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Disabled Employees in Federal Government Reach All-Time High

With one year to go, agencies still short of Obama’s hiring goal.

More individuals with disabilities work for the federal government than in any time in the 34 years agencies have been tracking the statistic, the Office of Personnel Management announced Monday.

Between fiscal years 2011 and 2014, federal agencies hired nearly 72,000 full-time permanent employees with disabilities. Between fiscal 2013 and 2014, the percentage of the total federal workforce with disabilities increased from 12.8 percent to 13.6 percent. That percent and the 248,000 total mark the highest percentage and real number of disabled feds since 1980, when the government began measuring the breakdown.

In 2010, President Obama issued an executive order requiring agencies to hire a total of 100,000 disabled Americans within five years. President Bill Clinton made the same call in 2000, though the Obama administration noted “few steps were taken to implement that executive order in subsequent years.”

Agencies have not yet reached Obama's goal, though the report released Monday by OPM was current only through September 2014. Nearly 20 percent of the 104,000 total federal hires in fiscal 2014 -- including transfers -- were disabled individuals, the highest such rate since 1980. In fact, that percentage has increased every year since 2004, when just 8 percent of federal hires were disabled.

Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said with one year of data to still analyze, agencies are “on track” to meet Obama’s directive.

“I’m proud of the work we have done with agencies across government to help make this happen,” Cobert wrote in a blog post. “We are also looking to improve on these totals.”

She added that hiring is about “more than just numbers,” as the new employees enhance the quality of the federal workforce.

“In my view, we need people with disabilities in every agency and at every level of federal service if the government is going to provide the excellent service that the American people expect and deserve,” Cobert wrote. “We cannot fulfill our mission without such diversity.”

She also said agencies must empower disabled employees with opportunities to climb the ladder. About 16 percent of the new disabled hires in fiscal 2014 were in General Schedule 14 or 15 positions. About one-quarter of GS-14 or higher career positions at federal agencies are filled by employees with disabilities, according to the most recent figures.

Cobert said OPM is “holding leaders accountable” to hire more disabled employees, provide them with mentors and to make reasonable accommodations the employees need to do their jobs.

The total percentage disabled employees in the federal workforce has risen consistently since 2001, when they made up 8 percent of all civilian workers. The rate of disabled feds had hovered around 7 percent to 8 percent for the first 20 years the government tracked the numbers. 

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