where Mr Vilsack took responsibility for his actions. It all seems like lip service. Change the culture of the agency? This action was a major setback for civil rights and undermined any action that may appear to make progress in creating a culture of transparency,collaborativness,responsiveness, and effectivness in USDA. Mr. Vilsack should resign over this travesty of civil rights violation. USDA will have zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior, yeah right.

  15. Justice says:

    This behavior is typical in the department. Upper management doesn’t investigate both sides. They assume that supervisors are doing what they were hired to do and clearly, this is proven with this case. I myself was having problems with my supervisor and had never received any warnings verbal or written. I tried to make a appointment to report my problem to Ms. Hobbs office only to get back to my office and was notified that i could be fired. Freedom of speech. Yeah right!!

  16. lisa r. says:

    It is a shame this happened, but it wasn’t the first or the last time. Supervisor’s actions take place a lot without the true facts. Letters of instruction are given to employee’s that have been accused of adverse actions that are not based in fact. These actions are not suppose to be used against an employee for evaluation’s etc but they are used against an employee to drop an employee’s rating with the supervisor’s supervisor recommending these actions. So much for doing the right thing. The employee is held accountable and is guilty because that is the easiest thing to do.

  17. Sadened in CA says:

    I am sadened as well as many others in the Forest Service. Mrs. Sherrod was trying to tell her story and pour out her heart and someone wanted to jump to the wrong conclusion before she even got half was through. Then the media jumped on an opportunity to cause chaos and aired the part to support confusion and the wrong conclusion, not only because of her color, but because she was a successful woman.

    When will people start opening up and not be afraid to share their stories and learn from these mistakes?? When people get their eyes off of themselves and learn to respect and listen to others as equals instead of always putting themselves above others.

  18. Vi says:

    Shirley Sherrod was a government employee at that time. She should have not seen the race of the people who needed the government’s help. She should have not mentioned any race issue in her speech. An American farmer needed help (white or black is uncalled for). The race should have not been brought up as a point for the service at all and should have not been emphasized in the speech. The people who needed her help were Americans, period. It was her job to help Americans in need. Saying, “farmer-in-need” is innocent, while describing the farmer as white in my opinion is debatable.

  19. Whose Right says:

    I have worked for DM/OO for 11 years and with this agencey it’s not what you know it’s who you know. Our upper management is not fair when it comes to the employees. The jobs here are pre-slected, there is no room for promotions unless you are in a management position and even that is pre-slected. We have un-qualified managers running an office that has qualified people to do the work. When we complain we are told to find another job or harrased by the supervisor. It took Ms. Sherrod incident to bring attention to the everyday issues we face here at USDA. Ms. Sherrod you are not alone!!

  20. GODS CHILD says:

    I am not surprised about what happen to Mrs. Sherrod. I am an employee within the Department and in my case I have been discriminated against several times. Management would rather move you than to investigate and solve the problem. You file a case and Civil Rights sides with the Department, so who do we really have to stand up for us?? When you report a problem to upper Management you become open for retaliation and nothing is ever said or done…We just have to deal with it!! The problem is supervisors and managers are put in positions that they are clearly not qualified to perform. This is a problem that exists in my agency/office and it needs to stop. We have a long way to go and I hope by bringing exposure to the incident that happen to Mrs. Sherrod will change the way supervisors and management treat their employees and to ensure discriminatory acts are not committed in no way. I respect Secretary Vilsack for stepping up and apologizing for his mistakes. We have a long way to go and I hope that Secretary Vilsack continue to seek change and do everything in his power to end discrimination here at USDA.

  21. Jackson says:

    Anonymity should be utilized with comments to this blog. This is a joke. I have been accused of several things with this agency and they always react without questioning me first. They have never learned from their mistakes. They simply ignore and go on.

  22. Premanji says:

    Firstly, I must compliment Secretary Vilsack for highlighting the strategic role of Civil rights to all atakeholders. And whereas, the result was not pleasant to anyone, it is clear that the INTENT was to ‘heal the hurt and seal the well.’ However, DATA speak, FACTS alert, and ACTIONS hurt – when our civil rights are disregarded daily( yes daily at USDA!) Those often entrusted to enforce need to take note that it is the actions -not legislation- that would help us. Did anyone hear of Arun Basu et al ?

    Secondly, the Secretary needs to clean house with those entrusted to change the ‘civil rights’ culture at USDA. The Civil rights group except Dr. Joe Leonard, may need to be sent to a reeducation concentration camp. It is not about Secretary Vilsack or Mrs. Sherrod. It is the culture of recycling poor civil rights with great legislation instead of respectful actions!

  23. let's all get along says:

    Outraged in New Orleans, Ms. Sherrod is not being treated as a hero – you’ve either missed the reality of this travesty or you conveniently refuse to acknowledge reality…please play catch up – the positive treatment that Ms. Sherrod is receiving, has received, or will receive is not because she chose to perform her job as expected over choosing to act discriminatorily towards the ‘white’ farmer who appeared to Ms. Sherrod, at that moment, to be acting with an air of un-earned privilege – Ms. Sherrod’s treatment, whether it’s flowing from Secretary Vilsack, the NACCP or the White House is conducted in order to right a wrong – Ms. Sherrod was persecuted as a racist without due process, and ultimately, as the story unfolded, the truth prevailed, thus warranting the many apologies she’s received, will receive, or is receiving. There is nothing special about these apologies – it is the right thing to do.

    As for your comment that Ms. Sherrod’s thoughts of doing less than expected for the ‘white farmer’ constitute racism, may be valid, but it appears you are comfortable with and you’d rather keep the dissension amongst the races.

    The take away from all of this is that Ms. Sherrod had a ‘ah ha’ moment, and turned the table in support of the ‘have nots’ vs support among racial lines. Let’s continue to move forward in support of Ms. Sherrod’s actions vs standing firm on your inability to look beyond racial lines. Ms. Sherrod has done an awesome job ‘fighting’ for the economically challenged farmers of any race – Google her and you too will be able to read about the great things she’s done.

  24. Single mom gets bad rap says:

    I agree with ‘concerned employee’ who said This agency also approaches employee issues with the attitude and belief that we are GUILTY until proven innocent.I have been there first hand. Worked all year as relief inspector, got to go home 5 times (over night)that year, wrote 3 to 4 NRs per day; at the end I got 2 weeks suspension because they believed the establihsments 3 employees’ stories of allagations against me. All 3 employees by the way got promotions(or favors)within the establishemt after they got rid of me. So much for doing your job and thinking that you are protected. I was to prove my innocense but could not return to the establishment to talk to anyone. No I did not show remorse when interviewed by DO personnel, I was furious and upset about the lies, how could I be remorseful of something I did not do. Where was USDA when I needed them? By the way this happened in 2004-05 while Mr. Vilsack was in office, so much for change. Seems like an Inspector has no rights, when accused by establishemnts I had never been in trouble or had complaints against me, then I find myself at home for two weeks with out pay.

  25. Renee says:

    Ahem to Bill Mano’s comments! (posted 08.25 @ 1:50 p.m.). Vilsack was discplined how on his horrendous management screw-up. He used his ‘power’ to bully someone, and it backfired on him. Poor leadership.

  26. True Story says:

    After almost 43 years with USDA I find it so hard to believe that the Secretary of Agriculture either recieved poor or no information on Ms. Sherrod’s comments. The buck may stop with the Secretary but surely someone on staff dropped the ball. If the Secretary remains truely interested in Civil Rights….try communicating with him other than maybe this blog. Discrimination at USDA….more than ever before. The Secretary may read this, but let’s see if he is interested in discovering how ongoing discrimination is poorly managed at USDA.

  27. Yvonne says:

    I don’t see that this was a Civil Rights issue at all. Ms. Sherrod very arrogantly made a very unacceptable comment in a public speach. Yes, we all make mistakes, but we should ALL be held accountable! Our nation is hurting enormously due to lack of responsibility and accountability!

  28. Nancy says:

    I filed a complaint of discrimination against the Agency in February 2009. My case is before an Administrative Judge at the EEOC and I am still waiting for this painfully slow process to be completed. The impact on my physical, mental and financial health has been devastating. I hope the Secretary maintains his “Zero Tolerance” policy for those that have discriminated against me. When I look at at everything that has happened (to me) in the last four or five YEARS, it makes it difficult for me to want to stay in my current position. I’m sure that like Ms. Sherrod, I will need to “take a break” from the furor surrounding my complaint. It will take me a long time to heal too. I just hope Secretary Vilsack is as responsive to all employees, regardless of their position or pay grade as he was to Shirley Sherrod.

  29. concerned employee2 says:

    I agree with those who recognized the “knee jerk” reaction behavior of the current department’s upper level staff. It seems as though they are still campaigning and haven’t figured out how to govern. I fear that there new policy will be to have every public presentation made by an agency employee be vetted through the department now before any of us can speak in public. The “gag order” for speaking to the media/press was just the beginning. I can only imagine what the future holds.

  30. Interested says:

    I think the lesson to be learned here is very simple: there is ALWAYS two sides to every story. I hope Secretary Vilsack has learned that lesson so that before he reacts or takes a position on any issue-be it an employee or program-related issue that comes to his attention-he takes the time to find out OUR side of that story first.

  31. Not impressed says:

    I have written enough political spin to recognize the same. The thing that frustrated me most about this incident was the statements made by the secretary about the USDA’s checkered past and the current administrations hard work over the last … months to correct it. I believe that this was a cynical, politically motivated statement. It intentionally left the public with the perception that progress only started in the Obama administration. Mr. Vilsack willingly exploited agency employees in order to make a little political hay.

    Racism is rightfully a behavior that now makes people social pariahs. To hang this label on agency employees for political gain is base and disgusting. The truth is that the last several administrations have worked hard to produce tangible results in this area. Most USDA employees have worked hard, as well. We have attended dozens of training sessions. Civil rights has been a core performance element in our annual evaluations for many years. Those of us who supervise tend to take this very seriously. Our staff and line officers do as well. There has been a “no tolerance” policy and atmosphere in place for years. We are human beings; there is still room for growth and improvement. We have come a long way down the road, however. This is not the USDA of 30 years ago. I resent Secretary Tom’s slight-of-hand that told the world otherwise. His was the only intolerant act that I saw in the USDA during this entire episode. I can’t think of any display of porcine-like behavior, except that displayed by the former governor. I did not see or hear racist comments at the water cooler or even in the semi-safe confines of “out in the field”. I have seen no apology from the secretary that really addresses what he publicy did to his employees’ reputation. He still continues with these statements.

  32. Dale says:

    I hope Mr. Vilsack has learned a valuable lesson from this ordeal. As a USDA employee I must admit that I was quite embarrassed by the knee-jerk reaction to partison propaganda.

  33. William J. Elmore says:

    I am a white man who raised a black child in a all white community. His step father was put in jail for selling drugs. I took him in at age 9. The head of the ugly serpent of racism showed its ugly self weekly if not daily. Racism is alive and strong in our tarnished America. I raise my hat to Mr. Vilsack for his ability to help shed these irons of racism if only for a day. I personally would like to send my deepest and sincerest thoughts to Shirley.

  34. tboswell says:

    I commend Mr. Vilsack for his commitment and composure and professionality while dealing with this difficult issue. I think we need to move forward and let this be a lesson learned and taught. USDA has many versatile sides and each has its issues. We need to deal with all of them in the same professional manner in which Mr. Vilsack has dealt with the issue of diversity.

  35. outrageous says:

    The wrong person resigned. I wonder if she would have been fired if she was a white woman or man?
    Lip service on civil rights will not help.

  36. BRUTALLY WOUNDED and left for dead on "the last plantation" says:

    This unfortunate occurence with Shirley Sherrod and the powers that be is all to familiar to me. It’s been over seven years since I was brutally wounded and left for dead while working on “the last plantation”. I totally agree with the comment that the agency should acknowledge the credibility of its employees who have a proven track record in their commitment of promoting true equality thoughout the agency’s programs, services, and workforce. So many of us have been in Ms. Sherrod’s shoes and been pulled apart by the unfair, racist leadership that have plagued USDA for years. After receiving the Federal Clerical Employee of the Year and being nominated for the Administrator’s Civil Rights Award for service that embraced the agency’s then new civil rights initiative, I was unjustly accused and went through a “fixed” mediation process that would eventually leave me running away from a hostile and inhumane work environment. The unethical practices of the Employee Relations team coupled with the inability of the CREC staff to stand for what was right cut right to the very core of me. The agency has held my case in the Office of General Counsel in hopes that I and it will go away. Fortunately, because I still believe in the importance of helping minority farmers and helping to increase the presence of minorities in the USDA workforce, what was a job has now become entangled with passion and purpose. Secretary Vilsack may be genuine in his stated commitment to civil rights, but until he addresses some of the venomous and unjust practices across the agency and deals with those high profile cases like mine and so many others who are in a stack waiting for the statue of limitations to pass, then true change will never occur. When I think of how I poured myself into my job, forsaking my family, health, and well-being only to be cut down like a tree, I can feel the sharp knife in my stomach all over again.

  37. Been there says:

    I’ve been there, I know just how Shirley felt. If I hadn’t needed the job with the insurance I’d have told them what they could do with my job. I was accused of something that never happened, removed from my plant and sent on the road for 6 months, then they changed my duty station. The hardship on my family was enormous. The upper crust jumps the gun way to often. One of these days the one’s crying wolf are going to have a real problem and they’ll blow it off. Oh well. I say kudos to Shirley for not backing down

  38. Warren says:

    There are those who in times of close scrutiny defend their moral high ground and say this teachable moment and our response to the situation, will make us stronger. I truly hope that the incident with Ms.Sherrod hits a “real” nerve and that this will make a long-term difference in not only how we process decisions, but also how we respect the integrity of those hard working and committed employees who ARE USDA.

  39. woodbury says:

    In response to the above comment Mrs. Sherrod shared her own struggles and victory(please read or listen) to her whole speech. This is what Secretary Vilsack’s failed to do and now he too has his own truth to tell.
    The black farmers were awarded money’s but have not recieve due to politics money’s awarded to them. This has been in the news as well.
    Civil rights begins in the heart equal treatment means treating others as you treat yourself!

  40. David says:

    Dear Mr. Vilsack, Personally I am tired of being blamed for the transgressions of others; most of us within the Department have not made it a practice to discriminate against the public or our employees. I have been with the Department for 23 years and in the last twenty I have had a EEO/Civil Rights training every year in some cases more than once in a year, now we do it on ag learn every year. A few years ago an incident took place in my state that was isolated to only two individuals but yet everyone in the state were required to take EEO and reprisal training and were warned that reprisals would not be tolerated. Most of us wondered just why someone had to come from Washington to conduct training for something that most of us had no clue as to what was really going on. I guess at this point if charges of discrimination of any kind are leveled against Department employees, a thorough investigation should take place and then once all facts are determined then the Department should take action, not the witch hunts that so often take place. Get rid of the bad apples Mr. Secretary, you have a Department where most of the apples are good ones just trying to do their jobs in a time where we receive inadequate administrative funding with which to administer the programs that we are mandated to provide and are being micro managed to death.

  41. Teresa says:

    @outraged in New Orleans,Thougths are just that, it is the acting on the thoughts that indicates out charater and integrity. Ms. Sherrod was not even an employee at the time of the incident twenty-years plus ago she was talking about the changes that occurred in her growth and development as a Black Woman.

    @Secretary Tom Vilsack, I am afraid that the agency will not follow through on it’s promise to not be so quick to jump to conclusion and I defiantly believe that treating staff with respect is not a top priority in this agency. I really wish that Icould speak openly about the way parts of this agency operates but the agency and other staff know that would be career suicide

  42. Mario says:

    Secretary Vilsack,
    I think it takes a great deal of humility and strong leadership to accept when one has made a mistake. You took ownership from day one and did not try to cover it with with PR tricks.

    Moving forward it is critical that you consult with your staff. For example, Dr. Joe Leonard, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, I am sure would have provided a different perspective on this issue.

    Finally, I want to commend you for your efforts to make USDA a better place to work and serve the American people. There is much work to be done in the areas of acceptance, diversity, and effective leadership.

  43. Hopeful says:

    Its good to hear Secretary Vilsack’s thoughts on the Shirley Sherrod incident. I have felt my work environment improve, attitude wise (not functionally) since he arrived. I fear the multiple agencies and levels of managment and appointees who are surrounding him will bar him from truly grasping some of the cultural issues at USDA and the solutions that could help. I was told once in an outside interview, that because I worked for a USDA agency, and not within the Department itself, that the interviewer “heard” agencies were “inferior” to the Department, so this incident might shed some light on the reality of that claim and the relationship barrier between the agencies and the Department itself. USDA is a slow, unprogressive organization to work for, with little or no opportunity available to advance within its overloaded structure. And many are happy to see it stay the same, regardless of our well meaning Secretary. I will try to stay hopeful that the positiveness I have felt from Sec. Vilsack is carried into actual functional action, based on the true realities and barriers that hamper USDA.

  44. Jerry says:

    “And I made it clear to every employee that USDA will have zero tolerance for any form of discrimination…”

    Every employee except one….YOU. Resign for racism. Your own rule decrees it.

  45. Tom says:

    The sad thing is that this Agency is missing the opportunity of becoming a great institution. The total vertical system from top to bottom approach, the unfair desicions, and the whole system of protecting bad supervisors in order to save face instead of correcting wrongs is so entrenched that it would required great time and effort to change this culture. Myself, I have experienced the EEO system in USDA and it has been very draining, frustrating and very expensive! I hope Mr. Vilsak the best in this endevour.

  46. Ernest says:

    As a calculated and timed response to the Sherrod vs. USDA incident, I don’t think this is an isolated incident albeit a very visible one. As with any developing change in the American culture, there remain those who clandestinely hold on to their warped and prejudicial mindsets often out of greed, ignorance and fear. I say this because I have been victim in private and now of all places governmental agencies due to my race and gender. And, I am very sure I don’t fit the hip hop or gang banger stereo type associated subconsciously with Black males. While Ms. Sherrod was a black woman, I as a black male suffer even more regardless of my age which is a tad above the rap and hip hop age group. The stereotypical view of black males is one of violence and threats. So, when one comes along that does not espouse the stereotypical behavior it becomes a silent threat; even my faith would not allow me to live in such a manner! Even recently, I have witnessed the double standard given those of gender and race; given the history of black men in this local agency. There is no way you can convince me that there are no black men qualified for positions in this arena. I think it is horrible how we can speak of trying to make things better while the whole time sweeping things under the rug for the sake of stated progress. While Secretary Vilsack is commended for his apology, there is no feeling of congratulatory praise for his action. It is a travesty that he should even have had to deal with such an action. It should have never happened. The whole truth should have been investigated prior to any statement, action or even thought being directed toward Ms. Sherrod. While at that point in history she expressed her mindset given the mindset of those in ‘power’, the same prejudicial mindset is being expressed in the halls of our beloved USDA for ‘those farmers’ who are being paid out of a lawsuit. Unfortunately, I agree with restitution since my grandfather was one of the wronged farmers who never even had a chance to file for a lawsuit. Even in overhearing discussions of this among coworkers of different cultures I still hear where the President is hiding something instead of speaking straight forward about the merits of the case. Fortunately I vote for a President based on his integrity and qualifications and not his color. In essence, Jim Crow is still alive and well. He just goes by the name of James Crowe, II and often has a title at the end of his name.

  47. USDA NRCS Employee says:

    I hope Secretary Vilsack reads these comments as it appears there is a lot if non compliance within USDA in the area of Civil Rights. there are many comments from USDA employees here that are disturbing to say the least. Our agency recently took part in a civil rights review and to say the least it was a joke. we made sure posters were up in offices and showed a file to say we were providing outreach to all producers. There was no discussion on the inadequacy of our civil rights training, no discussion on sensitivity training for supervisors who are stuck in the 60′s. No discussion on discrimination or inappropriate conversations in the workplace. Most supervisors are 50+ male and white and are at home with their discriminatory and sexist remarks. No employee will complain because they know its not worth it, they will loose their job, or have to leave and the supervisor will move on to another post (like the catholic priests abusing kids- move to another parish). Management will not open up to a true discussion on discrimination, sexism, racism and until somone is actually punished for non compliance nothing will happen in this area. The civil rights review done recently was a farse and we all know it, meanwhile there will be employees and offices that will get “awards” for doing a great job on civil rights..and it will be money….more waste of tax payers money. Secretary Vilsack your recent mis-step was an example of how nervous this agency is about civil rights and if you were secure in how we adhere to correct civil rights protocol you would not have made that mis-step in judgement.

  48. NJ says:

    I hope that the reflection on how Ms.Sherrod’s dismissal was handled provides second thoughts on how Forest Service Chief Gail Kimball’s dismissal was handled. Change in leadership can be appropriate and powerful. Chief Kimball’s removal appeared abrupt and unkind, not respectful of her years of service and myriad accomplishments on behalf of the public and the resources. Swift transitions are not the problem, decorum and respect are…I say, respectfully, with reflection.

  49. penelope says:

    Here’s a thought: Take time to get the facts instead of depending on biased news networks and emotional rhetoric. Had USDA done that, none of this would have happened.

  50. Mike says:

    This incident reveals lack of strong leadership and political ignorance. To have asked for Ms. Sherrod’s resignation based on rumors and innuendo from a suspect source without letting her give her side of the story was not just wrong it was stupid. Someone should have to pay for this. The person or group of people responsible for this incident should resign.

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