order non hybrid seeds LandRightsNFarming: USDA's Obligation to Ensure A Fair and Impartial EEO Process In Light of the " Beer,Fish Fry, and BBQ" Held For OGC and EEO Employee's OGC/OASCR Fish Fry/BBQ and Beer Party

Saturday, August 22, 2015

USDA's Obligation to Ensure A Fair and Impartial EEO Process In Light of the " Beer,Fish Fry, and BBQ" Held For OGC and EEO Employee's OGC/OASCR Fish Fry/BBQ and Beer Party

Customers (Farmers) and Employees Cant Get a Fair Deal Under the Vilsack Regime


Subject: USDA's Obligation to Ensure A Fair and Impartial EEO Process In Light of the "Beer, Fish Fry, and BBQ" Held For OGC and EEO Employees
Honorable Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture
Jeffrey Prieto, Acting USDA General Counsel
Dr. Joe Leonard, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
I am writing to you in the spirit of employee engagement and in support of  Secretary Vilsack's commitment to make USDA a great place to work. 
I am a USDA civil rights professional.  I have worked in various areas in USDA's Civil Rights office (now referred to as OASCR) since 1998.  I share in the pride felt by OASCR staff members who have contributed to USDA's  civil rights accomplishments and the work we do to ensure that USDA customer and employee complaints of discrimination are addressed in a fair and impartial process.  
I also share in the shame and disappointment felt by my fellow colleagues when it is disclosed to the public that we have fallen short of our obligation.  These are the times when our customers and employees blame us, the front line staff, for these short falls, when we are merely implementing the directives of our leadership.  Currently, employees are discussing the recent Summer Fellowship event held by OGC and OASCR at which their leadership served beer to the OGC lawyers and OASCR EEO and EO professionals, who left the event to return to their duty stations, many of whom were under the influence of alcohol.  Some employees did not attend the event because they felt that this event would give the appearance of an alignment between OGC attorneys and OASCR EEO and EO professionals. 
USDA customers and employees generally feel that they are unable to get a fair chance to resolve a discrimination complaint unless they hire an expensive and powerful attorney.  This is because USDA OGC attorneys work against employees and customers in the EEO and Program discrimination complaint process.  Many employees feel it is actually the OGC attorneys who really make the decisions on employment and program complaints, not the EEO and EO professionals in OASCR.  Now employees  are pointing to this recent Summer Fellowship event and beer party as additional evidence of that alignment.  Wow, this smarts and frustrates me, that once again our hard work as civil rights professionals has been diminished by the actions of our leadership.  
Secretary Vilsack and Mr. Prieto, in case you were not aware of this event, here are the details:  On July 21, 2015 the leadership of the Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights held a "Beer, Fish Fry, and BBQ Party" on the USDA South Building Patio.  The event was advertised in flyers as "OGC's and OASCR's Summer Fellowship – Join us for our inaugural Fish Fry and BBQ." (Flyer attached)  More than fish and BBQ was served at the OGC/OASCR Summer Fellowship event.  Beer was also served at the event.   This Summer Fellowship event was held in a venue where USDA employees were able to witness this event.  There is a lot of buzz around USDA about what was seen.  Employees saw the USDA attorneys, including members of OGC leadership, and OASCR EEO and EO professionals, and members of OASCR's leadership, drinking a lot of beer together in the middle of a workday and eating fish and BBQ, like one close happy family.  Some employees who observed this event saw USDA attorneys, EEO and EO professionals who possibly returned to their duty stations to write legal opinions or provide legal analysis and advice regarding Program and EEO complaints, or to write final agency decisions on civil rights complaints while under the influence of the alcohol that was served at this event.
I was told that Dr. Joe Leonard, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, obtained the permit to have alcohol served at this event.  Does the fact that there is a process for obtaining a permit to serve alcohol on USDA property to USDA employees make it alright to serve it during duty hours, when attorneys, EEO and EO professionals are expected to return to work, some of whom will continue their workday performing their duties while under the influence of the alcohol served at this event?  No.  This seems particularly inappropriate when viewed in light of the USDA's obligation to avoid even the appearance that the Office of the General Counsel is interfering with the EEO process.  (See EEOC MD110, Section IV.D; and Rucker v. Dep't of the Treasury, EEOC Appeal No. 0120082225 (Feb. 4, 2011)) 
Mr. Prieto, when the new guidance in the revised EEOC MD 110 regarding avoiding conflicts of interest in the EEO process is implemented by USDA, it is obvious, from the way OGC is currently operating within OASCR, that some procedural and policy changes will have to be made to ensure that there are no further impermissible conflicts or impermissible interference in the EEO process by OGC.  I am asking you to consider reassigning Arlean Leland, the Associate General Counsel for the Civil Rights, Labor and Employment Law Division and the current OGC attorneys in that division.  Their hosting and participating in the beer party fellowship event created a strong appearance of impermissible interference in the EEO process that can only be appropriately addressed by reassigning them and starting with a new group of OGC attorneys.  Only after this is done can we start building our reputation as an agency that delivers a fair and impartial EEO process free of impermissible interference by the Office of General Counsel.  
USDA Civil Rights Directors and employees have already expressed their distrust of OASCR and the lack of accountability within OASCR.  (See the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program report on a study of OASCR's Early Resolution and Conciliation Program).  The Whitehouse Office of Special Counsel even wrote to President Obama about how the civil rights program at USDA is seriously mismanaged and is compromising the civil rights of employees and customers. 
OPM describes engaged employees as employees who are more than simply satisfied with their jobs. Instead, engaged employees:
·      take pride in their work,  
·      are passionate about, and energized by what they do,  
·      are committed to the organization, the mission, and their job, and
·      are more likely to put forth extra effort to get the job done.
I strive to be an engaged USDA employee.  This is why I feel so passionate about how the EEO process is viewed by USDA employees and customers who have to rely on that process for fair determinations on matters brought before us.   As a committed civil rights professional who has contributed for more than17 years to providing quality civil rights services, I want us to do better.  It is not fair that the hard work of the staff level civil rights employees is allowed to be tarnished in this manner.  Please take this opportunity to take an affirmative step toward demonstrating to USDA employees and customers that it is the intent of USDA to process discrimination complaints in a manner that is fair, impartial, and free of impermissible intrusions by attorneys from OGC.