WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the award of a competitive contract for an independent assessment of the Delivery of Technical and Financial Assistance at USDA to the Jackson Lewis Corporate Diversity Counseling Group.

Under the contract, Jackson Lewis will evaluate many key programs at USDA to identify barriers to equal and fair access for all USDA customers and provide recommendations to assist the USDA Secretary in transforming USDA into a model organization.

"From the moment I became the secretary of agriculture, my message has been clear: discrimination in any form will not be tolerated at USDA," said Vilsack. "I am confident this team of nationally-recognized experts will assist USDA in eradicating discrimination and becoming a civil rights leader among government agencies."

In April 2009, Vilsack announced a "New Civil Rights Era for USDA." This contract is an important part of the implementation of the new era and marks a critical step in USDA's continuing efforts to ensure that its assistance programs are administered equitably and in full compliance with civil rights and equal opportunity laws.

The Jackson Lewis team, led by Senior Partner Weldon Latham, is well-known for its key role in assisting many of America's largest corporations and government agencies to strengthen their policies, practices, and performance in the areas of diversity, fairness, and inclusion.

The assessment will focus on the effectiveness of USDA programs in reaching America's diverse populations in a non-discriminatory manner, with particular attention on accessibility, equity, fairness, and accountability. Based on their assessment, the team will develop recommendations for actions USDA should take to ensure that its program delivery and organizational structure is providing all Americans with fair and equal access to USDA programs.

The contract, for nearly $8 million, is for one year with an option for a one year extension. As part of this 12-month department-wide assessment, the Jackson Lewis team will evaluate the laws, regulations, policies, practices, and results achieved in administering many key programs of the Farm Services Agency, Rural Development, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Risk Management Agency and identify barriers to equal and fair access for all USDA customers.

The team will produce a final comprehensive report, including a thorough analysis of its findings and applicable law, and will make specific recommendations.