CBP and the Office of Disability Employment form alliance

Customs and Border Protection on Friday signed an agreement to form an alliance with the Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy.

The alliance is intended to increase agency hiring of people with disabilities, in accordance with Executive Order 13548, which President Obama signed on July 26, 2010. The order seeks to establish the federal government as a model employer for the disabled workforce.

"There has been literally an intimidation factor here," CBP acting Commissioner David Aguilar told Government Executive, saying federal agencies including his own have been wary of hiring disabled people because of uncertainty about how they would fit into the workplace. "We want to get past that."

CBP is the first federal agency to sign such an agreement with ODEP, which plans to work with the bureau in a primarily advisory capacity to seek out disabled candidates for open positions. Such cases would include newly disabled veterans looking to return to the workforce. In addition, ODEP will train CBP supervisors on ways to reach out to people with disabilities.

"This is not an affirmative action issue, it's not a charity issue. It's bringing people in who are qualified and who should be expected to complete their job if they're given the proper accommodations," said Kathleen Martinez, assistant secretary of ODEP.

"I don't know why it took this long, but the fact is it exists now and we're happy about it," she told Government Executive.

As one of the largest components of the Homeland Security Department, CBP currently employs more than 58,000 people. Disabled employees make up about 2 percent of the bureau's total workforce. Aguilar's goal is to increase CBP's portion of disabled employees by 3 percentage points within the next five years.

Aguilar and Martinez expressed hope that the alliance would foster similar cooperation between ODEP and other federal agencies. To Martinez's knowledge, however, ODEP is not currently in talks with any other agencies about setting up a similar formal alliance.

"The more diverse we are, the much better off we're going to be as a country, as an organization and certainly as CBP," Aguilar said.

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