Farm Programs:

Efforts to Achieve Equitable Treatment of Minority Farmers

T-RCED-97-112: Published: Mar 19, 1997. Publicly Released: Mar 19, 1997.

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Robert A. Robinson
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GAO discussed its work on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) efforts to achieve equitable treatment of minority farmers, focusing on the: (1) Farm Service Agency's (FSA) efforts to treat minority farmers in the same way as nonminority farmers in delivering program services; (2) representation of minorities in county office staffing and on county committees in the counties with the highest number of minority farmers; and (3) 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 for fiscal years 1995 and 1996.

GAO noted that: (1) FSA's Civil Rights and Small Business Development Staff oversees the agency's efforts to achieve fair 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) the Staff also conducted 13 management reviews of field offices and found no evidence of unfair treatment; (4) finally, according to the Staff, they are in the midst of training all FSA personnel on civil rights matters and the Staff projects that this training will be completed by the end of 1997; (5) GAO did not evaluate the quality and thoroughness of the Staff's activities; (6) with respect to the representation of minority employees in FSA's field offices, USDA's database showed that, as of October 1996, 32 percent of the employees serving the 101 counties with the highest number of minority farmers are members of a minority group; (7) moreover, for the same period, 89 percent of these minority employees were either county executive directors or program assistants; (8) minority farmers makeup about 17 percent of the farmer population in these counties; (9) furthermore, in 36 of the 101 counties, at least one minority farmer is a member of the county committee; (10) the applications of minority farmers for ACP for fiscal year 1995 and for the direct loan program from October 1994 through March 1996 were disapproved at a higher rate nationwide than for nonminority farmers; (11) GAO found that disapproval rates for minority farmers were also higher at three of the five county offices and three of the five district loan offices it visited; and (12) however, GAO's review of the information in the application files at these offices showed that decisions to approve or disapprove applications were supported by information in the files and that decisionmaking criteria appeared to be applied to minority and nonminority applicants in a similar fashion.

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