Advocacy groups contend that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's workplace remains toxic and that any effort taken by Secretary Thomas Vilsack has been largely ineffective -- because USDA fails to hold public officials accountable for breaking laws and violating personnel procedures.
During a federal news radio show, on October 16, 2012, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas "Tom" Vilsack told listeners how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is addressing a legacy of discrimination claims. According to Vilsack, USDA engages in "better workforce training, more accountability and a deeper look at its data" to reduce agency complaint levels.
Some may find the timing of Vilsack's taking to the airwaves a bit suspect. Afterall, his discourse on the gentler side of USDA which actively "trains" employees to be "sensitive to people of all races, in all regions of the country," broadcasted just days after a group of women filed a class action complaint of harassment and discrimination against him.
Who knows? Perhaps Secretary Vilsack's sound bites proclaiming "better days at USDA" played well to an unwitting audience unfamiliar with the Department of Agriculture's long-standing oppressive culture. One thing for certain --- Vilsack's chorus painfully rang out bitter notes to the thousands of minorities, women and customers like the African-American farmers who were victimized and remain targets of the USDA's biased programs and policies.
No FEAR complaint data indicates that Vilsack's stated goal to make USDA a "better place" and "friendlier place" to work -- misses the mark. The USDA posted data
shows a slight increase in the "number of formal complaints" filed since Vilsack assumed office in 2009. The "number of complainants" also increased since Vilsack took office. The number of complainants went from 394 in 2009 to 517 by September 30, 2012.
Earlier this year various advocacy groups,(such as the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, Occupy EPA, The Coalition For Change, Inc.(C4C), No FEAR Coalition, Acorn8, Network for Women's Equality and others gathered in front of the Dr. Martin Luther King memorial to bring attention to USDA's persistent failure to hold officials "accountable" for bullying, discrimination and retaliation.
Group members say Secretary Vilsack's articulated accountability measures are weak. According to Mr. Lawrence Lucas, President-USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, "Secretary Vilsack's accountability plan consistently fails to impose mandatory discipline on USDA officials who either violate civil rights laws or who harass employees like Ms. Alicia Dabney."
USDA fired Ms. Dabney, a Native American who once served as a GS-4 apprentice firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, after she reported an attempted sexual assault and complained of on-going harassment (such as being spit on and forced to urinate in her male co-workers presence.)
"It has been clear to me for quite some time that they would find any way possible to fire Alicia. If they didn't discredit her and fire her, they would have to fire the good old boy firefighters she made charges against," says Lesa Donnelly, Vice President-Coalition of Minority Employees."
Coalition members have begun a petition to reinstate Alicia Dabney as well as to bring attention to the oppressive culture within USDA that persists in "victimizing the victim."
Last year Senator Charles Grassley petitioned the Chair of the Committee on Agriculture to hold a hearing on the reported wide spread abuses of civil rights throughout the USDA system. According to Mr. Lawrence Lucas, no such hearing has been held. "Civil rights is worst now, than under the Bush administration. After 150 years, USDA remains the last plantation," says Lucas.
Tanya Ward Jordan is the author of 17 STEPS: A Federal Employee's Guide For Tackling Workplace Discrimination. She serves as President and Founder of the Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C). C4C is an proactive non-profit self-help organization comprised of former and present employees who have been injured or ill-treated due to workplace discrimination and/or reprisal. As a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in the Area of "Race Discrimination" with particular emphasis on Government's Role in Growing Racism in Modern America - Ms. Ward Jordan received the Fannie Lou Hammer -- Civil Rights Activists of the Year Award in February 2014 from the African American Voice Newspaper. She also received a "No FEAR" Award from Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner for her input into Public Law 107--174, known as "Notification and Federal Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act 0f 2002, which was the first United States civil rights law of the 21st Century. In 2015, NAACP listed Ms. Ward Jordan among the notable 2015 Black History Makers.
She authored The Personnel Demonstration Project--the New Spoils System (1999) and Breaking the invisible chains: A Guide for African-Americans to the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint Process (2001).