WASHINGTON, D.C. - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week released a memorandum detailing an aggressive plan to promote civil rights and equal access at the United States Department of Agriculture.

In the memo, Vilsack announced the temporary suspension of all foreclosures within the Farm Service Agency's farm loan program, which will not only aid farmers facing economic hardship but will also provide the opportunity to review the loan granting process for possible discriminatory conduct.

"These are just the first actions in a continuing effort to ensure that the civil rights of USDA constituents and employees are respected and protected," said Vilsack. "This memorandum reflects my deep commitment to changing the direction of civil rights and program delivery in USDA by creating a comprehensive approach to guarantee fair treatment of all employees and applicants."

The Memo creates a Task force to conduct a review of a sample of program civil rights complaints that have been processed or that are currently being processed. The complaints and inquiries total over 14000, including over 3000 that have not been processed.

In outlining reforms already underway and additional measures to be implemented, Vilsack also granted greater authority to USDA's Office of Civil Rights. The Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights will collaborate with the other agencies to:

  • develop and implement a proposal for data collection across USDA;
  • make sure all complaints are incorporated as part of one data system; and
  • develop USDA policy and training to ensure that all complaints are received and dealt with in a consistent manner within a specific timeframe.

  • Said Joe Leonard, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights: "The Department of Agriculture impacts all communities - whether through services to help black farmers thrive or by providing families with access to healthy foods. This renewed commitment to equal access is a step in the right direction and is a sign that in this Administration, no family will be left behind."

    The full text of the memo is available online.