Disabled employees make up less than 1 percent of the federal workforce
Disabled employees represent 0.92 percent of the federal workforce, a decrease of nearly 15 percent since 1997.
"There are laws and regulations [on] the need to go out and hire and recruit people with disabilities," said Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner Christine Griffin, who announced the new statistics on Wednesday at Two Percent by 2010, a conference in Washington. "We have more of a hook, frankly. Our hook is that we actually have laws and regulations that say to the federal government, you need to do a good job in this area. And frankly, despite these laws, we're doing a terrible job."
Griffin and other leaders called on the federal government to set a goal of increasing the representation of disabled people in the workforce to 2 percent by 2010. The three Cabinet-level departments with the highest number of disabled workers are Treasury with 1.73 percent, Veterans Affairs with 1.49 percent and Education with 1.36 percent. Those departments with the fewest disabled employees are Homeland Security with 0.42 percent, Justice with 0.39 percent and State with 0.36 percent.
Disability advocates face a challenge in reversing the current downward trend. Even as the size of the permanent federal workforce increased by 135,732 people between fiscal years 1997 and 2006, the number of disabled employees fell 4,229 from 28,671 to 24,442 -- a drop of 14.75 percent.
Dinah Cohen, director of the Defense Department's Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, which provides assistive technologies to disabled federal employees, was frustrated by the government's lack of progress. That failure is especially discouraging, she said, because federal agencies have access to a whole range of programs not available in the private sector that make it easier to recruit, hire and accommodate disabled employees.
"Why is it that I have all these great programs, I'm very accountable, and we haven't reached that 2 percent?" Cohen asked conference participants. "How many have you ever watched the show The Biggest Loser? That's how I feel sometimes. I do all this work, and I don't see the change in the numbers."
In addition to Cohen's program, federal agencies can hire disabled employees noncompetitively under Schedule A. Under that hiring authority, employees are on probation for two years instead of the one year required for employees hired through the competitive process. Employees who want to be hired under Schedule A must provide a written statement of disability. Griffin is working on standardizing the requirements for those statements so they will be easier to obtain.
Defense and the Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy also run the Workforce Recruitment Program for disabled students who are eligible for part-time or summer jobs. WRP pre-interviews candidates, and posts comprehensive information about them in a database, which is available to all federal hiring managers.
"It's a brilliant way to fill those needs, because everyone's retiring," said Betsy Kravitz, a senior program specialist at the Office of Disability Employment Policy. "You bring them in as a summer hire or a temp, but the manager gets used to them, the workforce gets used to them, and they break down barriers. You've been working with them for two years, so hire them."