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Special Emphasis Programs

Special Emphasis Programs (SEP) were established in the Federal Government to remove barriers to equal employment opportunity for groups that were traditionally not represented or subjected to discrimination in the workforce. Special Emphasis Programs were strengthened by two Executive Orders. In 1969, Executive Order 11478, Equal Employment Opportunity in the Federal Government, established the Equal Employment Opportunity Program, and implemented the policy of the Federal government to provide equal opportunity in employment to all individuals regardless of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or age.

In 2011, Executive Order 13583, Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce, enhanced several Executive Orders, including EO 11478, by establishing that as the Nation's largest employer, the Federal Government has a special obligation to lead by example in attaining a diverse, qualified workforce. Our Nation derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all. Therefore, a commitment to equal opportunity, diversity, and inclusion is critical for the Federal Government as an employer.

What are Special Emphasis Programs?

Special Emphasis Programs are employment related programs which focus special attention on certain groups that are not represented or have less than expected participation rates in specific occupational categories or grade levels within the agency's workforce.

Special Emphasis Programs are an integral part of the Equal Employment Opportunity and Civil Rights Program. Their purpose is to ensure that agencies take affirmative steps to provide equal opportunity to everyone in all areas of employment and eliminate discriminatory practices and policies. Through various initiatives, the programs address the unique concerns of specific groups in achieving diversity, inclusion, and equality of opportunity in recruitment, hiring, development, training and advancement.

Special Emphasis Programs at the United States Department of Agriculture

Special Emphasis Program observances are an important aspect at the Department of Agriculture. Please see our:

FY 2022 USDA Special Emphasis Observance listings.  Most observances are established by Presidential proclamation or Congressional authority, while some are designated by the Secretary of Agriculture. These observances are designed to recognize the contributions and achievements of diverse groups to the nation and our workforce.  The programs are educational and employment related.

The special observances that the Department has traditionally recognized are:

  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service (January 15)
  • National African American History Month (February)
  • National Women's History Month (March)
  • Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May)
  • LGBTQ+ Pride Month (June)
  • National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 - October 15)
  • Disability Employment Month (October)

Special Emphasis Program Committees

Special Emphasis Program Committees (SEPCs) are comprised of federal employee volunteers who collaborate with the OASCR, Center for Civil Rights Operations, Mission Area Liaison Division, Special Emphasis Program Manager (SEPM) to support the Department’s equal employment opportunity and access goals to identify, attract, recruit, employ, advance in employment, and retain individuals from diverse backgrounds that reflect the rich diversity of the nation.