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Pride Flag at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC on June 1, 2022. During June 2022, USDA will host in-person, virtual and hybrid Pride Month activities and events for internal (employees) and external stakeholders. These events are coordinated by OASCR in partnership with USDA Mission Areas, Staff Offices and USDA Employee groups. The celebration for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) Pride Month will reflect on the fight for justice, inclusion, and equality

Special Emphasis Program

The Special Emphasis Program (SEP) is led by the Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Division on behalf of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and serves all four agencies in FPAC, including NRCS.  

The objective of the Special Emphasis Program (SEP) is to take affirmative steps to identify and eliminate discriminatory practices and policies and to ensure that all employees and applicants for employment have an equal opportunity to compete fairly in all aspect of recruitment, hiring, training, career development, developmental details, promotions, and any other condition of employment. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service plays a key role in supporting the SEP by providing national level NRCS Special Emphasis Program Managers (SEPMs) who coordinate SEP information within NRCS and serve as advisors to the FPAC Civil Rights Division on legislation, policies, employment, and program issues impacting SEP groups:

  • American Indian / Alaska Native Emphasis Program
  • Asian American and Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander Emphasis Program
  • Black / African American Emphasis Program
  • Individuals with Disabilities Emphasis Program
  • Federal Women's Program
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex (+) Emphasis Program
  • Hispanic Emphasis Program
  • Veterans Emphasis Program

Factors considered in establishing these SEP groups include the extent of underrepresentation and availability of the targeted civilian labor force.  These groups have been initiated to address employment-related concerns not specifically included in other programs where a need for special emphasis or employment concerns have been demonstrated.

At the state level, designated NRCS employees serve as collateral-duty Special Emphasis Program Managers (SEPMs) to assist in ensuring that equal opportunity is present in all aspects of NRCS programs and services. The collateral duty SEPMs assist State Conservationist in identifying underrepresentation in employment and program delivery and ensure positive actions are taken to address any problem areas.

Collateral duty SEPMs assist with and conduct program outreach activities by working with NRCS employees and with underserved customers to create awareness and understanding of programs, benefits, and services available to through NRCS, FPAC, and USDA.  Collateral duty SEPMs assist the Agency staff in conducting business  so that underserved communities have information and choice regarding full participation.

The Special Emphasis Programs are strengthened by two Executive Orders: Executive Order 11478, Equal Employment Opportunity in the Federal Government and Executive Order 13583, Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act directed the federal government to ensure equal employment opportunity without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The law makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because they complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation for applicants’ and employees’ sincerely held religious practices unless doings go would impose undue hardship on operation of the employer’s business.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ensures nondiscrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in the delivery of any program, service, or activity receiving federal financial assistance.  

For further information concerning Civil Rights at USDA please contact the FPAC Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Division

Additional Information