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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.

As an aside, note that 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).

The 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 goals are 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).
  • A 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.)
  • A 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 LGBT) refers collectively to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender 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 whose primary romantic, emotional, physical and sexual attractions are to other women.
  • Gay: a man whose primary romantic, emotional, physical and sexual attractions are to other men. This term can also be used to apply to lesbians, bisexuals, and on some occasions, be used as an umbrella term for all LGBT people.
  • Bisexual: a person who has significant romantic, emotional, physical and sexual attractions to members of both sexes. The frequency, intensity, or quality of attraction is not necessarily directed toward both sexes equally.
  • Transgender: used both as an umbrella term and as an identity. Broadly, it refers to those who do not identify or are uncomfortable with their assigned gender and gender roles. As an identity the term refers to anyone who transgresses traditional sex and gender categories.)
  • 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