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FOREST SERVICE CIVIL RIGHTS BRIEFING R2-3 Congressional response(7.21)

USDA Forest Service Office of Civil Rights Briefing Paper 

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Date: July 20, 2015 

Topic: Forest Service actions to improve Civil Rights programs and activities within the Rocky Mountain and Southwestern Regions.

Background: As part of our ongoing commitment to self-improvement and commitment to non-discrimination within our programs and activities, Forest Service regularly reviews its programs and activities to ensure compliance with Federal civil rights laws, rules and regulations. Specifically, over the last two years, Forest Service has been actively engaged in reviewing programs and activities within the Rocky Mountain and Southwestern Regions.

Forest Service has worked closely with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (OASCR) to identify seven (7) key areas of focus for closer review and action; Civil Rights Training and Technical Assistance, Public Notification and Outreach, Data Collection and Analysis, Program Access and Limited English Proficiency, Compliance Reviews, Assurance Agreements and Program Participation.

Current actions: Forest Service, both nationally and within the Rocky Mountain and Southwestern Regions, has made these seven (7) focus areas a priority and has made significant improvements in all areas. Additionally, Forest Service provides the OASCR quarterly updates on actions taken within the focus areas to ensure we are well coordinated at the Department level.

Snapshot of Focus Area Activities: 

1. Civil Rights Training and Technical Assistance: 

 Comprehensive Equal Opportunity training modules are used by both regions to ensure consistency. Rocky Mountain and Southwestern Regions Civil Rights Compliance training sessions are tracked and Forest Service National Office of Civil Rights has provided training plans and resources.

 Rocky Mountain and Southwestern Regions continue to deliver training to Rangeland Management Staffs (Approximately 75 Rangeland Program Managers were trained in April 2014, and additional follow-up training is planned for the same group in April 2016). Civil Rights Compliance elements are included at rangeland management meetings to keep topics a priority.

2. Public Notification and Outreach: 

 On July 14, 2015 the Forest Service National Office of Civil Rights announced the issuance of Departmental Regulation 4300.03 USDA Public Notification Policy (USDA issued on 07/02/15). All Regional units reissued the policy and worked with local public affairs offices to effectively implement use of the new nondiscrimination policy.

 Outreach efforts to communities were strategically developed to ensure notices for public input and meetings are effectively networked; bilingual staff is provided at events.

3. Data Collection and Analysis 

 Forest Service is working with the Office of the Assistant Director of Civil Rights Working Group to implement 7 CFR 15d, which requires participation data collection of: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender. This group will develop Standard Operating Procedures for use and directives on program participation data collection for implementation throughout Forest Service programs. Current Equal Opportunity training to programs and recipients includes notice of this data collection requirement and is being tracked.

 Forest Service developed an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved “voluntary ethnicity form” that is currently being automated to further assist with data collection.

4. Program Access and Limited English Proficiency: 

 Forest Service created a Limited English Proficiency National Advisory Group of inter-deputy area members in early 2015. The Advisory group conducted an agency-wide assessment of language needs and services and will continue to work to align local Limited English Proficiency Plans with the National Plan.

USDA Forest Service Office of Civil Rights Briefing Paper 

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 Southwestern Region Civil Rights Office created a demographic profile that breaks down language proficiency for Forests (by counties included in each Forest) to assist Regional Leadership/Forest Supervisors in effectively reaching customers and partners with specific language needs.

5. Compliance Reviews: 

 Forest Service National Office of Civil Rights assists regional offices to monitor and compile annual records to comply with Executive Order 12250 to generate Information and Reporting Requirements at the local level.

 Rocky Mountain Region Annual notices on recreation special uses compliance review scheduling expectations are generated for each FY.

6. Assurance Agreements: 

 Rangeland Management is systematically updating grazing association agreements. Outdated nondiscrimination assurances are being replaced with an Office of General Counsel approved statement.

 Rocky Mountain Region has 18 associations. Currently, seven (7) assurance clauses have been updated for Rocky Mountain Regions Grazing Associations. Between 2016 through 2018, five (5) more agreements will be renewed and updated to include the revised assurance clause language. (Southwestern Region does not have any grazing associations)

7. Program Participation: 

 The Forest Service is developing a collaborative strategy to update the Agency’s directives for Rangeland Management and Grazing Permit Administration. The Forest Service has engaged the services of the US Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution (USIECR) to help engage internal and external stakeholders with various points of views and positions. From those engagements, the Forest Service will go through a formal directives process with full public notification and engagement.

 Range Management has conducted an internal consistency assessment of eight (8) Regions’ supplements and amendments to directives to determine consistency with National direction.

 Range Management is working on a 3-step process for completing the revision: The first step is to initiate external engagement by the USIERC regarding the range management and grazing permit administration directives (Forest Service Manual (FSM) 2200 and Forest Service Handbook (FSH) 2209.13). After those engagements and information analysis, the Forest Service will go through a two tiered formal directives process. First, will be a draft proposal for public with public notification and engagement and then a final directive for release.

Future Actions: In addition to the actions already taken to address improvements within the seven (7) focus areas, Forest Service has a robust plan to continue to improve in the following areas:

1. Provide interpreters when conducting a technical assistance review with Limited English Proficiency program participants.

a. Ongoing civil rights training is provided to range management staff and district rangers that administer grazing permits which specifically covers: language access, and provides clear direction on equitable delivery expectations. Regions will track the trainings.

b. Range Management will brief administrators to ensure language needs of permit holders are addressed, as well as participants at public meetings.

c. Rangers that receive language requests have resources available for interpreters or bilingual staff. (Developing by forest, lists of bilingual staff and standard language access notice to customers.)

d. Staffs are being inventoried to identify qualified employees willing to serve as interpreters.

e. Meeting planners have identified bilingual staff that can assist during meetings.

f. Notices are added to letter and meeting templates that request customers to identify language needs.

USDA Forest Service Office of Civil Rights Briefing Paper 

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2. Develop a focus group to improve working relationships and communications between the Forest Service and program participants.

a. Forest Service will maintain an updated inventory of the R2/R3 public meetings to provide to the OASCR so they can respond to public inquiries of the agency’s actions.

b. Detailed documentation from the field will include: outreach flyers and announcements, dates, agendas, list of attendees and their affiliation.

3. Implement the Forest Service regulations in a more consistent manner with program participants.

a. Local level interaction of rangers with permit holders and the public on the administration of grazing activity.

i. Regional training will address ranger/staffs’ responsibilities to provide equitable delivery (including language needs), customer service, discrimination complaint process, etc.

ii. Templates for standard communications and procedures will be developed

4. Provide enhanced technical assistance to the program participants during the development of “Annual Operating Instruction” to ensure an open, cooperative and inclusive process.

a. Civil rights training will be provided on equitable delivery of the program, attention to LEP needs, clear communications of the range policy and customer oriented collaboration on AOI administration;

b. Tools are being developed to provide clear understanding of the appeals process for permit holders’ use, and through public notifications of policy changes or issues (e.g. drought restrictions); and

c. Range Management Program training and meetings will continue to prepare rangers for customer service and program delivery.

d. Letters/meeting templates contain requests to identify language needs prior to meeting and contact information for customers needing language assistance

e. Rocky Mountain and Southwestern Regions Region will continue to inventory and identify employees qualified and willing to serve as interpreters and translators in support of the regional LEP Plan and to assist with public meetings such as for land management planning.

Conclusion: Forest Service is committed to ensuring non-discrimination within our programs and activities. We are working closely with OASCR and will continue to update them on our progress in these focus areas on a quarterly basis.

POC: Robin Kilgore, Acting Director, Office of Civil Rights

 

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