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AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT NEARS CONTRACT WITH GROUP FOUNDED BY OUSTED OFFICIAL

New York Times

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture may soon issue a contract to a community organization co-founded by Shirley Sherrod, the former department employee who was asked to resign last year after a conservative activist issued an edited videotape that appeared to show her making racially insensitive remarks.

Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education "is considered among the best southeastern regional organizations focused on the issues and populations" important to a civil rights assessment of department programs, and it "has a strong relationship and understanding of the work of USDA," said Justin DeJong, a department spokesman. The contract was first reported by Politico.

The government is also expected to issue contracts for civil rights assessments to two other organizations, the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association and the Intertribal Agricultural Council. The contracts grow out of years of litigation against the department alleging department employees discriminated against minority farmers in providing agricultural loans and other services. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has promised to settle the lawsuits and to adopt procedures to ensure that department programs are administered fairly.

Sherrod is expected to work directly with the government through her organization but will not be a department employee. After it became clear last year that her remarks had been taken out of context, Vilsack tried to rehire Sherrod into the department's Office of Advocacy and Outreach. She refused the job.

Sherrod, who is black, resigned after the conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a video excerpt of her speech to a March 2010 NAACP convention that seemed to suggest that in 1986 she had offered only limited help to a white farmer who was about to lose his farm to foreclosure. The full text of her remarks showed that she had worked very hard for the farmer. In February, Sherrod sued Breitbart, who responded in a filing that the suit should be dismissed on First Amendment grounds.

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