Obama Administration Plans Overhaul of Office of Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights
Congressman Joe Baca (D-Rialto) today convened a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry, which he chairs in the 111th Congress.
Today's hearing reviewed the effectiveness of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (ASCR), within the USDA. Testimony was heard from Dr. Joe Leonard, the recently confirmed new Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at USDA, and Ms. Lisa Shames, the director of the Natural Resources and Environment Division of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
"Discrimination of any type is unacceptable," said Rep. Baca. "After decades of unsuccessful attempts to establish and enforce equitable civil rights policies within the USDA, I am pleased with the initial commitment of the Obama administration and Secretary Vilsack to right this situation."
"I am hopeful the initiatives explored in today's hearing will begin to heal the wounds of the past and create an equal opportunity at success for all of America's farmers and producers," continued Rep. Baca. "I am committed to working with the administration, and continuing strong oversight of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights, to ensure that civil rights improvements at the USDA are fully met."
Rep. Baca and other civil rights advocates in the agricultural community were instrumental in the creation of the ASCR, as mandated in the 2002 farm bill, to explore discrimination complaints filed against the USDA by farmers and producers, and update Congress on the ongoing status of civil rights at the USDA. Unfortunately, the ASCR has not lived up to its Congressional mandate. A recent GAO study found that of the 14,000 complaints filed with the department since the year 2000, only four were ever actively investigated.
"After years of mounting evidence of the abuses suffered by African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American, and other minority farmers, it is long past time the USDA actively work to fix its civil rights problem," concluded Rep. Baca. "The 2008 farm bill was a step in the right direction towards addressing these issues, but Congress and the administration must continue to work to fully address the discriminations of the past, and create an equitable and fair future for all agricultural producers, regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity."