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Honoring a Legacy of Service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Secretary Vilsack thanked the employees of USDA for their work in support of Dr. King’s life and legacy of service to the American people. You can read his letter below:

On Monday, we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose legacy in support of a unified and equal America gives profound meaning to what our efforts in public service can and should look like. Dr. King believed we are each stronger when we lift up our neighbors. He lived his life advocating on behalf of the idea that we are better as a nation when no one is left behind.

As we enter the final year of this Administration and I begin to look back on the progress we’ve made as a Department, I’d like to reflect on the ways the dedicated employees of USDA have honored Dr. King’s dream by creating opportunities for—and upholding the unalienable rights of—every American.

Within these walls, we’ve corrected past wrongdoings and planted seeds for a more inclusive future. In 2014, USDA became the second federal agency to add gender identity and gender expression as a protected basis, and since we launched our Cultural Transformation initiative in 2010, our Senior Executive Service has grown to surpass the government-wide workforce in 9 out of 10 diversity categories.

In the past five years, we’ve increased the number of minority executives by 88 percent and the number of women executives by 38 percent, leading the way and earning recognition as one of the most diverse groups of executives in the entire federal government. Since 2011, approximately 30 percent of all new permanent hires are former service men and women, and by working closely with the Office of Personnel Management to develop intern-to-career pathways programs, we’ve seen a 140 percent increase in the number of minority students hired.

Representation is critical, which is why under this Administration, we’ve made meaningful modifications to the Farm Service Agency’s county committee structure by annually reviewing local administrative boundaries to ensure minority and women producers are fairly represented in regional jurisdictions. We’ve put our words into action, and when statistical analysis demonstrated persistent lack of diversity in a few county committees, I was the first Agriculture Secretary to use my authority under the 2002 Farm Bill to appoint members representing socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers to over 100 county committees following elections in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Service is at the heart of what good government is and does. As Dr. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’ I am proud of what we’ve accomplished to overcome a troubled history of discrimination at USDA and build a more diverse Department that stands ready to serve all customers with dignity and respect.

As you and your families observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this coming Monday, please consider commemorating his legacy by serving your own neighbors and communities. You can find a volunteer project near you at:

Please also take a moment to read a recently launched yearlong storytelling effort focused on the impacts of your hard work over the course of this Administration. Each month in 2016, we will release a new “chapter” as a reflection of your efforts to serve rural and urban communities alike, and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans:

Thank you for all that you have done, and continue to do to build a new USDA legacy of equality, service and opportunity for all.

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