[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 136 (Wednesday, July 16, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 41406-41411]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-16325]


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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

7 CFR Part 15d

RIN 0503-AA52


Nondiscrimination in Programs or Activities Conducted by the 
United States Department of Agriculture

AGENCY: United States Department of Agriculture.

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA or 
Department) is amending its regulation on nondiscrimination in programs 
or activities conducted by the Department. The changes clarifies the 
roles and responsibilities of USDA's Office of the Assistant Secretary 
for Civil Rights (OASCR) and USDA agencies in enforcing 
nondiscrimination in programs or activities conducted by the Department 
and strengthens USDA's civil rights compliance and complaint processing 
activities to better protect the rights of USDA customers. OASCR's 
compliance activities are detailed, and a requirement is included that 
each agency shall, for civil rights compliance purposes, collect, 
maintain and annually compile data on the race, ethnicity, and gender 
(REG) of all conducted program applicants and participants by county 
and State. Applicants and program participants will provide the race, 
ethnicity, and gender data on a voluntary basis. The amendment also 
provides that OASCR shall offer Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) 
services to complainants where appropriate. This amendment is intended 
to encourage the early resolution of customer complaints. Finally, USDA 
is amending its regulation to add protection from discrimination in 
programs or activities conducted by the Department with respect to two 
new protected bases, political beliefs, and gender identity. The 
Secretary has decided to establish gender identity as a separate 
protected basis for USDA's conducted programs and activities. This 
amendment is meant to make explicit protections against discrimination 
based on USDA program customers' political beliefs or gender identity. 
Gender identity includes USDA program customers' gender expression, 
including how USDA program customers act, dress, perceive themselves, 
or otherwise express their gender.

DATES: Effective July 16, 2014.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Anna Stroman at 202-205-5953 or 
anna.stroman@ascr.usda.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    This rule follows the USDA proposed rule published on December 27, 
2013, (78 FR 78788-249). The USDA is amending its regulation on 
nondiscrimination in programs or activities conducted by the 
Department. In 1964, USDA adopted Title VI principles to its federally 
conducted activities by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of 
race, color, and national origin. (See 29 FR 16966, creating 7 CFR part 
15, subpart b, referring to nondiscrimination in direct USDA programs 
and activities, now found at 7 CFR part 15d). Subsequently, USDA 
expanded the protected bases for its conducted programs to include 
religion, sex, age, marital status, familial status, sexual 
orientation, disability, and whether any portion of a person's income 
is derived from public assistance programs. The intention is to hold 
the Department to a higher standard than our recipients.
    The regulation was last revised in 1999 (64 FR 66709, Nov. 30, 
1999). The changes will clarify the roles and responsibilities of OASCR 
and USDA agencies in enforcing nondiscrimination in programs or 
activities conducted by the Department (``conducted programs'') and 
strengthen USDA's civil rights compliance and complaint processing 
activities to better protect the rights of USDA customers. This 
regulation does not address those programs for which the Department 
provides Federal financial assistance \1\ (``assisted programs'').
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    \1\ Federally assisted programs are programs and activities 
receiving financial assistance through a third party such as a State 
or municipal government, university, or organization. Federally 
conducted programs, which are those programs covered in this 
regulation, are programs and activities for which program services, 
benefits or resources are delivered directly to the public by USDA.
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Highlights of Changes to the Regulation

    The final regulation outlines three specific changes to current 
activities. First, the final regulation includes a requirement that 
each agency shall, for civil rights compliance purposes, collect, 
maintain, and annually compile data on the race, ethnicity, and gender 
of all applicants and participants of programs and activities conducted 
by USDA by county and State. Applicants and program participants of 
these programs will provide this data on a voluntary basis. Although 
USDA first established a policy for collecting data on race, ethnicity, 
and gender in 1969, there is currently no uniform requirement for 
reporting and tabulating this data across USDA's diverse program areas. 
The three USDA agencies that administer the majority of USDA's 
conducted programs--the Farm Services Agency (FSA), the Natural 
Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Forest Service (FS) and 
Rural Development (RD)--already collect this data from individuals. 
FSA, NRCS, and RD (the ``field based agencies'') collect this data 
under the requirements of section 14006 of the Food, Conservation, and 
Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill), which requires collection of this 
data for each program that serves agricultural producers and 
landowners. This data allows USDA to track application and 
participation rates for socially disadvantaged and limited resources 
applicants and participants. Together, these four agencies capture more 
than 90 percent of the contacts USDA has with the public through its 
conducted programs. This final regulation will standardize the 
recordkeeping requirement across the Department to all programs 
conducted by USDA that deliver benefits to the

[[Page 41407]]

public. Assisted programs are not the subject of this rule.
    Second, the rule requires that OASCR offer ADR services to 
complainants where appropriate. This amendment is intended to encourage 
the early resolution of customer complaints and is in accordance with 
the Secretary of Agriculture's Blueprint for Stronger Service. Offering 
ADR will expand the use of techniques currently used in the employment 
context that facilitate complaint resolution and shorten resolution 
time. It will provide a cost-effective opportunity for early complaint 
resolution. USDA anticipates that this measure will reduce costs 
associated with complaint processing while also enhancing customer 
experience with the Department.
    Finally, USDA is amending its regulation to add protection from 
discrimination in programs or activities conducted by the Department 
with respect to two new protected bases, political beliefs and gender 
identity. Discrimination by USDA employees on these grounds is already 
prohibited in USDA's statement on civil rights. This amendment is meant 
to make explicit protections against discrimination based on USDA 
program customers' political beliefs or gender identity, which will 
strengthen USDA's ability to ensure that all USDA customers receive 
fair and consistent treatment, and align the regulations with USDA's 
civil rights goals.
    The inclusion of political beliefs will prohibit discrimination 
consistent with the Food Stamp Act of 1964, Public Law 88-525, 78 Stat. 
703-709 (Aug. 31, 1964), the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (which 
covers political affiliation), and the Secretary of Agriculture's civil 
rights policy statements.
    The Secretary has decided to establish gender identity as a 
separate protected basis for USDA's conducted programs and activities. 
For the purpose of this regulation, gender identity includes USDA 
program customers' gender expression, including how USA program 
customers act, dress, perceive themselves, or otherwise express their 
gender.
    The change allows USDA customers of conducted programs who believe 
that they have been discriminated against on the basis of political 
beliefs or gender identity to take advantage of USDA's existing 
mechanisms to file an administrative complaint and receive a response. 
USDA's response might include recommending additional training for USDA 
employees or outreach in appropriate cases, procedures which already 
take place and can continue to take place within existing resources. 
The change applies only to USDA's internal administrative complaint 
mechanism and does not, in and of itself, create any new legal rights 
to bring suit against USDA, or expand the class of cases where USDA is 
authorized to pay money in connection with civil rights complaints.
Discussion of Comments and Responses
    On December 27, 2013, USDA published a notice of proposed 
rulemaking in the Federal Register which resulted in 45 individuals/
public interest groups/firms responding with 130 comments and 
recommendations. All comments received supported the proposed 
regulation. The comments and responses are as follows:
1. Public Disclosure of Data
    Comment: We received two comments submitted on behalf of seven 
organizations requesting that the proposed regulation require USDA 
agencies to make race, ethnic and gender (REG) data collected under the 
proposed regulation available to the public. Commenters recommended 
public disclosure of the data, along with civil rights compliance 
reviews, to enhance the effectiveness of the regulation and to ensure 
agency accountability.
    Response: OASCR agrees that public disclosure of the data will 
provide customers with additional information on the effectiveness of 
USDA's conducted programs as well as increase its accountability to its 
customers. As each Agency is required to submit to OASCR timely, 
complete and accurate program application and participation reports 
containing the REG data on an annual basis, one option that OASCR is 
considering, upon completion of its analysis of this data, would be to 
post a summary analysis on either the USDA or OASCR Web site. In 
addition, Agencies will also have the option of posting their data on 
their Web sites. In regards to the recommendation that compliance 
reviews be subject to public disclosure, OASCR will take this under 
consideration.
2. Accurate Data Reporting
    Comment: We received two comments submitted on behalf of seven 
organizations recommending that the regulation requires USDA to take 
steps to ensure the accurate reporting of data, especially for those 
who do not receive the assistance requested.
    Response: We agree that USDA should take steps to ensure the 
accurate reporting of data. Data on programs must be analyzed in a 
consistent manner with respect to the protected categories. The 
regulation provides for the standard, voluntary collection of REG data 
for all USDA conducted programs. Standard demographic program data will 
help USDA better determine if programs and services are reaching the 
needs of all conducted program applicants and participants by county 
and State. USDA anticipates that this expanded data collection will 
provide additional data regarding customers who are and are not 
receiving USDA benefits, improve the design of USDA programs, and 
ultimately reduce the number of complaints of discrimination filed 
against USDA. The uniform collection of REG data will allow USDA to 
administer programs from a proactive rather than a reactive position 
and enables the Department to assess the accomplishment of program 
delivery mandates and objectives. Moreover, when allegations of 
disparate treatment or service arise, accurate REG data provides USDA 
the ability to determine the validity of discrimination complaints and 
resolve conflicts and issues in an expeditious manner. USDA's use of 
standardized voluntary methods of data collection will ensure the 
accuracy of data reporting for all protected categories of program 
applicants and participants, which will include those who apply for, 
but do not receive the requested assistance.
    Comment: We received one comment opposing the collection of REG 
data from the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan (B&I) Program of 
USDA's Rural Development (RD) Mission Area on the grounds that B&I 
works with private lenders and has only paperwork interaction with 
borrower applicants. B&I cannot identify borrower applicants by race, 
religion, gender, etc. and the collection of REG data would create an 
additional step in the loan process and therefore be unduly difficult 
and burdensome. Further, the commenter stated that B&I is already 
prohibited by law from discriminating against applicants on the grounds 
identified in the proposed regulation.
    Response: The regulation applies only to USDA ``conducted'' 
programs and only those agencies administering USDA conducted programs 
that serve individuals are required to collect the data. B&I is a loan 
guarantee program, guaranteeing loans provided by private lenders. B&I 
is not an RD conducted program and therefore the proposed regulation is 
not applicable to B&I.
3. Collection of Ethnicity Data
    Comment: We received one comment submitted on behalf of six 
organizations requesting that the rule require agencies

[[Page 41408]]

to collect additional information on ethnicity and language of 
communication. The commenter expressed concern that the use of Form AD-
2106 to collect data is limiting in that it identifies only two 
categories under Ethnicity: (1) Hispanic or Latino, or (2) Not Hispanic 
or Latino.
    Response: Although USDA first established a policy for collecting 
data on REG in 1969, there is currently no uniform requirement for 
reporting and tabulating this data across USDA's diverse program areas. 
The rule requires that each USDA agency collect, maintain, and annually 
compile data on REG of all program applicants and participants of 
conducted programs by county and State. This will create a standard 
collection of data on REG from applicants and beneficiaries of USDA 
conducted programs. However, USDA agencies are not required to collect 
data on the language preferences of customers.
    Although collecting data on the languages spoken by customers is 
outside the scope of this regulation, USDA has established its 
Departmental Regulation on the prohibition of national origin 
discrimination against persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) 
in conducted programs. In addition, USDA is in the process of 
finalizing its guidance on the prohibition of national origin 
discrimination against persons with LEP in its federally assisted 
programs. USDA conducted programs will not be required to collect data 
on language preference but will perform an assessment of the number or 
proportion of LEP persons eligible to be served or encountered and the 
frequency of encounters.
    With regard to the collection of ethnicity data, the rule requires 
USDA agencies with conducted programs to develop strategies for 
collecting REG data for their respective federally conducted programs. 
These strategies will be reviewed and approved by OASCR and will be 
established per the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) 
requirements for data collection on race and ethnicity, Standards for 
the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity. While we 
agree that expanding the ethnicity categories beyond Hispanic or Latino 
would provide valuable information regarding the customers 
participating in and receiving benefits from programs conducted by the 
Department, USDA is working within the parameters of the approved OMB 
form. In the future, we will be looking into revising our data 
collection options to capture all ethnic groups by allowing customers 
to self-identify ethnic categories.
4. Monitoring of Data Reporting for Compliance
    Comment: We received two comments on behalf of seven organizations 
recommending that USDA take steps to monitor compliance with data 
reporting requirements by the agencies.
    Response: We agree that USDA should closely monitor compliance with 
the regulation's data collection and reporting requirements. OASCR's 
compliance responsibilities include ensuring that each agency collects, 
maintains, and annually compiles data on the REG of all program 
applicants and participants by county and State. OASCR will be closely 
monitoring and reviewing agencies data reporting for compliance on an 
annual basis.
5. Data Usage
    Comment: We received one comment on behalf of six organizations 
recommending USDA more explicitly state how the collected data will be 
used to proactively inform strategies to address any identified 
inequities.
    Response: The rule requires that each USDA agency collect, 
maintain, and annually compile data on the race, ethnicity, and gender 
of all conducted program applicants and participants by county and 
State.
    Demographic data collected under the regulation can be used to: (1) 
Perform analyses during the investigation of civil rights complaints to 
determine whether discrimination exists; (2) conduct mandated civil 
rights compliance reviews; (3) compare data from the Agriculture Census 
or decennial census on whether groups or communities are underserved by 
USDA's programs; (4) determine targeted areas for product development, 
marketing, and outreach; (5) customize communication for improved 
customer service; (6) measure the participation rates of traditionally 
underserved groups, such as racial/ethnic minorities, women, older 
farmers, and persons with disabilities, and make adjustments, as 
necessary, in product development and/or program delivery; and (7) 
measure performance of USDA personnel. Also USDA anticipates that this 
expanded data collection will include data regarding customers who are 
and are not receiving USDA benefits, will help improve the design of 
USDA programs, and ultimately will reduce the number of complaints of 
discrimination filed against USDA.
6. Implementation of Regulation
    Comment: We received one comment on behalf of six organizations 
recommending that USDA take additional steps to assure that the 
purposes of the proposed regulation are realized, which includes 
improved processing of complaints, an improved process for documenting 
settlement agreements, and compiled data on complaints after an 
investigation.
    Response: OASCR is responsible for monitoring and providing 
oversight of the implementation of the rule and will be reviewing the 
data collected on an annual basis to ensure that the purposes of the 
rule are met. We believe that the steps provided by the rule will 
effectively address the concerns of the commenter. This will strengthen 
USDA's civil rights compliance and complaint processing activities at 
all stages, and the ADR requirement will improve the process of 
documenting settlement agreements. Further, as OASCR's monitors and 
oversees the implementation of the proposed regulation, assessments can 
be made as to whether further steps are necessary to improve the 
realization of its purpose.
7. Training USDA Employees
    Comment: We received eighteen comments submitted on behalf of 
thirty organizations recommending that USDA train its employees to 
fully implement the proposed regulation.
    Response: In order for the Department to enforce nondiscrimination 
in programs and activities conducted by the Department and to ensure 
requirements of the regulation are met by USDA agencies, OASCR and the 
agencies will provide training on the rule's requirements. OASCR has 
begun to prepare its training strategy for managers, employees, and 
program customers. Training is expected to begin once the rule is 
finalized.
8. Identification of Conducted Programs to Which the Proposed Rule 
Applies
    Comment: We received one comment submitted on behalf of seventeen 
organizations requesting that the Department list the programs and 
activities conducted by the USDA that are covered by the proposed rule.
    Response: This rule covers all programs and activities conducted by 
the Department. It does not cover programs or activities for which the 
Department provides Federal financial assistance through a third party 
such as a State or municipal government, university, or other 
intermediary organization. The name, number, and nature of programs and 
activities

[[Page 41409]]

conducted by USDA is subject to change as Congress mandates funding for 
new programs or amends current appropriated programs. Consequently, it 
is not possible to include a definitive list of covered programs and 
activities in the proposed rule.
9. Alternative Dispute Resolution Implementation
    Comment: We received one comment submitted on behalf of six 
organizations seeking clarification regarding the implementation of 
alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services for program complaints. 
Specifically, (1) whether ADR is required; (2) how ADR will be used; 
and (3) what, if any, changes will the amendment make to current ADR 
services.
    Response: The amendment provides that OASCR shall offer ADR 
services to complainants where appropriate. ADR for program complaints 
is a service that offers mediation and other current ADR techniques 
presently provided for Equal Employment Opportunity cases. ADR will be 
used to facilitate the early resolution of disputed issues and 
complaints through mediation, facilitation, fact finding, arbitration, 
use of ombudsman, or any combination thereof. Participation in ADR is 
not mandatory for customers of USDA's conducted programs, but rather it 
is an optional service available to customers at no cost. By engaging 
in ADR, customers do not give up their right to file a complaint.
10. Other Protected Bases--Marital Status and Sexual Orientation
    Comment: We received two comments from two organizations, each 
recommending that USDA add another protected basis: One comment 
recommended the addition of ``marital status,'' and one comment 
recommended the addition of ``sexual orientation.''
    Response: The Secretary's Civil Rights Policy Statement, dated July 
24, 2013, 7 CFR 15d.3, includes ``marital status'' and ``sexual 
orientation,'' as bases for protection from discrimination. The rule 
adds two additional bases, namely ``gender identity'' and ``political 
beliefs'' as protected categories for its conducted programs.
11. Expansion of Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and/
or Political Beliefs to Assisted Programs
    Comment: We received eighteen comments on behalf of thirty-seven 
organizations recommending that USDA expand nondiscrimination 
protection on the basis of ``gender identity'' and ``political 
beliefs'' to USDA assisted programs, in particular nutrition programs. 
One commenter also recommended that nondiscrimination protection be 
extended to housing assistance programs.
    Response: OASCR is currently researching its nondiscrimination 
regulation for its federally assisted programs. However, the current 
rule only addresses nondiscrimination protection for USDA ``conducted'' 
programs and activities.

Executive Orders 12866 and 13563 and Regulatory Flexibility Act

    Executive Order 12866, ``Regulatory Planning and Review,'' and 
Executive Order 13563, ``Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review,'' 
direct agencies to assess all costs and benefits of available 
regulatory alternatives and, if regulation is necessary, to select 
regulatory approaches that maximize net benefits (including potential 
economic, environmental, public health and safety effects, distributive 
impacts, and equity). Executive Order 13563 emphasizes the importance 
of quantifying both costs and benefits, of reducing costs, of 
harmonizing rules, and of promoting flexibility.
    The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) designated this rule as 
not significant under Executive Order 12866 and, therefore, OMB was not 
required to review this final rule.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    When an agency issues a rulemaking proposal, the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act (RFA) requires the agency to ``prepare and make 
available for public comment an initial regulatory flexibility 
analysis'' which will ``describe the impact of the proposed rule on 
small entities.'' (5 U.S.C. 603(a)). Section 605 of the RFA allows an 
agency to certify a rule, in lieu of preparing an analysis, if the 
proposed rulemaking is not expected to have a significant economic 
impact on a substantial number of small entities.
    7 CFR part 15d clarifies the roles and responsibilities of USDA's 
OASCR and USDA agencies in enforcing nondiscrimination in programs or 
activities conducted by the Department. The final regulation was last 
revised in 1999 (64 FR 66709, Nov. 30, 1999). The changes also 
strengthen USDA's civil rights compliance and complaint processing 
activities to better protect the rights of USDA customers. As stated 
previously, the proposed data collection is in line with the 
requirements of section 14006 of the 2008 Farm Bill. The inclusion of 
political beliefs as a protected basis will prohibit discrimination in 
accordance with current civil rights laws, the Food Stamp Act of 1964, 
Public Law 88-525, 78 Stat. 703-709 (Aug. 31, 1964) and the Civil 
Service Reform Act of 1978 (which covers political affiliation) and the 
Secretary of Agriculture's civil rights policy statements.
    The final rule may affect entities such as grocery and related 
product merchant wholesalers, establishments that export their goods on 
their own account that fall into category 4244 of the North American 
Industry Classification System (NAICS). Merchant wholesale 
establishments typically maintain their own warehouse, where they 
receive and handle goods for their customers. Goods are generally sold 
without transformation but may include integral functions, such as 
sorting, packaging, labeling, and other marketing services.
    For the purpose of this analysis and following the Small Business 
Administration (SBA) guidelines, the potentially affected entities are 
classified within the following industries: General Line Grocery 
Merchant Wholesalers (NAICS 424410), Packaged Frozen Food Merchant 
Wholesalers (NAICS 424420), Dairy Product (except Dried or Canned) 
Merchant Wholesalers (NAICS 424430), Poultry and Poultry Product 
Merchant Wholesalers (NAICS 424440), Confectionery Merchant Wholesalers 
(NAICS 424450), Fish and Seafood Merchant Wholesalers (NAICS 424460), 
Meat and Meat Product Merchant Wholesalers (NAICS 424470), Fresh Fruit 
and Vegetable Merchant Wholesalers (NAICS 424480), Other Grocery and 
Related Products Merchant Wholesalers (NAICS 424490).
    Establishments in the categories listed above are considered small 
by SBA standards if their employee base is less than 100 employees. 
According to the U.S. Census data, there are 46,272 grocery and related 
product merchant wholesalers that are considered small.
    Based on USDA program data, it is expected that the proposed data 
collection requirements on those who apply for, participate in, or 
receive benefits from various conducted programs may affect 90 
participants which fall in the above cited categories.
    The offer of ADR to program customers is not expected to have an 
adverse impact on small businesses. ADR will reduce the number of 
complaints filed, thereby reducing costs to the agency.
    The inclusion of political beliefs and gender identity as protected 
bases is also not expected to have any adverse effect on small 
businesses. The Secretary has decided to establish gender identity as a 
separate protected basis for USDA's conducted programs

[[Page 41410]]

and activities. Instead, it will ensure that USDA is operating in 
accordance with the requirements of current civil rights laws and 
regulations and should not add additional costs to small businesses 
that are not participating in discriminatory activities or practices.
    USDA considered the alternative of allowing civil rights 
regulations to remain the same, which will not clarify, update or add 
civil rights requirements. Without this rule, no additional assurances 
of civil rights protections will be realized.
    Based on the above discussion, the Assistant Secretary for Civil 
Rights certifies that this rule will not have a significant economic 
impact on a substantial number of small entities. USDA invited comments 
from members of the public who believe there will be a significant 
impact, and requested information to better inform the analysis of 
benefits and costs. No comments were received from the public 
indicating concern that the rule would economically impact small 
entities.
    The 2008 Farm Bill, Section 14006 requires the collection of 
application and participation rate data regarding socially 
disadvantaged farmers or ranchers. OMB has approved a form for this 
data collection, and the field based agencies have already implemented 
it. This existing data collection already meets the requirements 
proposed in this rule, and therefore, the final rule imposes no new 
data collection requirements on the three field based agencies and will 
not cause duplication or conflict with the 2008 Farm Bill requirements. 
USDA is unaware of any other Federal rules that duplicate, overlap, or 
conflict with the final rule.

Executive Order 12372

    Executive Order 12372, ``Intergovernmental Review of Federal 
Programs'' requires consultation with State and local officials. The 
objectives of the Executive Order are to foster an intergovernmental 
partnership and a strengthened Federalism, by relying on State and 
local processes for State and local government coordination and review 
of proposed Federal financial assistance and direct Federal 
development. This rule neither provides Federal financial assistance 
nor direct Federal development. It does not provide either grants or 
cooperative agreements. Therefore, this program is not subject to 
Executive Order 12372.

Executive Order 12988

    This rule has been reviewed in accordance with Executive Order 
12988, ``Civil Justice Reform.'' This rule would not preempt State and 
or local laws, and regulations, or policies unless they present an 
irreconcilable conflict with this rule. Before any judicial action may 
be brought regarding the provisions of this rule, the administrative 
appeal provisions of 7 CFR parts 11 and 780 must be exhausted.

Executive Order 13175

    This rule has been reviewed for compliance with Executive Order 
13175, ``Consultation and Coordination With Indian Tribal 
Governments.'' The review reveals that this rule will not have 
substantial and direct effects on Tribal Governments and will not have 
significant Tribal implications. OASCR consulted with the USDA Office 
of Tribal Relations (OTR) in development of the proposed rule and 
believes that it will not impact or have direct effects on Tribal 
governments and will not have significant Tribal implications. OASCR 
continues to consult with USDA's OTR to collaborate meaningfully to 
develop and strengthen departmental regulations.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995

    Title II of the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act of 1995 (UMRA)(Pub. L. 
104-4) requires Federal Agencies to assess the effects of their 
regulatory actions on State, local, or Tribal Governments or the 
private sector. Agencies generally must prepare a written statement, 
including a cost benefit analysis, for proposed and final rules with 
Federal mandates that may result in expenditures of $100 million or 
more in any one year for State, local, or Tribal Governments, in the 
aggregate, or to the private sector. The UMRA generally requires 
agencies to consider alternatives and adopt the more cost-effective or 
least burdensome alternative that achieves the objectives of the rule. 
This rule contains no Federal mandate as defined by Title II of UMRA 
for State, local, or Tribal governments or for the private sector. 
Therefore, this rule is not subject to the requirements of sections 202 
and 205 of UMRA.

Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995

    In accordance with section 3507(d) of the Paperwork Reduction Act 
of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.), the information collection or 
recordkeeping requirements included in this rule has been submitted for 
approval to OMB.

E-Government Act Compliance

    OASCR is committed to complying with the E-Government Act, which 
requires Government Agencies in general to provide the public the 
option of submitting information or transacting business electronically 
to the maximum extent possible.

List of Subjects in 7 CFR Part 15d

    Civil rights.

    For the reasons set forth in the preamble, USDA proposes to amend 7 
CFR part 15d as follows:

PART 15d--NONDISCRIMINATION IN PROGRAMS OR ACTIVITIES CONDUCTED BY 
THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

0
1. The authority citation for part 15d continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 5 U.S.C. 301.


Sec. Sec.  15d.2, 15d.3, and 15d.4  [Redesignated as Sec. Sec.  15d.3, 
15d.4, 15d.5]

0
2. Redesignate Sec. Sec.  15d.2, 15d.3, and 15d.4 as Sec. Sec.  15d.3, 
15d.4, 15d.5, respectively.
0
3. Add Sec.  15d.2 to read as follows:


Sec.  15d.2  Definitions.

    For the purpose of this part, the following definitions apply:
    Agency means a major organizational unit of the Department with 
delegated authority to deliver programs, activities, benefits, and 
services. Heads of Agencies receive their delegated authority as 
prescribed in 7 CFR part 2.
    Agency Head Assessment means the annual Agency Civil Rights 
Performance Plan and Accomplishment Report conducted by the Office of 
the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (OASCR). It is an evaluation 
tool used by OASCR to assess USDA Agency Heads and Staff Office 
Directors on their civil rights activities and accomplishments to 
ensure accountability throughout the Department on these issues.
    Alternative Dispute Resolution or ADR means any number of conflict 
resolution procedures in which parties agree to use a third-party 
neutral to resolve complaints or issues in controversy. ADR methods 
include, but are not limited to, mediation, facilitation, fact finding, 
arbitration, use of ombuds, or any combination thereof.
    Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights or ASCR means the civil rights 
officer for USDA responsible for the performance and oversight of all 
civil rights functions within USDA, and who retains the authority to 
delegate civil rights functions to heads of USDA agencies and offices. 
The ASCR is also responsible for evaluating agency heads on their 
performance of civil rights functions.
    Complaint means a written statement that contains the complainant's 
name and address and describes an agency's alleged discriminatory 
action in

[[Page 41411]]

sufficient detail to inform the ASCR of the nature and date of an 
alleged civil rights violation. The statement must be signed by the 
complainant(s) or someone authorized to sign on behalf of the 
complainant(s). To accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, 
special needs, or who have Limited English Proficiency, a complaint may 
be in an alternative format.
    Compliance report means a written review of an agency's compliance 
with civil rights requirements, to be prepared by OASCR and to identify 
each finding of non-compliance or other civil rights related issue. The 
review is conducted at the discretion of OASCR or if there has been a 
formal finding of non-compliance.
    Conducted Programs and Activities means the program services, 
benefits or resources delivered directly to the public by USDA.
    Days mean calendar days, not business days.
    Department (used interchangeably with USDA) means the Department of 
Agriculture and includes each of its operating agencies and other 
organizational units.
    Discrimination means unlawful treatment or denial of benefits, 
services, rights or privileges to a person or persons because of their 
race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, 
disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, familial status, 
parental status, income derived from a public assistance program, 
political beliefs, or gender identity.
    Secretary means the Secretary of Agriculture or any officer or 
employee of the Department whom the Secretary has heretofore delegated, 
or whom the Secretary may hereafter delegate, the authority to act in 
his or her stead under the regulations in this part.

0
4. Revise newly redesignated Sec.  15d.3 to read as follows:


Sec.  15d.3  Discrimination prohibited.

    (a) No agency, officer, or employee of the USDA shall, on the 
grounds of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual 
orientation, disability, age, marital status, family/parental status, 
income derived from a public assistance program, political beliefs, or 
gender identity, exclude from participation in, deny the benefits of, 
or subject to discrimination any person in the United States under any 
program or activity conducted by the USDA.
    (b) No person shall be subjected to reprisal for opposing any 
practice(s) prohibited by this part, for filing a complaint, or for 
participating in any other manner in a proceeding under this part.

0
5. Revise newly redesignated Sec.  15d.4 to read as follows:


Sec.  15d.4  Compliance.

    (a) Compliance program. OASCR shall evaluate each agency's efforts 
to comply with this part and shall make recommendations for improving 
such efforts.
    (1) OASCR shall oversee the compliance reviews and evaluations, and 
issue compliance reports that monitor compliance efforts to ensure that 
there is equitable and fair treatment in conducted programs.
    (2) OASCR shall monitor all settlement agreements pertaining to 
program complaints for compliance to ensure full implementation and 
enforcement.
    (3) OASCR shall oversee Agency Head Assessments to ensure that 
Agency Heads are in compliance with civil rights laws and regulations.
    (4) OASCR shall monitor all findings of non-compliance to ensure 
that compliance is achieved.
    (5) OASCR shall require agencies to collect the race, ethnicity and 
gender of applicants and program participants, who choose to provide 
such information on a voluntary basis, in USDA-conducted programs, for 
purposes of civil rights compliance oversight, and evaluation.
    (b) Agency data collection and compliance reports. (1) Each Agency 
shall, for civil rights compliance, collect, maintain and annually 
compile data on all program applicants and participants in conducted 
programs by county and State, including but not limited to, application 
and participation rate data regarding socially disadvantaged and 
limited resources applicants and participants. At a minimum, the data 
should include:
    (i) Numbers of applicants and participants by race, ethnicity, and 
gender, subject to appropriate privacy protections, as determined by 
the Secretary and in accordance with law; and
    (ii) The application and participation rate, by race, ethnicity, 
and gender, as a percentage of the total participation rate.
    (2) Each Agency shall submit to the OASCR timely, complete and 
accurate program application and participation reports containing the 
information described in Sec.  15d.4(b)(1), on an annual basis, and 
upon the request of the OASCR independently of the annual requirement.
    (c) Complaint reporting compliance. OASCR shall ensure compliance 
with mandated complaint reporting requirements, such as those required 
by section 14006 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 
(Pub. L. 110-246).

0
6. Revise newly redesignated Sec.  15d.5 to read as follows:


Sec.  15d.5  Complaints.

    (a) Any person who believes that he or she (or any specific class 
of individuals) has been, or is being, subjected to practices 
prohibited by this part may file (or file through an authorized 
representative) a written complaint alleging such discrimination. The 
written complaint must be filed within 180 calendar days from the date 
the person knew or reasonably should have known of the alleged 
discrimination, unless the time is extended for good cause by the ASCR 
or designee. Any person who complains of discrimination under this part 
in any fashion shall be advised of the right to file a complaint as 
herein provided.
    (b) All complaints under this part should be filed with the Office 
of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Ave. 
SW., U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20250, who will 
investigate the complaints. The ASCR will make final determinations as 
to the merits of complaints under this part and as to the corrective 
actions required to resolve program complaints. The complainant will be 
notified of the final determination on the complaint.
    (c) Any complaint filed under this part alleging discrimination on 
the basis of disability will be processed under 7 CFR part 15e.
    (d) For complaints OASCR deems appropriate for ADR, OASCR shall 
offer ADR services to complainants.

    Dated: July 7, 2014.
Joe Leonard, Jr.,
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.
[FR Doc. 2014-16325 Filed 7-15-14; 8:45 am]
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