oversight

U.S. Department of Agriculture: Progress toward Implementing GAO's Civil Rights Recommendations

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-08-29.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




              August 29, 2012

              The Honorable Joe Baca
              Ranking Member
              Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture
              Committee on Agriculture
              House of Representatives

              The Honorable Marcia L. Fudge
              Ranking Member
              Subcommittee on Department Operations,
                Oversight, and Credit
              Committee on Agriculture
              House of Representatives

              Subject: U.S. Department of Agriculture: Progress toward Implementing GAO’s Civil Rights
              Recommendations

              For decades, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been the focus of federal inquiries
              into allegations of discrimination against minorities and women both in the programs it
              administers and in its workforce. In addition, USDA has been and continues to be involved in
              large civil rights lawsuits claiming discriminatory behavior on the part of USDA, including
              lawsuits brought by African-American, Native American, Hispanic, and women farmers. In 2002,
              Congress authorized the position of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights to, among other
              things, provide leadership to ensure USDA’s compliance with all civil rights and related laws
              under all its programs.

              In October 2008, we reported on management deficiencies in the Office of the Assistant
              Secretary for Civil Rights (OASCR), and included six recommendations. 1 These
              recommendations call for plans to resolve discrimination complaints, ensure the quality of
              OASCR databases, and develop a department-level strategic plan for unifying USDA civil rights
              activities. The recommendations also call for USDA to obtain an independent legal examination
              of some prior civil rights decisions, obtain approval from the Office of Management and Budget
              to collect demographic data, and explore the potential for an ombudsman office to contribute to
              addressing civil rights concerns.




              1
               GAO, U.S. Department of Agriculture: Recommendations and Options to Address Management Deficiencies in the
              Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, GAO-09-62 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 22, 2008).




              Page 1                                                                 GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
This report formally transmits the enclosed briefing that was given to your offices on July 27,
2012, in response to your request for information on the progress USDA has made toward
implementing the recommendations in our October 2008 report (encl. I). 2 To obtain information
on USDA’s efforts to address these recommendations, we interviewed officials from OASCR,
the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the Office of
Inspector General, and the Office of the Secretary, and reviewed documents they provided. We
also discussed a draft of the briefing slides with OASCR officials before the briefing, and we
incorporated their suggested technical corrections, as appropriate. In addition, subsequent to
the briefing, OASCR provided us updated information on its actions to address the
recommendations pertaining to the development of a department-level strategic plan for unifying
civil rights activities and exploration of an ombudsman office. We incorporated this new
information, as appropriate, into the related slides in the enclosure.

We conducted this performance audit from November 2011 to August 2012 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and
perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained
provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

In summary, as of August 2012, USDA had fully addressed three of our recommendations,
made significant progress toward addressing two, and made some progress toward addressing
one, as shown in table 1.




2
 To describe the status of USDA’s progress in responding to the recommendations, we developed four categories
based on the following criteria: “fully addressed” means USDA completed all needed actions to address a
recommendation, “significant progress” means USDA completed more than half but not all needed actions, “some
progress” means USDA completed less than half the needed actions, and “no progress” means USDA completed no
needed actions.




Page 2                                                                  GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Table 1: Status of USDA’s Progress to Address Our 2008 Recommendations

                                                                               Status
                                                          Fully     Significant          Some
 Recommendation                                         addressed    progress           progress   No progress
 1. Prepare and implement an improvement plan
 for resolving discrimination complaints that sets
 time frame goals and provides management
 controls for resolving complaints from beginning
                                                                        √
 to end.
 2. Develop and implement a plan to ensure the
 accuracy, completeness, and reliability of
 OASCR’s databases on customer and employee
 complaints, and that provides for independent
                                                                        √
 validation of OASCR’s data quality.
 3. Obtain an expert, independent, and objective
 legal examination of the basis, quality, and
 adequacy of a sample of USDA’s prior
 investigations and decisions on civil rights              √
 complaints, along with suggestions for
 improvement.
 4. Work expeditiously to obtain the Office of
 Management and Budget’s approval to collect
 the demographic data necessary for reliable
 reporting on race and ethnicity by USDA
                                                           √
 program.
 5. Develop a results-oriented, department-level
 strategic plan for civil rights at USDA that unifies
 USDA’s departmental approach with that of
 OASCR and the newly created Office of
 Advocacy and Outreach and that is transparent
                                                                                           √
 about USDA’s efforts to address the concerns of
 stakeholders.
 6. Further explore the potential for an
 ombudsman office to contribute to addressing
 the civil rights concerns of USDA customers and
 employees, including seeking legislative
 authority, as appropriate, to establish such an           √
 office and to ensure its effectiveness, and advise
 USDA’s congressional oversight committees of
 the results.
Source: GAO analysis of USDA information.



For additional information on a summary of the results of our work, see enclosure I, slides 7
through 18. We are making no recommendations in this report.

We provided a draft of this report to USDA for review and comment. In written comments, which
are reproduced in enclosure II, USDA said it concurred with GAO’s findings regarding the status
of USDA’s progress toward implementing recommendations 2 through 6. However, with regard
to recommendation 1, that USDA prepare and implement an improvement plan for resolving
discrimination complaints that sets time frame goals and provides management controls for
resolving complaints from beginning to end, USDA stated that it believes OASCR has been fully
successful in improving the complaint process and included additional information related to
recommendation 1 that it asked us to consider. As support, USDA noted that (1) since fiscal
year 2009, employee discrimination complaints have been at the lowest levels since USDA
began keeping records, reflecting better outreach, counseling, and complaint processing
procedures agency wide, and (2) OASCR has revamped the program complaint division since



Page 3                                                                      GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
2010 to improve processing time and work product quality, and, as a result, the statute of
limitations has not expired on any program complaints filed with USDA since those
improvements were implemented. While these developments are laudable, we note, as
reflected in enclosure I (slides 8 through 10), that there is more to be done, including continued
work on (1) establishing an electronic records management system; (2) implementing the Lean
Six Sigma process; (3) conducting pilot efforts to explore establishing new time frame goals for
intake, investigation, and adjudication activities to resolve employee and program complaints;
and (4) providing documentation of new policies, procedures, guidance, and training needed to
determine if new management controls cover the entire process for resolving complaints.
Therefore, we continue to believe that “significant progress” accurately describes USDA’s
progress toward implementing recommendation 1.

We are sending copies of this report to the Secretary of Agriculture, appropriate congressional
committees, and other interested parties. This report also is available at no charge on our
website at http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff members have questions concerning this report, please contact me at (202)
512-3841 or shamesl@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and
Public Affairs may be found on the last page of this report. Key contributors to this report were
James R. Jones, Jr., Assistant Director; Kevin Bray; Stephen Cleary; Diana C. Goody; Kelly
Rubin; and Carol Herrnstadt Shulman.




Lisa Shames
Director, Natural
  Resources and Environment

Enclosures (2)




Page 4                                                           GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Enclosure I: Briefing Slides




          USDA’s Progress toward
      Implementing GAO’s Civil Rights
            Recommendations

                                     Briefing
                             Committee on Agriculture
                             House of Representatives




      Note: Slides updated to include more recent information.                           Page 1




             Page 5                                              GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Background

• For decades, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been the focus of
  federal inquiries into allegations of discrimination against minorities and
  women, both in the programs it administers and in its workforce. We and others
  have reported numerous times on serious weaknesses in USDA’s civil rights
  programs.1

• USDA has worked to resolve large civil rights lawsuits alleging discrimination in
  the delivery of farm programs and loans brought by farmers who are African
  American (Pigford v. Glickman), Native American (Keepseagle v. Vilsack),
  Hispanic (Garcia v. Vilsack), and women (Love v. Vilsack).

• In 2003, the position of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights was created, and
  the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (OASCR) was established.


1See   related GAO products at the end of this briefing.


                                                                                    Page 2




             Page 6                                         GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Background (cont.)

• In our October 2008 report, we made six recommendations to improve
  USDA’s progress in resolving discrimination complaints, reporting on
  minority participation in USDA programs, and improving strategic
  planning efforts.

• On April 21, 2009, the Secretary of Agriculture issued a memorandum,
  A New Civil Rights Era for USDA, outlining 14 actions to change the
  direction of equal employment opportunity, civil rights, and program
  delivery to ensure fair treatment of all employees and customers and
  improve USDA’s program delivery.

• In its May 27, 2009, Statement of Action, USDA stated that, overall, it
  agreed with the recommendations in our October 2008 report and
  provided its responses to address them. Many of the actions presented
  in USDA’s responses were listed in the Secretary’s April 21, 2009,
  memorandum.

                                                                             Page 3




      Page 7                                         GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Background (cont.)

• The 2008 Farm Bill directed the Secretary of Agriculture to establish the Office
  of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO) and transferred advocacy and outreach
  functions from OASCR to OAO. USDA established OAO on November 3, 2009.
  The functions transferred include administering a USDA outreach program in
  collaboration with USDA agencies, and the 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  Program to fund education and outreach and provide services to assist Native
  Americans.

• Since 2009, OASCR has focused on resolving employee and program
  discrimination complaints, implementing alternative dispute resolution, and
  reviewing civil rights compliance and providing training at USDA agencies and
  offices.

• For information on the resolution options and status of employee and program
  discrimination complaints, see attachment I, and for OASCR’s resources for
  resolving these complaints, see attachment II.
                                                                                   Page 4




       Page 8                                              GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Objective and Methodology

•   This briefing is in response to your request for information on the progress USDA has made
    toward implementing the following six recommendations in our October 2008 report:

     1.    Prepare and implement an improvement plan for resolving discrimination complaints
           that sets time frame goals and provides management controls for resolving complaints
           from beginning to end.

     2.    Develop and implement a plan to ensure the accuracy, completeness, and reliability of
           OASCR’s databases on customer and employee complaints, and that provides for
           independent validation of OASCR’s data quality.

     3.    Obtain an expert, independent, and objective legal examination of the basis, quality,
           and adequacy of a sample of USDA’s prior investigations and decisions on civil rights
           complaints, along with suggestions for improvement.

     4.    Work expeditiously to obtain Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) approval to
           collect the demographic data necessary for reliable reporting on race and ethnicity by
           USDA program.

                                                                                               Page 5




          Page 9                                                       GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Objective and Methodology (cont.)

      5.    Develop a results-oriented, department-level strategic plan for civil rights at USDA that unifies USDA’s
            departmental approach with that of OASCR and the newly created OAO and that is transparent about
            USDA’s efforts to address the concerns of stakeholders.

      6.    Further explore the potential for an ombudsman office to contribute to addressing the civil rights concerns
            of USDA customers and employees, including seeking legislative authority, as appropriate, to establish
            such an office and to ensure its effectiveness, and advise USDA’s congressional oversight committees of
            the results.

•   To describe the status of USDA’s progress in responding to our prior recommendations, we developed four
    categories based on the following criteria: “fully addressed” means USDA completed all needed actions to
    address a recommendation, “significant progress” means USDA completed more than half but not all needed
    actions, “some progress” means USDA completed less than half the actions, and “no progress” means USDA
    completed no actions.

•   To obtain information on USDA’s efforts to address each of the six recommendations, we interviewed officials
    from OASCR, OAO, Office of the Chief Financial Officer, Office of Inspector General, and Office of the Secretary,
    and reviewed documents they provided.

•   We provided OASCR with a draft of these slides for its review and comment. We then met with OASCR officials,
    who provided suggested technical corrections and updates, which we incorporated as appropriate.



                                                                                                                 Page 6




           Page 10                                                                    GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
In Summary

Status of USDA’s Progress to Address GAO’s Recommendations
                                                  Fully       Significant   Some        No
    Recommendation                                addressed   progress      progress    progress
    1. Implement a plan to improve resolution                     √
    of discrimination complaints that sets time
    frame goals and provides management
    controls.
    2. Develop a plan to ensure reliability of                    √
    complaints data.
    3. Conduct a legal examination of prior           √
    investigations and decisions.
    4. Obtain OMB’s approval to collect               √
    necessary demographic data.
    5. Develop a department-level strategic                                     √
    plan for civil rights.
    6. Explore potential for ombudsman office.        √
Source: GAO analysis of USDA information.

                                                                                                        Page 7




          Page 11                                                               GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Recommendation 1: Implement a Plan to Improve Resolution of
Discrimination Complaints That Sets Time Frame Goals and Provides
Management Controls
• USDA has made significant progress toward addressing this
  recommendation.

Plan
• USDA developed a plan with actions to evaluate and adjust staffing
  levels to ensure timely resolution of employee and program
  complaints, improve quality control procedures, establish an
  electronic records management system, hold agency heads
  accountable for complaint processing, and strengthen alternative
  dispute resolution.

• OASCR has implemented many of the plan’s actions, such as
  placing priority on processing program complaints facing the statute
  of limitations under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and reviewing
  the quality of every final agency decision, and continues work on
  others, such as establishing a records management system.

                                                                           Page 8




      Page 12                                      GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Recommendation 1: Implement a Plan to Improve Resolution of
Discrimination Complaints That Sets Time Frame Goals and Provides
Management Controls (cont.)
Time Frame Goals
• For employee complaints, OASCR’s goal is to adhere to time frame
  requirements established by Equal Employment Opportunity
  Commission (EEOC) regulations, and for program complaints,
  OASCR adheres to USDA goals established in 2000, according to
  OASCR officials.

• OASCR is implementing the Lean Six Sigma process to identify
  efficiencies to reduce time frames for employee and program
  complaint resolution processes.

• OASCR has begun pilot efforts to explore establishing new time
  frame goals for completing intake, investigation, and adjudication
  activities to resolve employee and program complaints.

                                                                            Page 9




      Page 13                                       GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Recommendation 1: Implement a Plan to Improve Resolution of
Discrimination Complaints That Sets Time Frame Goals and Provides
Management Controls (cont.)
Management Controls
• OASCR has implemented new management controls for resolving
  program complaints. For example, OASCR has

   • developed a “stop-light” sheet to help management identify
     program complaints requiring priority processing.

   • created a single form that USDA program participants can use to
     file a civil rights complaint. With a single form, OASCR
     anticipates that it will standardize the collection of information
     and reduce processing time.

• OASCR has not provided complete documentation of new policies,
  procedures, guidance, or training that we need to determine if new
  management controls cover the entire process for resolving
  complaints. New time frame goals for processing complaints would
  have to be final before management controls can be made final.

                                                                          Page 10




      Page 14                                      GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Recommendation 2: Develop a Plan to Ensure
Reliability of Complaints Data
• USDA has made significant progress toward addressing this
  recommendation.

• Employee complaint data: OASCR’s efforts to ensure data
  reliability of the iComplaints database include a comprehensive set of
  business rules, a data integrity tool, and a quality review
  management module.

   • OASCR staff conduct two quality reviews each month and revise
     data, as needed. According to OASCR officials, the iComplaints
     software checks whether all of the data are complete before
     OASCR staff can generate a report on employee complaints to
     meet the EEOC’s reporting requirements.




                                                                           Page 11




      Page 15                                       GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Recommendation 2: Develop a Plan to Ensure
Reliability of Complaints Data (cont.)
• Program complaint data: OASCR developed and is implementing a
  plan to check the accuracy of the data entered for every program
  complaint in the Program Complaints Management System (PCMS).

  • OASCR plans to review the accuracy and completeness of PCMS
    data prior to moving the complaint to the next stage of the
    resolution process, review PCMS system and data integrity
    through quarterly users group meetings, and test the accuracy of
    PCMS data on a bimonthly and quarterly basis.




                                                                        Page 12




     Page 16                                     GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Recommendation 2: Develop a Plan to Ensure
Reliability of Complaints Data (cont.)
• According to OASCR officials, the office uses contractor-provided
  formal training to ensure consistent use of iComplaints, and conducts
  additional training, as needed.

• OASCR has not provided all of the documentation needed for us to
  assess whether OASCR’s planned efforts contain key elements to
  ensure the accuracy, completeness, and reliability of the iComplaints
  and PCMS databases. For example, OASCR officials have neither
  provided documentation showing that the office developed
  departmental policy to ensure the consistent use of iComplaints and
  PCMS nor training to ensure the completeness of data in PCMS.




                                                                          Page 13




      Page 17                                      GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Recommendation 3: Conduct a Legal Examination of
Prior Investigations and Decisions
• USDA has fully addressed this recommendation.

• In 2009, USDA created a task force that reviewed more than 17,000 program
  discrimination complaints filed with OASCR in fiscal years 2000 through 2008.

• The task force determined that about 3,800 complaints warranted further
  processing and estimated that about 600 complaints would be eligible for
  settlement.

• USDA has determined that it cannot further process these complaints under the
  Equal Credit Opportunity Act because most have exceeded the then applicable 2-
  year statute of limitations. According to USDA officials, to overcome the statute of
  limitations, USDA would need legislative relief and about $60 million to process the
  complaints and pay the estimated settlement costs, which it is seeking.

• In 2009, the task force made 12 recommendations to OASCR to improve its
  complaint resolution process. OASCR agreed with most of the recommendations
  and has taken actions to address them, according to OASCR officials.


                                                                                     Page 14




       Page 18                                                GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Recommendation 4: Obtain OMB’s Approval to
Collect Necessary Demographic Data
• USDA has fully addressed this recommendation.

• In March 2011, USDA obtained OMB’s approval to collect race, ethnicity, and
  gender (REG) data for the USDA programs that serve agricultural producers and
  landowners.

• In October 2011, USDA published a departmental regulation to implement the use
  of a new form it later issued in January 2012 to collect REG data.

• REG data from the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation
  Service, Rural Development, and Risk Management Agency should cover most of
  the programs that serve agricultural producers and landowners, according to a
  USDA official.

• USDA is developing an outreach plan to identify additional programs that serve
  socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and will propose plans to collect
  demographic data at the USDA agencies responsible for these programs, as
  needed.


                                                                                    Page 15




       Page 19                                               GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Recommendation 5: Develop a Department-level
Strategic Plan for Civil Rights
• USDA has made some progress toward addressing this recommendation.

• USDA does not have a department-level strategic plan specifically for civil rights
  activities.

• In its departmentwide strategic plan for fiscal years 2010-2015, under a section
  describing management initiatives, USDA includes some planned civil rights
  activities, such as reducing the inventory of program complaints and increasing the
  use of alternative dispute resolution in the employee and program complaints
  resolution processes.

• USDA officials identified OASCR’s strategic plan as the strategic plan for USDA’s
  civil rights activities.

• OASCR has not updated its strategic plan since our report. From October 1, 2009,
  to November 20, 2011, OASCR was placed under Departmental Management and
  during that time was not required to develop or update its own strategic plan,
  according to OASCR officials. Since November 20, 2011, OASCR has reported
  directly to the Secretary and has been working to develop its own strategic plan.


                                                                                      Page 16




       Page 20                                                 GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Recommendation 5: Develop a Department-level
Strategic Plan for Civil Rights (cont.)
•   On July 31, 2012, we obtained a revised draft of OASCR’s strategic plan that covers
    fiscal years 2011-2015. OASCR officials estimate that this plan will be final by
    September 2012.

•   OASCR’s revised draft strategic plan:

     •   Focuses primarily on the activities OASCR plans. The plan does not unify
         OASCR’s approach with OAO, other USDA agencies, or the department as a
         whole.

     •   Does not describe the viewpoints and interests of USDA’s external stakeholders,
         such as community-based organizations. However, according to USDA officials,
         the department has implemented many recommendations made in two reports: (1)
         a contractor report (Jackson-Lewis) assessing USDA’s delivery of its programs at
         the state and local level and (2) a Rural Coalition report summarizing five meetings
         between USDA and community-based organizations.

     •   Does not fully address other key issues identified in our October 2008 report, such
         as measuring performance to gauge progress, using performance information for
         identifying performance gaps and making program improvements, and identifying
         external and internal factors that can influence the achievement of its long-term
         goals.

                                                                                           Page 17




         Page 21                                                    GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Recommendation 6: Explore Potential for Ombudsman Office,
Seek Legislative Authority, as Appropriate, and Advise
Congressional Oversight Committees of Results
•   USDA has fully addressed this recommendation.

•   In 2009, OASCR completed efforts to explore the potential for an ombudsman office. It reached out
    to the Ombudsman Association and ombudsman programs at the Department of Housing and
    Urban Development, Transportation Security Administration, and National Institutes of Health.

•   OASCR concluded an ombudsman would be helpful.

•   During our discussion on July 25, 2012, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights said he no longer
    supports the need for an ombudsman because of more recent improvements made by OASCR,
    including its increased staffing, use of Lean Six Sigma, development of standard operating
    procedures, and timely processing of complaints.

•   On July 26, 2012, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights signed a decision memorandum
    recommending that USDA not establish an ombudsman office.

•   The memorandum stated that, by not establishing an ombudsman office, the Secretary and
    OASCR remain free to take necessary corrective actions to address departmental issues without
    deference to an independent ombudsman and the costs of an ombudsman office will be saved.

•   On July 26, 2012, the Secretary also signed the decision memorandum, concurring with the
    Assistant Secretary’s recommendation.


                                                                                                 Page 18




         Page 22                                                            GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Attachment I: Resolution Options and Status of Employee
and Program Discrimination Complaints

•   The employee and program complaint resolution processes generally consist of three
    stages—intake (log in, acknowledge, and decide whether to accept or dismiss complaint);
    investigation; and adjudication.

•   Employee complaints: Discrimination in hiring, promoting, or retaining employees.

     •   May be resolved informally through an equal employment opportunity counselor or
         alternate dispute resolution. Complainant must contact counselor within 45 days from
         when the alleged discrimination occurred. Complainant and counselor have up to 90
         days to resolve complaint informally.

     •   If the complaint is not resolved informally, complainant may file a formal complaint with
         USDA within 15 days of receiving a written notice from the counselor of the right to file a
         formal complaint.

     •   If USDA accepts the formal complaint, it generally has 180 days, from the date the
         complaint was filed, to investigate the complaint.

     •   USDA’s time frame for adjudicating the formal complaint will vary if the complainant
         requests a hearing before an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
         administrative judge.

     •   Complainant has 30 days to file an appeal of USDA’s final decision with the EEOC.

                                                                                               Page 19




         Page 23                                                        GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Attachment I: Resolution Options and Status of Employee
and Program Discrimination Complaints (cont.)

•   Program complaints: Discrimination in awarding or distributing federal program benefits.

     •   Generally, complainant may file a program complaint within 180 days from when the
         alleged discrimination occurred.

     •   USDA’s procedures state that intake must be completed within 30 days of receiving the
         complaint, and its investigation must be completed within 120 days from the date intake
         is completed.

     •   USDA has not established a time frame goal to adjudicate a program complaint.

     •   If USDA and the complainant cannot agree on an acceptable settlement, the
         complainant can pursue a civil action.

     •   Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the right to pursue a civil action for credit-
         related claims was subject to a 2-year statute of limitations. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street
         Reform and Consumer Protection Act increased the statute of limitations to 5 years,
         effective July 21, 2011.

                                                                                              Page 20




         Page 24                                                      GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Attachment I: Resolution Options and Status of Employee
and Program Discrimination Complaints (cont.)

• From October 1, 2008, to September 30, 2011 (latest data available),
  OASCR decreased the inventory of open

    • employee complaints from 1,210 to 898, and

    • program complaints from 806 to 591.

• According to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, since 2010,

    • OASCR has completed its activities to resolve employee
      complaints within the time frames required by EEOC regulations,
      and

    • no new program complaints have taken more than 2 years to
      resolve.
                                                                             Page 21




      Page 25                                         GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Attachment II: OASCR’s Resources for Resolving
Employee and Program Discrimination Complaints
•   Available funding, fiscal years 2008 through 2013:
    (Dollars in millions)

                                        Fiscal year
          2008              2009    2010          2011         2012       2013
                                                             (estimate) (estimate)
          $20.4             $21.4   $23.9        $22.7          $21.0        $22.7
      Source: USDA Budget Explanatory Notes, fiscal years 2010-2013.

•   Staff resources, as of March 31, 2012:

      •    Resolving employee complaints: 27 FTEs for intake and adjudication; OASCR uses
           contractors or employees of other federal agencies to investigate employee complaints filed
           against it or other USDA agencies.

      •    Resolving program complaints: 33 FTEs for intake, investigations, and adjudications.

                                                                                                  Page 22




           Page 26                                                         GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Related GAO Products

•   U.S. Department of Agriculture: Recommendations and Options Available to the New
    Administration and Congress to Address Long-Standing Civil Rights Issues. GAO-09-
    650T. April 29, 2009.

•   U.S. Department of Agriculture: Recommendations and Options to Address
    Management Deficiencies in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. GAO-
    09-62. October 22, 2008.

•   U.S. Department of Agriculture: Management of Civil Rights Efforts Continues to Be
    Deficient Despite Years of Attention. GAO-08-755T. May 14, 2008.

•   Pigford Settlement: The Role of the Court-Appointed Monitor. GAO-06-469R. March 17,
    2006.

•   Department of Agriculture: Hispanic and Other Minority Farmers Would Benefit from
    Improvements in the Operations of the Civil Rights Program. GAO-02-1124T.
    September 25, 2002.


                                                                                         Page 23




        Page 27                                                   GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
Related GAO Products (cont.)

•   Department of Agriculture: Improvements in the Operations of the Civil Rights Program
    Would Benefit Hispanic and Other Minority Farmers. GAO-02-942. September 20, 2002.

•   U.S. Department of Agriculture: Resolution of Discrimination Complaints Involving Farm
    Credit and Payment Programs. GAO-01-521R. April 12, 2001.

•   U.S. Department of Agriculture: Problems in Processing Discrimination Complaints.
    GAO/T-RCED-00-286. September 12, 2000.




                                                                                         Page 24




        Page 28                                                   GAO-12-976R USDA Civil Rights Progress
GAO on the Web
Web site: http://www.gao.gov/

Contact
Chuck Young, Managing Director, Public Affairs, youngc1@gao.gov
(202) 512-4800, U.S. Government Accountability Office
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Enclosure II: Comments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture




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