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What Are Special Emphasis Groups?

The forerunner of NRCS Special Emphasis Programs is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which came out of the civil rights struggles of Black Americans. 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. But, the federal government did not include itself under the definition of employer!  So, it was not until the Equal Employment Opportunity (EE0) Act of 1972 that federal employees and applicants for federal jobs were covered under Title VII.

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 funded by the federal government. Non-discrimination in employment (Title VII) and in programs, services and activities (Title VI) is a concern of our Civil Rights Advisory Committee.

Under EEO, the mandate is equal opportunity and equal treatment of Federal employees and job applicants. Note that in the years since 1964, additional anti-discrimination bases (categories) have been added (for example, now it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of age).

NRCS Special Emphasis Programs focus on groups of people who are conspicuously under-represented in certain occupational categories or grade levels. NRCS has eight special emphasis programs. The goal is to provide inclusion and equal opportunities for members of these groups and to have a diverse workforce. 

For purposes of administering the Special Emphasis Programs, several of these groups of people are defined in our General Manual. The definitions may not be what you think they are. (Note that italicized comments are not from the manual.)

  • An American Indian or Alaska Native is a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South American (including Central America) who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment
  • An Asian American or Pacific Islander is a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent (for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam).
  • Black or African American is a person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. (Note that, historically, the use of the term ‘Black’ has varied and may include people from Australia and Pacific Islands and may not include people with origins from every country in Africa.)
  • Disability– refers to “Targeted Disabilities”. (Note that hiring preference may be given to people with a Targeted Disability who are certified as likely to succeed in a particular job. Targeted Disabilities are (severe) deafness, blindness, missing limbs, partial paralysis, total paralysis, convulsive disorder, mental retardation, mental illness, and severe distortion of limbs and/or spine.)
  • Federal Women’s Program – (Note that women as a group under the Federal Women’s Program may include individuals who fall under other groups as well.)
  • Hispanic, Latino, or Latina is a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. People who identify their origin as Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino may be of any race or color. (Note that Europeans of Spanish origins are not included in this definition.)
  • GLBT (now LGBTQ+) refers collectively to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. The term “GLBT” is intended to emphasize a diversity of sexuality and gender identity-based cultures and is sometimes used to refer to anyone who is not heterosexual instead of exclusively to people who are homosexual, bisexual, or transgender. (Note, the acronym LGBT may be expanded to a variation of LGBTIQA to include intersex, questioning, queer-identified people and/or allies. You may find useful the following definitions from the University of Connecticut Rainbow Center)

                    - Lesbian: a woman who is attracted to women. Term derives from Greek isle of Lesbos where Sappho, who wrote poetry about love
                      between women

                    - Gay: 1) Term used in some cultural settings to represent men who are attracted to men in a sexual or romantic way. 2) Term used in
                      some cultural settings to represent women who are attracted to women in a sexual or romantic way. 3) Term used to refer to the
                      LGBTQIA community as a whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual.

                    - Bisexual: A person with the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender,
                      not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree

                    - Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated
                      with the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a
                      wide variety of terms - including transgender. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore,
                      transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.

                    - Queer: A reclaimed word that was formerly used solely as a slur but that has been semantically overturned by
                      members of the maligned group, who use it as a term of defiant pride. It is an umbrella term which embraces
                      a matrix of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of the non-exclusively-heterosexual-and-monogamous
                      majority. Queer includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans people, intersex persons, asexual people, and
                      other communities.

  • Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces may be eligible for Veteran’s Preference when government jobs are offered. To receive preference, a veteran must have been discharged or released from active duty in the Armed Forces under honorable conditions (i.e., with an honorable or general discharge). As defined in 5 U.S.C. 2101(2), "Armed Forces" means the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The veteran must also be eligible under one of the preference categories. (Note:  for more information on preference categories, visit