Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he has apologized to Shirley Sherrod, who resigned from her Agriculture Department position under pressure this week over a video showing her making comments about a white farmer.
"I started off by extending to her my personal and profound apologies for the pain and discomfort that has been caused to her and to her family over the course of the last several days," Vilsack told reporters late Wednesday afternoon in Washington, D.C.
"She was extraordinarily gracious," Vilsack added. "I wanted to make sure that she understood that I regretted the circumstances, and that I accepted full responsibility for that."
Vilsack said he told Sherrod by phone that the USDA would have another position for her should she want it. Sherrod answered that she needed some time to think about it, Vilsack said.
In a video posted online this week, Sherrod, the former USDA director of rural development for Georgia, seems to tell an audience at an NAACP function in March that she did not do her utmost to help a white farmer avoid foreclosure.
However, Sherrod, who is black, later said that the clip shows only part of her comments, and that she tells the story of her experience - from nearly a quarter-century ago when she was not a federal employee - to illustrate the importance of moving beyond race.
In a portion not originally posted, Sherrod says: "Working with [the farmer] made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who have not. They could be black. They could be white. They could be Hispanic."
Vilsack said Wednesday that he decided to ask Sherrod to resign after seeing only a transcript of the video's first, edited version.
Vilsack said he has focused on reversing a history of discrimination in the department since becoming agriculture secretary, and he reacted hastily in Sherrod's case based only on partial information.
"A good woman has gone through a very difficult period, and I will have to live with that for a very long time," Vilsack said.
Vilsack declined to go into detail about the new position he offered Sherrod, but suggested it would be one relating to civil rights claims that black, Hispanic, female and Native American farmers have made against the department over the years. Vilsack noted that Sherrod herself was once a claimant against the USDA.
Sherrod has a "unique set of skills which I think would lend themselves to assisting and helping USDA as we deal with trying to turn the page on our civil rights chapter, which has been difficult," Vilsack said. "For the last 18 months, we've spent a good deal of time and effort ... to try to resolve thousands of claims that have been filed against the USDA. We're continuing that work, and we had an opportunity to discuss a unique opportunity here at USDA that might be of interest to her."
Earlier Wednesday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs apologized on behalf of President Barack Obama's administration.
"A disservice was done. An apology was owed. That's what we've done. Decisions were made based on an incomplete set of facts," Gibbs told a White House news briefing.