A Message from Chief Terry Cosby
What is Equity?
Equity is the consistent and systematic treatment of all individuals in a fair, just, and impartial manner, including people who belong to communities that have been denied such treatment. NRCS customers are the most important visitors to the agency. Our customers are not reliant on NRCS staff, the NRCS staff relies on our customers to be a successful and accomplished federal entity. For such a profound situation, NRCS must provide all our customers with the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive, regardless of their circumstances. Program history does not reflect continuous recognition and awarding to underserved farmers and ranchers. Without Equity, the systemic recognition and awarding has too often resulted in continued acceptance of those that are already set up for success…with Equity, NRCS will change this.
We must first understand and be able to identify the equity dimension and its impact. Although the terms ‘equality’ and ‘equity’ are sometimes used interchangeably, the two convey significantly different ideas. Equity is about fairness, while equality is about resemblance.
Released in January 2021, Executive Order (EO) 13985, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government”, directs federal agencies to examine the services it provides and develop a plan for addressing:
(i) any barriers to full and equal participation in programs identified pursuant to section 5(a) of this order; and
(ii) any barriers to full and equal participation in agency procurement and contracting opportunities identified pursuant to section 5(b) of this order.
Released in February 2023, EO 14091, “Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government”, builds upon EO 13985 and other executive order and directives to target specific barriers still faced by underserved communities by requiring federal agencies to integrate equity into planning and decision-making.
For purposes of the order:
(a) The term equity means the consistent and systematic treatment of all individuals in a fair, just, and impartial manner, including individuals who belong to communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, Indigenous and Native American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Island persons and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; women and girls; LGBTQI+ persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; persons who live in United States Territories; persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality; and individuals who belong to multiple such communities.
(b) The term underserved communities refers to those populations, as well as geographic communities, that have been systematically denied the opportunity to participate fully in aspects of economic, social, and civic life, as defined in Executive Orders 13985 and 14020.
About the Equity Division
In accordance with Executive Order 13985, "Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government," NRCS Chief Terry J. Cosby established the agency’s first ever Equity Division in October 2021. Chief Cosby’s commitment and dedication to Equity goals serve to “advance Equity by sustaining fairness of NRCS programs, services, and technical assistance within agency policies and practices.”
Executive Order 13985, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” directs federal agencies to examine the services it provides and develop a plan for addressing barriers.
Executive Order 14091, “Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” directs federal agencies to undertake additional efforts to advance equity initiatives.
At USDA, we acknowledge we have not done enough to provide all farmers and ranchers an equal chance of success and prosperity. We are committed to changing that, actively working to build a USDA that ensures none of our customers are ignored or left behind. This 15-member independent commission is charged with evaluating USDA programs and services and will recommend how we can reduce barriers for accessing them.
USDA Equity Action Plan details a subset of actions that USDA has chosen to highlight because of their potential high impact for underserved farmers and ranchers, families and children, and rural communities. While this is just a subset of many bold equity actions that we will implement, these actions create the foundation that will inform and build other equity-related strategies.
In alignment with the direction of Executive Order 13985 and the USDA Equity Action Plan, the NRCS Equity Action Plan was developed using a framework to advance equity in the culture of NRCS and to act with unflinching commitment to institutional transformation.
NRCS Chief Terry Cosby is committed to building organizational capacity for all NRCS functions and throughout the agency hierarchy for institutional transformation in advancing equity. Read the NRCS Equity Policy Statement and download the Equity poster, both of which are required to be posted in NRCS offices.
The NRCS Equity Action Plan calls for the agency to develop resource materials that communicate clear and easily understood definitions of equity and inequity, implicit and explicit bias, and individual, institutional, and systemic discrimination.