Bush urges federal agencies to purchase from blind, severely disabled

The Bush administration is encouraging agencies to purchase goods and services from a federal program employing thousands of blind or severely disabled workers.

On Monday, President Bush signed a memorandum reminding federal acquisition executives, purchase cardholders and other procurement officials to utilize the AbilityOne program.

"Americans with disabilities make valuable contributions to our country's workforce that help keep our nation the world's economic leader," the president said. "Expanding employment opportunities for these individuals will help ensure that our economy is drawing on the talents and creativity of all its citizens and that America remains a place of opportunity for all. Supporting the AbilityOne Program is one good way to achieve this goal."

Bush said that in recent years, AbilityOne has begun embracing widely used business practices such as e-commerce and performance-based contracting.

Formerly known as the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program, AbilityOne is a federal initiative that generates jobs and training opportunities for disabled Americans. The program encourages the government to use its buying power to procure an array of products and services provided by nonprofit agencies that employ disabled workers. It is part of the president's New Freedom Initiative, which helps Americans with disabilities integrate into the workforce, according to a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget.

The program, administered by an independent federal agency known as Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, currently employs nearly 43,000 people in more than 600 community-based nonprofits nationwide. Purchases from AbilityOne help the agency overcome the 70 percent unemployment rate the blind and severely disabled face, according to the committee. OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy enforces federal policies and regulations related to AbilityOne.

The president's memorandum coincided with a ceremony on Monday in which 16 people associated with the program were honored at the White House by first lady Laura Bush.

Among the honorees were members of the committee -- comprised of 15 presidentially appointed members -- as well as employees from the National Industries for the Blind and NISH, two nonprofit groups that help distribute the government's procurement orders under the program.

"AbilityOne is not just a federal initiative that works with public and private organizations to generate employment for individuals who are blind or who have other severe disabilities," OMB Director Jim Nussle said at the event. "It helps create opportunities for people who might otherwise not have them, and that's pretty special."

Congress created the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program in 1938 to allow the blind to manufacture mops and brooms to sell the federal government. In 1971, under the leadership of the late Sen. Jacob Javits, R-N.Y., the law was extended to include people who had severe disabilities and to expand the program to also provide services to the government.

In 2006, the committee announced that it was changing the name of the program to better convey its employment mission and link participating organizations.

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