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Outreach vs. Civil Rights

Outreach is sometimes confused with Civil Rights.  This confusion may stem from the fact that people who have historically been underserved by USDA are also those who have been most often subject to discrimination in employment and program delivery.

Underserved customers are those who may need, but have not fully benefited from, USDA assistance.  Historically they have included farmers/ranchers and landowners/operators with limited resources, minority groups, women, and people with disabilities.  These same groups are among those who have filed the most complaints of employment and program discrimination against USDA.

Simply defined, outreach is a way of doing business that ensures that all people have access to USDA programs and services.  Civil Rights refers to the statutes that prohibit discrimination in federal employment and program delivery.  Outreach and Civil Rights have in common a focus on socially disadvantaged groups; however, they are not synonymous.

When you hear the term "Civil Rights." it is usually in reference to the statutes that prohibit discrimination in Federal programs because of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, and so forth.  Civil Rights statutes pertain to issues of employment and program delivery.

For example, regarding program delivery...

  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, provides that no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits creditors from discriminating against credit applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, receipt of public assistance, or exercise of rights under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.

Concerning Federal employment...

  • Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 prohibits discrimination in employment in the Federal Government.
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities which receive Federal assistance.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of a disability in any program or activity which receives Federal assistance.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 broadens the coverage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and replaces the term "handicap" with "disability," which it defines for the first time.
  • Executive Order 11375, 1967 included sex as a prohibited form of discrimination and prohibits discrimination based on marital status.
  • US 621 Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits discrimination based on age.
  • EEO Act of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on prior Equal Employment Opportunity activities.

In an effort to ensure our civil rights obligations are met, USDA has taken a number of actions including...

  • Addressing the backlog of program and Equal Employment Opportunity complaints.
  • Reviewing the civil rights records of agency heads and subcabinet officials.
  • Creating a civil rights arm of the Office of General Counsel.
  • Establishing a national commission on small farms.
  • Creating a department-wide workforce planning and recruitment effort.
  • Requiring annual civil rights training for USDA employees.

Further, a USDA Office of Outreach was created to coordinate department-wide efforts to ensure that USDA reaches all people who can benefit from our services.  NRCS created an Outreach Division, and states have appointed State Outreach contacts.

This special emphasis is currently being placed on outreach to underserved customers because of the recognition that certain groups have not participated in or have received limited benefits from USDA or NRCS programs.  However, outreach is not a separate USDA program.

Instead it should be a "way of doing business" for every USDA program and all services to ensure that all people are informed and able to participate.

This demands a new, deliberate approach to communication based on a knowledge of underserved customers.  It means learning about the needs, characteristics, and reasons underserved customers may not be participating.  It means strategically communicating with underserved customers, earning their trust, and forming working partnerships with them.

Although most underserved are those with limited resources, minorities, women, and people with disabilities, outreach is about effectively serving all customers -- not only those protected under Civil Rights statutes.  In your county, underserved customers may also include rural communities, small specialty crop farmers, organic farmers, sustainable ag-farmers, or members of religious minorities.