Vilsack Touts Diversity and Equity Efforts in Visit to SC State

A recent visit to South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, an 1890 land grant institution, gave Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack opportunity to explain efforts of the past three years to improve equity and diversity within USDA.

For starters, we established an Equity Commission where a number of folks gave us over 60 recommendations about how we might be able to improve our work at the Farm Service Agency offices across the country and in our rural development state offices and we’re in the process of implementing those recommendations.

While an internal look at USDA operations lead to requirements for…

Every mission area to put together an equity plan over 500 recommendations for action were identified in those equity plans and for the first time ever we have a Diversity Equity Inclusion Accessibility Officer and staffed with the focus of holding all of us accountable to live up to those plans.

The secretary says cooperative agreements have been entered into as trust building vehicles.

So understanding and appreciating that many of the constituents that we need to serve may not feel comfortable by virtue of the past having conversations with folks at USDA and we wanted to build a bridge of trust. And so we entered into well over 100 contracts with organizations and entities throughout the country that had a trusting relationship with socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers and producers in an effort to make sure that they became aware of the programs not just at FSA, but also at NRCS. And we’re continuing to fund those cooperative agreements.

Feedback from USDA’s diverse workforce within local service centers led to other improvements.

They came and suggested that we needed to simplify our process and so our FSA folks have worked hard to simplify the loan process to put together a loan assistance tool to make it a little bit easier for people access our programs. And we also recognize the challenges that we have had in the past with our county committee structure and system which is why I exercise the power that I have as secretary to appoint minority members of those counties where there was not adequate minority representation.