White House, Agri Secy apologise to worker fired in race row

The apology was personally made by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack after the White House intervened in the matter that had suddenly sought the media limelight in the past two days. "I think without a doubt Ms Sherrod is owed an apology. I would do so certainly on behalf of this administration," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters at his daily news conference.

He said members of this administration, members of the media, members of different political factions on both sides of this have all made determinations and judgements without a full set of facts. "I think that is wholly and completely accurate."

Sherrod, a Department of Agriculture worker, was forced to resign on Monday after footage of her apparently admitting racial prejudice against a white farmer emerged. She was given her marching orders before the full context of her speech became clear and showed her remarks had the opposite intent and in fact promoted racial harmony. Soon thereafter the agriculture secretary personally called Sherrod to apologise.

Vilsack, at a news conference, said that Sherrod was "extraordinarily gracious" in accepting his apology and said he offered her a job that would take advantage of her "unique experiences" working with black and white farmers in Georgia.

Sherrod, the agriculture secretary said, wanted to think about it before answering. "This was my decision and it's a decision I regret," Vilsack said. However, he refuted reports that he received White House pressure to force Sherrod to resign.

Vilsack plans to meet the Congressional Black Caucus later today to discuss Sherrod. "I think, clearly, that a lot of people involved in this situation, from the government's perspective on through, acted without all the facts," Gibbs said.

President Barack Obama, he said, was briefed on this yesterday and today, but had no role in Vilsack's apology. Gibbs said the decisions to fire Sherrod were made based on an incomplete set of facts.

"We now have a more complete set of facts and a review is being done as it should be," he said. Vilsack said his department went through a process today of reviewing precisely as best it could what took place and there will be changes.

"One thing is, there needs to be a more deliberative process obviously. And I need to do a better job of reaching out to get input, before a decision of this magnitude is made," he said.

"That is a very serious lesson I learned. I was very sensitive and remain sensitive to the civil rights issues involving this department. When you're dealing with tens of thousands of claims, it is something that needs to be resolved, that hasn't been resolved and must be resolved," he noted.

"So we've done two things. We've made a concerted effort to try to resolve these cases, and we've also begun a process of looking at our entire operation from an outside consultant to take a look and see whether or not there are any other things that we're doing or shouldn't be doing that would potentially lead to claims in the future. Because we want to put a stop to this," he said.

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