Farm Programs:

Efforts to Achieve Equitable Treatment of Minority Farmers

RCED-97-41: Published: Jan 24, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 3, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Farm Service Agency's (FSA) efforts to conduct farm programs in an equitable manner, focusing on: (1) FSA efforts to treat minority farmers in the same way as nonminority farmers in delivering program services; (2) minority representation in county office staffing and on county committees in the counties with the highest numbers of minority farmers; and (3) the disposition of minority and nonminority farmers' applications for participation in the Agricultural Conservation Program (ACP) and the direct loan program at the national level and in five county and five district loan offices.

GAO found that: (1) FSA's Civil Rights and Small Business Development staff oversees the agency's efforts to achieve equitable treatment for minority farmers; (2) in fiscal years 1995 and 1996, the staff closed 28 complaints of discrimination against farmers on the basis of race or national origin, and found discriminatory practices in 2 of the 28 cases; (3) in addition, as part of its routine assessments of FSA's overall operations in 13 states, the staff assessed the performance of the agency's employees in treating all farmers equitably, but none of the evaluations found that minority farmers were being treated unfairly; (4) the staff has also trained about one-half of FSA'S employees in equal employment opportunity and civil rights matters and expects to finish training all of the employees by the end of 1997; (5) in July 1996, FSA created an outreach office to increase minority farmers' participation in, and knowledge of, the Department's agricultural programs; (6) at the time of GAO's review, 32 percent of FSA's employees serving the 101 counties with the highest numbers of minority farmers were members of a minority group; (7) about 90 percent of these employees were county executive directors or program assistants involved in conducting and managing FSA programs; (8) minority farmers make up about 17 percent of the farmer population in these counties; (9) at the national level, FSA data show that applications for the ACP in fiscal year 1995 and for the direct loan program from October 1994 through March 1996 were disapproved at a higher rate for minority farmers than for nonminority farmers; (10) three of the five county offices GAO visited had higher disapproval rates for minority farmers than for nonminority farmers applying to the ACP, and three of the five district loan offices GAO visited had higher disapproval rates for minority farmers than for other farmers applying for the direct loan program; and (11) GAO's review of the information in the application files in these offices showed that decisions to approve or disapprove applications were supported by information in the files and that decision-making criteria appeared to be applied to minority and nonminority applicants in a similar fashion.

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