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NIFA’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights provides answers to commonly asked questions and concerns to aid university partners in meeting their compliance requirements.
Click a heading below to expand the section and see the FAQs. Click the heading again to collapse the section.
Question: What is a civil rights compliance review?
A civil rights compliance review is a review of civil rights policies, practices, and procedures, conducted by a NIFA equal opportunity specialist. The review seeks to gain voluntary compliance with civil rights and equal opportunity laws and regulations. The review looks at nine subcomponent areas and focuses on a university’s extension or research programs and activities. The review cycle process has up to five steps, which include:
- Scheduling & Document Review (90 Days)
- On-Site/Remote Interviews
- Findings and Recommendations
- Monitoring (If recommendations issued at Findings stage)
Question: Why does NIFA conduct compliance reviews?
Under federal civil rights laws, any recipient of federal financial assistance, regardless of the amount, is required to comply with civil rights requirements. NIFA conducts civil rights program reviews as part of a proactive effort to ensure that the programs and activities that it funds are in compliance with Federal civil rights laws, rules, and regulations.
Question: Does NIFA conduct a yearly compliance review?
The reviews are usually based on the date of the last review conducted and are currently conducted on a 7-year review cycle.
Question: Does the NIFA compliance review cover the entire University or only the Extension/Research programs?
NIFA focuses its reviews on programs and activities that receive its financial assistance, such as a land grant university’s Extension or Research programs and activities.
Question: Who does NIFA interview during the compliance review process?
During the compliance review process, NIFA staff will interview relevant leadership at the recipient institution, as well as randomly selecting faculty and staff within various levels of the organization to interview, in order to capture a general overview of the funded program.
Question: How long is the review process?
Typically, a review lasts between three to six months, not including the time needed to monitor the implementation of compliance recommendations, which can vary significantly based on the number and complexity of the recommendations made as the result of a review.
Question: What does NIFA recommend when it comes to civil rights training?
NIFA requires that leadership, staff, and faculty are trained on civil rights matters including, but not limited to: sex discrimination and sexual harassment (Title IX); accessibility; nondiscrimination and reasonable accommodations (Section 504 and Title II); nondiscrimination on the basis of race, color and ethnicity (Title VI); limited English proficiency (Executive Order 13166); how and where to access civil rights documents and resources; employment discrimination complaint processes and program complaint processes; and how to gather, maintain and store REG data.
Question: Who should receive civil rights training?
All officials and employees at recipient institutions are responsible for complying with civil rights rules and regulations. All leadership, faculty and staff members are expected to be trained, knowledgeable, and skilled in implementing equal opportunity requirements in recipient programs.
Question: Will employment reviews be included within the civil rights compliance review?
Distinct, in-depth employment reviews will no longer be conducted by NIFA civil rights staff. Assessments of employment policies, practices and procedures are now part of the extension and research program reviews. Employment-related equal opportunity and civil rights issues will be considered in the context of their effect on nondiscriminatory program delivery.
Question: Could NIFA provide an example of a written assurance of nondiscrimination?
The following sample text contains the bases and laws that NIFA enforces, and entities may add to it and adjust it to fit their specific circumstances: “This document must be signed by any individual and/or entity that partners with [name of university extension/research program] to provide services and/or benefits, including, but not limited to, trainings, workshops, seminars and grant projects. By signing this agreement, the entity agrees that it and its staff will abide by all federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the bases of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and sex, as provided for by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. By signing this document, the undersigned understand and agree to comply with all policies of [name of university extension/research program] and the United States Department of Agriculture regarding the aforementioned laws and their implementing regulations.” Written assurances of nondiscrimination should also include the entity name, the name and title of the individual authorized to sign the assurance, and a dated signature. For long-term partners, it is recommended to get written assurances re-signed every 4-5 years.
Question: How many past years of documentation and data will be reviewed?
This varies depending on what type of data or documentation is being requested and will be specified on the document request sent to a recipient entity at the beginning of a compliance review. Generally, data and documentation from the past 3 to 5 past years will be requested.
Question: Is there a need to track program participants 65 years or older?
Not for civil rights purposes.
Question: Can an agency visually inspect an applicant or participant if it is not reasonably possible to collect self-reported demographics?
NIFA civil rights policy is that all REG data must result from self-identification. Applicants or participants who choose not to self-identify should be reported in an “unknown/unidentified/other” category.
Question: How do applicants or participants self-identify when they are of “two or more races?”
Applicants should select all races that apply to him or her. Respondents should then tabulate participants selecting more than one race into a separate category for data evaluation purposes.
Question: Will the Civil Rights compliance review be conducted in person or online?
As the result of COVID-19, compliance reviews are currently being conducted remotely. On-site civil rights compliance reviews will be re-instituted when NIFA non-essential employee travel resumes.
Question: Will NIFA visit county offices and review county data?
NIFA will conduct interviews with county extension office staff, but will not routinely review participant data at the county level. Recipient entities should continue to collect and analyze county data, however, as NIFA may request this information on a case-by-case basis to assess specific access or parity issues identified in our reviews.
Question: Is there a checklist available for the civil rights compliance review?
No, a civil rights compliance reviews is a holistic analysis of a recipient entity’s compliance with applicable civil rights laws. This analysis is guided by the nine review areas outlined in this training.
Question: With COVID-19, how do land-grant universities display the “And Justice for All” poster within current online platforms?
Just as participants in recipient entities’ in-person activities or events are advised of their civil rights through the “And Justice for All” poster, and visitors to recipient entities’ Web sites are notified of their civil rights through nondiscrimination statements, individuals who participate in virtual activities and events must be notified of their civil rights and applicable complaint processes. Recipient entities are required to clearly convey all pertinent information from the poster, regardless of whether the poster itself is virtually displayed.
Question: I thought we had to use certified translators and interpreters. You had bilingual staff and friends/family on the slide. Please clarify?
Friends and family should only be used in emergencies or for very limited interactions (e.g., initial contact identifying the need for language access services). Use of children under 18 to interpret is strictly prohibited. Additionally, there may be circumstances in which an LEP individual expresses a preference for using a friend or family member to interpret over using an interpreter. In these circumstances NIFA recommends that a written waiver is obtained.
Use of qualified bilingual employees to communicate directly with an LEP service population is different than interpretation. If you use bilingual staff, it is important that you ensure that their language skills are assessed for competency and that they have adequate resources to perform these tasks. Depending on your service population and the frequency of an office’s interaction with that population, the recruitment and use of bilingual staff to provide services directly to LEP individuals can be a very good idea. Your language access plan can determine this.
Question: Our state has medical certified interpreters and court certified interpreters. We use an interpreting service without requiring either of those two types of certifications, is that okay?
Yes, there is no need for medical or court certified interpreters. The distinction is that it’s important to use interpreters that are professionally trained to interpret, because interpretation between two languages is a specialized skill set. Not everyone who is multilingual can interpret competently.
Question: Can you clarify what you mean by assessing a bilingual employee’s competency?
This just means that there should be a system in place for assessing an employee’s skills in a target language, in lieu of relying on self-identification by the employee. For example, an interview with another bilingual employee, or a translation test of program material that is later assessed by someone proficient in the language.
Question: Can you provide any guidance on conducting a language needs assessment? Is the Census the best place to get information on your service population?
NIFA civil rights staff recommends use of the American Community Survey data set titled, “Speaks English Less than Very Well.” This information can be reviewed at the state level, as well as at the county level, to identify any LEP communities. It breaks the communities down by primary language spoken. Other good options are contacting your local extension office and tracking language needs by encounters by front-line staff.
Question: Is another way to say program vs. outreach activities, direct vs. indirect contacts?
We are not aware of any standardized definition of the terms “direct contact” or “indirect contact,” so it would depend on how your program defines these terms.
Question: So, should we only collect REG data after a program is completed, or can we collect it upfront at registration?
You may collect it upfront at registration, as long as you keep track of any differences between the participant group and the registrant group to ensure the integrity of your participant data. Please note that if extension programs collect demographic information at the time of a program or activity, individual survey forms should be utilized instead of participant sign-in sheets. Collecting REG data on participant sign-in sheets raises privacy concerns because such sign-in sheets allow participants to view other participants’ information. This method of collection could also result in fewer participants self-identifying their REG data and more difficulty accurately determining parity in participation.
Question: How should youth participating in nutrition programs be categorized – should they be listed in youth development or food, health, nutrition?
It is up to each extension program to ultimately determine which category they want to put each program or activity in. It is up to each extension program to ultimately determine which category they want to put each program or activity in. There may be some programs or activities that fit in multiple categories and NIFA’s civil rights team only asks that you not double-count a program by placing the participant numbers in multiple categories.
Question: Is a series of events (i.e. Master Gardener training) one distinct activity?
Yes, a training that consists of a series of events or components is considered one distinct activity.
Question: Why would you want us to duplicate demographic data reporting?
Example: A youth participates in a 4-H club and a 4-H summer camp. If we are aggregating at the 4-H YDP level why would we report their demographics twice. We have always been told to the extent possible/feasible to reduce duplication. If not, we will inflate demographics – e.g., show we reached 400 Latino youth instead of 100 Latino youth (if each of the 100-youth participated in 4 different distinct 4-H activities).
NIFA civil rights staff does not consider accurately reporting participant numbers in distinct activities as duplicating demographic data reporting or inflation of demographics. The purpose of demographic reporting is to evaluate who benefits from NIFA-funded programs and activities, and participants receive different benefits from each distinct activity that they participate in. In fact, many extension programs’ recruitment efforts include outreach to individuals who are already participating in one extension activity and may be interested in another.
Question: Just to be very clear “Decline to Answer” (Unidentified) and “Other” (which may include actual identifications like Arabic) are one category?
Yes, all individuals who choose not to identify with one or more of the federally designated categories for whatever reason – whether it be because they do not wish to disclose their demographic data, because they do not agree with the categories or definitions, or because they identify as something other than the currently designated categories – should be tabulated into one group for reporting and evaluation purposes.
Question: Is it acceptable to use already-collected REG data, for example from school districts? By that I mean, rather than handing a room of second graders a demographic self-identification survey, can we ask the teacher for the demographics of the class.
Yes, as long as you are able to verify that the individuals for whom you have REG data are indeed participants in the activity, to ensure data integrity. For participants under the age of 18, legal guardians should provide the demographic information.
Question: It has been my experience that many individuals of Hispanic origin will mark Hispanic as their ethnicity, but they do not check a box for race – they leave it blank. I think that may contribute to a higher percentage of participants who do not self-identify race than might be the case if race and ethnicity were combined.
This is a valid concern and was actually cited by the OMB as a consideration in its Standards (https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-1997-10-30/pdf/97-28653.pdf). Nonetheless, the OMB determined that ethnicity and race should be separate categories.
Question: Are we allowed to refer to past self-identified information (such as previous sign-in sheets or enrollment information) to collect demographics information for instances like one-on-one consultations?
Question: Are you able to provide (now or later) a specific citation to the 2016 Federal Notice? I assume that this was published in the Federal Register and it would be good to have.
The notice can be found here: Federal Register: Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity.
Question: Do you have suggestions on data collection now that we are delivering programs largely online?
Many programs have reported utilizing the polling feature in Zoom to collect this information. It is also possible to collect this information at registration as long as you check the registrant group against the participant group to ensure data integrity.
Question: Does the requirement for equally effective communications mean that we need to provide audio versions of printed materials?
If they are requested, yes.
Question: What are our obligations when someone requires a personal aide? For example, in 4-H, do we need to provide that 1-1 service? Would we need to pay for an aide’s admission to field trips? Would the personal aide go to camp for free?
Under Section 504 and Title II, the provision of devices or services of a personal nature is not required [See 7 CFR 15b.27(c) and 28 CFR 35.135]. However, if a participant employing a personal aide at their own expense required the presence of such an aide at a field trip or camp, a recipient entity more than likely would need to accommodate the request, as it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which doing so would result in either an undue financial or administrative burden or a fundamental alteration of the program or activity.
Question: There are many questions about experiment stations that are on public land and not necessarily closed to the public, but not really conducive to visitors as they are in isolated rural areas. Some are simply sheds that house equipment and are run by university employees. What should we consider in terms of accommodation in the rare event someone from the public happened to visit (i.e. parking spaces and accessible bathrooms)?
These situations should be addressed on a case-by-case basis because it depends on the nature of an individual visitor’s disability and the purpose of their visit. Some strategies that experiment stations could utilize for accommodating an individual with a disability could include bringing parts of the experiment to an accessible facility, building temporary ramps or accessible pathways to certain areas of the experiment station, blocking off extra parking spaces to allow room for the operation of accessible vehicles, creating videos or other electronically accessible presentations, and/or scheduling additional or supplemental activities at accessible facilities. These solutions can be determined through the interactive process during a reasonable accommodation request.
Question: What do you mean by "fundamentally alter" the nature of the program? Examples?
A "fundamental alteration" is a change that is so significant that it alters the essential nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered. For example, if a student requested to remotely attend a class that required the use of specialized lab equipment to fulfill key academic benchmarks, such a request would not need to be granted because it would fundamentally alter the nature of the program.
Question: Is there a suggested timeframe that a participant has to request accommodations?
Common practice is a week or two before the event or activity. If you have such a requirement, be sure that you include it on your reasonable accommodation statement so that the requestor is aware of the deadline.
Question: Should REG data be collected for participants in all Extension activities, including 4-H?
Yes, REG data should be collected for all participants, including participants in 4-H programs. Many Extension programs do this at registration, or have participants fill out individual slips of paper at an activity or event. It is important that this information be kept private and secure during the collection process.
Question:If conducting 4-H activities as part of an after-school program, is it okay to utilize the school’s REG data?
Yes, 4-H programs can utilize REG data for students previously collected by schools. Under guidance obtained from USDA’s Office of General Counsel, any REG data for participants under 18 must be obtained from legal guardians.
Question: For gender data collection, is it okay to use a form that asks “Gender: ______” and allows the participant to fill in a blank, as opposed to having male/female/etc. check boxes?
It is fine to collect the data in this manner, as long as responses are then tabulated into the Male, Female, and other/unidentified categories for reporting and evaluation purposes.
Question: Is it required to collect REG data when giving out information at a farmer’s market?
NIFA civil rights staff makes a distinction between outreach activities and program activities. Providing information about Extension events and programming at a farmer’s market would be considered an outreach activity because the purpose is to advertise or raise awareness about Extension program activities. REG data is not required for outreach activities. For outreach activities, Extension staff should document the nature of the outreach activity, target audience, and the approximate number of individuals reached.
Question: Can you provide additional guidance on the difference between an outreach activity and a program activity?
The main distinction between program activities and outreach activities is in the purpose and nature of the activity. The purpose of a program activity is to provide an educational benefit to participants. The purpose of an outreach activity is to raise awareness of, or increase participation in, program activities. Outreach activities can be thought of as marketing or advertising efforts in which it would be difficult or impossible to track contacts. Program activities generally involve a closed or set group of people.
Question: What about situations in which we provide one-on-one guidance to farmers or county officials on crop problems or other issues?
If guidance is provided to another entity, such as a county, REG data does not need to be recorded. If guidance is provided to an individual, it is recommended to collect REG data at the outset when the appointment is made and the individual’s contact and other basic information is put into the system.
Question: What is the measurement for parity assessments of participant REG data?
Each REG group’s representation in the eligible group should be reflected within 80 percent of those who benefit from a program or activity. For example, if a state’s population is 26 percent Hispanic or Latino, this group’s participation in each program category should be at or above 21 percent.
Question: What census data should we be using for our parity analyses?
For programs that are available state-wide (E.g., webinars), state-level census data should be used. For programs that are county specific, county-level census data should be used.
Question: Can you post required EO notifications electronically instead of using printed materials?
You should use the EO notifications in electronic format when providing information or services virtually – for example, on a Web site or during a Webinar. But virtual use of EO notification does not obviate the need to utilize the “And Justice for All” poster in physical spaces, such as in Extension offices.
Question: Is there a limit to the number of pages for which you can use the shorter version of the nondiscrimination statement? For example, one-page documents use the short version, and use the long version for documents that are two pages or more?
The USDA departmental regulation does not specify how short a document needs to be in order to use the short version of the nondiscrimination statement. However, for NIFA’s compliance purposes, we will consider any document longer than two pages to be in need of the longer version.
Question: In our Zoom registration form for Extension programs we have a question asking if participants need an accommodation. Do we need to also use the full formal statement on the Zoom registration form, or is it sufficient to use the full statement in the email that we send to the registrant prior to the Extension program?
As long as you notify participants of their EO rights and the availability of reasonable accommodations somewhere within the invitation/event announcement, you are in compliance. So it is fine to include it in the e-mail sent to the registrant prior to the virtual programming.
Question: What about when you are delivering an online workshop? How do you display a poster that is 11x17 inches?
The poster is for use in physical, in-person spaces. It fulfills the requirement to notify individuals in person of their EO rights. The text of the poster is the same as the nondiscrimination statement, which is required to be used on all print and virtual materials. So you can just display the full nondiscrimination statement in an online workshop, and you will be fulfilling the requirement to notify participants of their EO rights.
Question: Our university has its own non-discrimination statement that has been approved by Legal. Are we okay to use our own statement along with the accommodation statement, or must we use USDA’s nondiscrimination statement?
Many universities have a modified version of USDA’s nondiscrimination statement that includes additional protected bases and prohibited forms of discrimination, because they are located in a state, county, city, or other locality that has additional nondiscrimination laws than those in effect at the federal level. It is fine to use a modified version of USDA’s nondiscrimination statement as long as it contains everything that the original USDA nondiscrimination statement contains, such as complaint filing info for filing a civil rights complaint with USDA. In other words, it is okay to ADD to the nondiscrimination statement, it is not okay to REMOVE anything from the statement.
Question: Is the “And Justice for All” poster available in other languages? Is it required and/or a best practice to post this information in other languages?
The primary version of the “And Justice for All” poster contains information in both Spanish and English. The poster is available in 20 additional languages (And Justice for All Posters (Guidance and Translations) | USDA-FNS). Any of these versions can be ordered by e-mailing Lydia.Cassell@usda.gov. It is a best practice to post the information in the most commonly encountered languages within your service population. So, for example, if a county extension office has a large number of Arabic speakers in its potential service population, it would be a best practice for that office to post both the primary English/Spanish version of the poster, as well as the Arabic version.
Question: Are we required to record each outreach activity separately to be able to share with USDA-NIFA, or is it acceptable to record data about outreach activities in aggregate?
If many outreach activities of the same type are conducted, it is okay to document them in aggregate. For example, if ten advertisements in the same publication were made over a yearlong period, it would be fine to document them together. For compliance purposes, we just want to get an idea of what types of outreach you are conducting and how often you are doing outreach activities.