Agriculture Committee Leadership Presses Perdue on Diversity Trainings at USDA

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue Thursday, the Chairs of all six House Agriculture Subcommittees, led by Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Chair Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, expressed grave concerns over a recent directive from the White House Office of Management and Budget prohibiting federal funds from being used for diversity training for federal employees. In the letter, Fudge, along with Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Chair Jim Costa of California; Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit Chair David Scott of Georgia; General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Chair Filemon Vela of Texas; Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Chair Stacey E. Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands; and Conservation and Forestry Chair Abigail Spanberger of Virginia wrote that the directive is “without merit and nothing more than a tool to further divide our country,” and especially concerning given the Department’s history on civil rights issues.

“It is no secret the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has had a long, checkered history of discriminatory practices against farmers of color,” wrote the Chairs. “African-American, Hispanic, and Native American farmers have experienced delays or outright rejections in USDA lending, leading to loss of land and a lack of equitable access to farm programs the effects of which can still be felt today.”

“We are also aware of the Department’s continued failure to diversify its workforce and promote people of color to leadership and management positions,” Fudge and the Chairs added, pointing to the value of diversity training in ensuring an equitable environment, both for USDA’s employees and those it serves. “Diversity trainings are educational opportunities for people who may not understand their own racial bias or cultural insensitivity. It also holds people accountable and ensures fair and equal treatment of minorities both internal and external to the Department. Without these guardrails, we believe you cannot adequately identify and address systemic racism and racial inequities that may adversely impact its program or the broader USDA workforce.”

“We urge you to seize the opportunity to do what is right by rejecting any directives that could divide our nation and strengthening your diversity and inclusion efforts to best serve your workforce and the communities they serve,” the Chairs wrote.