The Corner

Re: USDA ‘Civil Rights’ Training Video Revealed

The video posted by Eliana below shows a training program mandated in 2009 by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack because of numerous “civil rights” issues in the Department of Agriculture

Unquestionably,  the biggest such issue was the controversy concerning black farmers who claimed they were denied loans by the USDA on a racially discriminatory basis. The controversy was litigated in a class-action lawsuit brought by the farmers against the department in Pigford v. Glickman. The evidence suggested that between 1983–1997, some black farmers were, indeed, discriminated against (there’s also evidence that the mechanism used by the USDA to process and approve loans was a train wreck generally).

At some point during the litigation, politics and politicians intervened and the evidence necessary to establish eligibility to be part of the class was radically diluted. As a consequence, a flood of claims came in. More than 90,000 claimants sought compensation of at least $50,000 (one settlement alone was for $13,000,000). The federal government set aside more than $2.25 billion in 2011 to be paid out.

The problem is that between 1983–1997 there were nowhere near 90,000 black farmers in the entire United States. How many were there? The USDA itself says that in 1997 there were 18,500. As Dan Foster pointed out at the time, even the most expansive estimate of the number of black farmers during the relevant period puts the figure at just 33,000.

Now, if every single black farmer in the United States (times three) had been discriminated against by the USDA, that would be an epic scandal with major repercussions. It’s precisely the type of matter the U.S.Commission on Civil Rights is charged by statute to address. Yet when I raised the issue with the commission it went . . . nowhere. No hearing. No investigation.

Instead, we get training sessions as depicted in the video. Farce begets farce.

To be fair, by all reports USDA has taken a number of remedial steps to address “civil rights” issues within the department. But while self-examination is critical, a host of questions remain that are best answered by an independent inquiry. For example, who, if anyone, was disciplined for this supposed massive discrimination? Has the system that permitted unbridled discrimination to occur over a 15-year period been scrapped or significantly reformed? How could discrimination on such a supposedly mammoth scale go undetected for so long? Have legitimate claims been squeezed out by, or subordinated to, fraudulent claims?

The questions have relevance today because the USDA is now poised to pay out billions more to Hispanic, Native American, and female farmers in a claims process similar to Pigford.

Hey, it’s only a few billion dollars. And rampant discrimination by the federal government. And cynical political opportunism. And galactic governmental incompetence.

What difference, at this point, does it make?

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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