Former Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod has rejected an offer from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to come back to the Department of Agriculture -- either in her former position working on rural development in Georgia - or in a new position addressing questions of discrimination in the department. She has not ruled out helping the department in the future on a consultant basis after it completes its own investigation into discrimination in the department.
In a joint appearance after their meeting, Vilsack said he offered Sherrod both full-time and part-time positions in the Agriculture Department, including her former position at the regional level, but that she did not feel it fit her needs.
He said they discussed what steps can be taken in the future, so that hopefully no one will have to go through what she went though. Sherrod said she needs a little time to take a break from all she's had to deal with -- respond to mail -- and added, "I look forward to some kind of relationship with the department in the future. We do need to deal with the issues of discrimination and racism in the country in the future, and I certainly would like to play my role."
Vilsack said the investigation into what happened starts with his own responsibility. He said the department needs to do a better job of looking at travel schedules so that both he and his chief of staff aren't on travel at the same time, as they were when this incident happened. He said protocols have to be established for contacting folks who may face disciplinary action to make sure their rights are protected, and he added, he wants to make sure political appointees are not treated differently from career appointees.
Sherrod was asked why it wouldn't be better for her to stay and work from the inside in a new position that had been offered to her to correct problems of racism, she demurred, saying: "A new process is in place, and I hope that it works; I dont want to be the one to test it. ... I think I can be helpful to him and to the department if I just take a little break and look to how I can be helpfpul in the future."
Sherrod says she was "tempted" to take the job that was offered, which Vilsack described as overseeing the office of advocacy, an office created by Congress to help people realize what opportunities are available at the department, working with the Office of Civil Rights in the department.
White House role?
Vilsack denied that he spoke to anyone at the White House before asking Sherrod to step down. He said he takes full responsibility for what he did. He said he will have to deal with that "for as long as I live," that he let the president down, but that he hopes -- maybe -- this will put a spotlight on the efforts that USDA is trying to resolve over the past 30 years, what he called "a cultural transformation so that our workforce is as diverse as the country is."
Sherrod said she did not want to discuss it, but that a lawsuit against blogger Andrew Breitbart would take place.