order non hybrid seeds LandRightsNFarming: USDA Tom Vilsack "Said to B e" Fighting Civil Rights Legacy with Training

Thursday, September 19, 2013

USDA Tom Vilsack "Said to B e" Fighting Civil Rights Legacy with Training

Subject: USDA Tom Vilsack "Said to Be" Fighting Civil Rights Legacy with Training

USDA fighting discrimination legacy with more training, accountability
Tuesday - 10/16/2012, 8:00am EDT

The Agriculture Department is addressing a legacy of discrimination claims by offering better workforce training, more accountability and a deeper look at its 
data. "We can pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in claims ... or we can make sure those resources are available to the programs that help people," said USDA
Secretary Tom Vilsack in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.
The agency is training employees to be "sensitive to people of all races, in all regions of the country," Vilsack said. That includes political appointees, who must attend civil rights training.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack "The training is done by experts who come in and make us a lot more sensitive to comments and to actions that, in the past, maybe people would've thought were appropriate or funny but really are not appropriate and not funny, and taken in a way they should be," Vilsack said.
Those discrimination claims are also coming from within the workforce. Vilsack said the agency is opening up its hiring to more diversity, including at the Senior
Executive Service level. The workforce training is part of a larger effort — what Vilsack calls a "cultural transformation." He noted that the change comes at a time of much budget uncertainty, particularly without the passage of a farm bill.

I have already said above that "addressing a legacy of discrimination claims by offering better workforce training," is a tactic that hasn't work at USDA for over 30 years and won't work now - so why waste taxpayers' much-needed money by doing it again.   A "deeper look" into the data doesn't give an agency a full understanding of what is really going on either.  For example, a lower number of complaints may mean that the incidents of reprisal and retaliation are so high that employees are less likely to come into the system to complain, so the problems fester outside the process.  Thank goodness political appointees come and go, but the permanent civilians at the top are the ones who can duck down until they go and are the ones who have the greatest impact on the culture and what takes place over the long run.  The complaints and actions I read on USDA were coming from within the workforce, as well as the external complaints from the community and farmers.  Sensitivity training is another "agency fix it" for dealing with the country's problems.  The allegations of the women in USDA, who have now filed a class complaint (following other class complaints at USDA), were egregious actions that should have been dealt with visibly and expeditiously, so the workforce knows that the management is serious that the perpetrators will be held accountable.  Excusing behavior as "maybe people would've thought were appropriate or funny," in my opinion, will not stop the problems.  Does Secretary Vilsack consider the sexual harassment against Alicia Dabney in this category of "boys will be boys," therefore, thought it was funny to destroy a young woman trying to do her job?  Was her firing by the leadership a message to other women in USDA that if they take exception and protest, they will also find themselves in the street? 

USDA is an old agency that was formed in 1862, with cabinet status in 1889, so it started as an all white male domain, with a culture that takes time, 
effort and intelligence to change, not more rhetoric.  A number of years ago, while employed in another Department, I assisted the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service, by reviewing their civil rights processes and procedures, so they could  establish more effective policies and procedures.  A few years ago, a subordinate of mine and I met with a USDA appointee, brought back into the department to handle the settlement of complaints by Black farmers, to acertain if we could assist him.  Unfortunately, we were offered temporary details in positions that had no real authority to make a difference, so we declined the "opportunity."      

To address claims of discrimination within the USDA workforce, Vilsack said his office regularly reviews complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for each department and for each state. "If we see a spike in claims or incidences, we basically send folks out to do an investigation in why we've seen that spike," he said. And to keep track of who is receiving loans, front-line workers see metrics that hold them accountable for not meeting expectations, but also for meeting goals. "You hold people accountable when the job's not done well, but you also congratulate them when they are doing a good job," Vilsack said.

Civil rights professionals have complained for years about the lack of accountability of management for civil rights problems.  For example, EPA Administrator Jackson transferred the OCR Director, Karen Higginbotham (who failed to submit mandatory affirmative employment reports for three years and according to Deloitte Consulting, and others, mismanaged the program) to her office in a position that another employee worked hard to secure for years.  While all of the nonperformance was taking place, the OCR Director received the Administrator's Manager of the Year Award and a cash performance award in spite of protests from the OCR staff members.  The Title VI Assistant Director received a Bronze Award after failing to process Title VI environmental complaints, (see Rosemere Neighborhood Association v EPA judge's decision), became a Special Assistant reporting to the new OCR Director, Mr. DeLeon, and remained in an Senior Executive Service program for the years of mismanagement.  She was reporting to Rafael DeLeon, who the Administrator appointed him as the Director OCR, even though he had previous complaints filed against him and was removed, after an investigation into violations, as the Director of Human Resources.   The civil rights employees, who complained about the problems in the office and violations of the laws and regulations to the Administrator, her senior staff, the EPA Inspector General, Congress, EEOC, OSC, MSPB, were retaliated against.   The message being sent to the workforce by Administrator Jackson is that Karen Higginbotham and Rafael DeLeon, mentees of Ray Spears, former Deputy Chief of Staff, were being protected and rewarded, while those who blew the whistle or protested were being destroyed.  I believe that Administrator Vilsack needs someone to give him some good advice and not just the use of terms that are old and tired to address the issues, such as "folks," "keep track," "meeting goals," "congratulate them when they doing a good job."  

USDA has focused on areas with the highest numbers of discrimination complaints to compare the demographics of the community and the USDA loan recipients. "If, say, 10 percent is socially disadvantaged but only 0.5 percent [of loans] are going to socially disadvantaged farmers, then we know we've got a problem," Vilsack said. "We've got to go back into that county. We have to work with local folks to see why that is so. Is it that people don't know about the problem? Is it that the process is complicated and they're not getting assistance and help?"  An initiative called Strike Force partners with communities in poor areas to provide training and mentoring on how to participate in USDA programs.  "We're basically having communities identify projects that they think are important to them and work with them so they have success, see what success looks like and that will make it a little easier to replicate success," Vilsack said. In the past three years, 60 percent of its loans have gone to beginning farmers or socially disadvantaged farmers, he said.

I learned early in my career about assistance from the Feds to communities in the South Bronx.  As a Regional official covering Region II, we took car loads of the senior Washington officials into areas in the South Bronx that looked like the aftermath of a war.  These "tours," with promises that were never kept, reminded me of the current disasters that are being used for "photo ops" and politics.  In total frustration, when no money or assistance was forthcoming that would make a real difference, we enlisted the local communities in cleaning up some of the areas, so that gardens could be planted and children's play- grounds could be installed.  This country has allowed these and other such areas to exist throughout the United States as if they are the fault of the occupants rather than the policies being instituted by the leadership.  The Black farmers and communities being impacted on by big-business pollution are given promises that are neve kept.  The EPA is a prime example, failing to process environmental complaints, some of up to 15 years , that was finally exposed because of the Rosemere Neighborhood Association case brought against them.  Now, Rafael DeLeon, an attorney who created the office that defended the agency against those who filed environmental complaints, is now in charge of processing those complaints.  Secretary Vilsack needs to look at the progress made over the last four years under his leadership and his civil rights record.  As my mother would say, "Just Do It!"   And, get someone in there that knows what they are doing and can get things done.    

Congressional action needed   The Government Accountability Office found USDA had made significant progress in implementing a plan to resolve discrimination complaints.  However, the agency is still struggling to settle past cases, particularly those that may have not have received "due respect" in the previous administration, 
Vilsack said. A settlement last year will make $1.2 billion in claims available to as many as 65,000 black farmers. The payout could be as much as $250,000 for some, but one criticism of the settlement is it does not cover a long enough time. Since 2009, USDA has reviewed "several thousand cases" that were closed. But the statute of limitation in some of those cases has expired. The agency is now waiting on Congress to both authorize more funds — about $40 million — to resolve about 650 cases, as well as Congress to waive the statute of limitations on old cases, Vilsack said. "So far, this Congress has been unwilling to do that. ... We keep asking and we'll continue to ask, but we do need congressional authority," he said.

What in the world is "due respect" in the previous administration?  Respect means giving a positive feeling of esteem or deference for a person or other entity gives a positive feeling of esteem or deference for a person or other entity.  The failure to appropriately and expeditiously handle complaints filed by the black farmers, the devastating destruction to them and their families, cannot be couched under due respect.   When the leadership really wants to accomplish something in this country, they just do it, money is no object.  The amount of money budgeted for the military is enormous - but yet USDA cannot settle the egregious claims of the black farmers.  USDA is trying to right the years of wrong by giving more excuses.  Americans know that Congress has relinguished their responsibilities and much of their authority, allowing the Executive branch to run over them, but that does not excuse the USDA's years of mismanage-ment of a civil rights system.  

I believe that the civil rights program in the Federal government has been intentionally distorted so that it is now totally ineffective.  As one manager said, "Nobody likes EEO - not the complainants, not the managers, no one."   The agencies, such as EEOC, MSPB and OSC, all in the business of protecting employees, have become part of the problem.   Dragging complainants, internal and external, through a costly EEO process for years, using taxpayer's money and federal lawyers against them, in a system that does not work in their favor, is a major strategy that ensure that only the strong will survive - with many giving up, going away, or dying before or if they receive any justice.  This strategy is evident at the USDA, with cases beyond the statute of limitations, and at EPA with numerous reports showing  gross mismanagement  and violations of civil rights laws and regulations.