In April 2009, Secretary Vilsack called for a new era in civil rights and directed the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (OASCR) to help lead a comprehensive effort to improve USDA’s record. That meant correcting errors, learning from past mistakes, and charting a stronger path for the future where all Americans are treated with dignity and respect by USDA employees. To make these goals a reality, my staff and employees across USDA have been working extremely hard over the past two and a half years and I am very proud to highlight some of the strides we’ve made.
To begin with, we want to make sure that USDA’s policies, regulations and decisions are inclusive and respect the rights of all the American people. To make sure USDA agencies are in compliance with civil rights regulations and policies, OASCR conducts reviews to determine the civil rights impact of any new policy, action, rule or decision. Since 2009, we have doubled the number of reviews conducted, improved the quality by providing training to folks who conduct them, and worked with agencies within USDA to improve their decision in nearly a third of the cases we reviewed.
We also want to make sure we deal promptly and appropriately with any complaints about our delivery of critical programs. But in 2009, we found that far too many discrimination complaints had received only a cursory review in recent years. To resolve this, Secretary Vilsack restored OASCR’s travel budget to investigate the complaints and doubled the number of employees working to process program discrimination complaints—ensuring that complainants receive a thorough, in person investigation of their allegations of discrimination.
And in FY2011, all civil rights program complaints that were filed under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act were processed prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations – some with findings of discrimination. And, because of our relentless efforts, we have policies and goals in place to ensure that we never again encounter a backlog like the one that existed in previous years when the statute of limitations regularly expired on 80% of the cases filed.
And we’ve also looked internally to decrease and deal appropriately with complaints of workforce discrimination at USDA. Thanks to our hard work, we were recognized as a leader among Federal agencies in the EEOC 2010 Workforce Report for recognizing and remedying acts of discrimination, ranking first in terms of results and accuracy in the merit decisions written.
We are very proud of the progress we’ve made in recent years to ensure that every employee and customer is treated fairly and equitably, with dignity and respect. USDA’s programs touch the lives of nearly every American in one way or another, and it is critical that we work to build a department that helps all Americans pursue the opportunities they deserve. Over the past two and a half years, we have worked hard to ensure that the USDA is held to the absolute highest standards of integrity. As Secretary Vilsack has said, the American people deserve no less.