Programs for disabled job seekers are fragmented, repetitive, GAO finds

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Federal efforts to help disabled job seekers stretch over 45 programs and nine agencies, “reflecting a fragmented system of services,” the latest Government Accountability Office report on duplication in government stated.

The June report has come at a time when the Office of Management and Budget must clarify its goals for streamlining programs and as it promotes legislation to renew historic executive branch authority to consolidate overlapping agencies.

The auditors found that the each of the disability programs -- which together affect one in five Americans -- overlapped with at least one other federal program. The greatest overlap is in programs serving veterans and servicemembers (19 programs) and youth and young adults (five programs). The survey found that 27 of the 45 programs were created by statute and involve 13 separate congressional oversight committees.

“The specific definitions of disability and eligibility requirements that programs use -- often established by law -- vary, which may contribute to fragmentation,” GAO wrote. “For example, officials from 34 programs collectively reported using at least 10 different definitions of disability, and 10 programs reported having no specific definition for disability. In addition, the 45 programs reported at least 26 specific limitations to eligibility, such as limiting services to Native Americans or people who are blind.”

Agencies affected include the Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Veterans Affairs departments, as well as the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

Though GAO did not recommend any action, it reminded OMB of past findings that it needs to clarify agency “priority goals” as called for under the 2010 Government Performance Results Modernization Act, saying OMB might consider creating governmentwide goals for employment of people with disabilities.

The law requires OMB to create a single website by Oct. 1, listing each federal agency’s programs, a tool that lawmakers have long sought, but has been made difficult by agency variations in defining what constitutes a program. OMB is pursuing a pilot project among trade and export-related agencies.

Agencies reviewing the report in draft generally accepted GAO’s assessments of duplication.

The Labor Department, however, found the auditors’ definition of fragmentation to be broad. Assistant Secretary for Policy William Spriggs wrote in a letter that several programs included in the study “were not created solely for this purpose, but rather to provide services to all job seekers -- the majority of whom are not individuals with disabilities. The report suggests that because they are available to any youth with disabilities, certain programs create a greater risk of duplication than segregated disability programs that focus on a single specific subpopulation.”

(Image via AVAVA/Shutterstock.com)

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