USDA Civil Rights Agenda Outlined by Ag Secretary

Internal memo lays out plan to move beyond issues that have lingered in the agency.

Employees at USDA got word Tuesday in an internal memo that Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is serious about a proactive effort to set the agency on the proper course. "We want a review of current direction on operation loan foreclosure actions," he says. "We're taking a step back to look at the cases being review."

Currently 630 foreclosure cases are under review and Vilsack says those cases will be brought into Washington DC for greater scrutiny to make sure cases don't include folks covered by prior settlements. In addition, the agency is asking the Department of Justice to consider a similar process with the 1,300 cases in the judicial process moving toward foreclosure.

The agency will also bring in a consultant to take a look at programs and procedures at the agency to make sure they are conducted properly in the future. "We want to review the civil rights complains in the last eight years - roughly 14,000 complaints," he says. The secretary wants all those cases reviewed and of the 14,000 on file, 3,000 are still to be checked out.

This top-to-bottom review of civil rights programs at the agency that will also include a look at hiring and promotion practices at USDA to make sure they are being handled in a fair manner. "And we are going to continue to work with the Department of Justice and the Administration to resolve current cases," he says. "We are committed to getting these resolved."

Finally, the agency will study the need for an alternative dispute resolution process to avoid future backlogs. "This issue has been going on for far too long," he concludes.

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