The U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector General, Phyllis Fong spoke at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on her department’s report on civil rights complaints against the USDA. She said there were several key themes over the last 20 years.
“Strong leadership is essential to make it a priority to process complaints in a timely fashion,” she said. “Adequate resources need to be brought be bear, including efficient staffing and an effective technology system. Monitoring and oversight of partnerships with other agencies is necessary to ensure that all are doing their part. And finally, key performance measures need to be set and used so that success can be measured and reported.”
During the hearing, Representative Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) asked about the long processing time for some complaints.
“In your report, you raised concerns that when faced with lengthy time frames to process their complaints, individuals who have had a legitimate claim of discrimination and would otherwise be eligible for USDA programs, may not continue to pursue their complaint,” she said. “Ms. Fong how will your recommendations help to rebuild public confidence in the USDA Office of Civil Rights and assure that wrongdoers in the agency are held accountable?”
“I think it’s essential that the department have an effective and timely process to deal with incoming complaints from employees and program participants who are concerned that they may have legitimate grievances,” Fong replied. “As a complainant, you know, if you file a complaint and it’s now appropriately investigated and adjudicated within a reasonable amount of time the concern is that you could lose confidence in the department’s ability to address your needs and to give you the assistance that you need. That’s just a very critical issue of credibility.”
In the hearing, Fong said there are 40 positions that remain unfilled in the department due to a lack of candidates.
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National Correspondent / AgNet Media, Inc.
Sabrina Halvorson is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and public speaker who specializes in agriculture. She primarily reports on legislative issues and hosts The AgNet Weekly podcast. Sabrina is a native of California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley.