President Obama earlier this week said he hoped the government could become a model for other employers.
"Across this country, millions of people with disabilities are working or want to work, and they should have access to the support and services they need to succeed," Obama said in a statement. "As the nation's largest employer, the federal government and its contractors can lead the way by implementing effective employment policies and practices that increase opportunities and help workers achieve their full potential."
The White House and the Office of Personnel Management announced they would hold a daylong, governmentwide job fair targeted at people with disabilities, and would offer federal hiring managers online seminars on attracting and retaining disabled workers.
Obama is not the first president to use the federal government to promote workforce diversity. In 2000, President George W. Bush signed an order calling for the government to hire 100,000 people with disabilities within the next five years. Despite that order, representation of disabled workers decreased steadily. The percentage of federal employees with targeted disabilities such as blindness or deafness fell from 1.12 percent in fiscal 1999 to 0.88 percent in fiscal 2008, according to an annual report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In fiscal 2008 the Commerce, Transportation and Treasury departments were the only Cabinet-level agencies that experienced an increase in representation of disabled employees. And only four agencies with more than 500 employees exceeded the government's goal of participation rates higher than 2 percent. EEOC had the highest participation of employees with targeted disabilities, at nearly 3 percent.
Christine Griffin, acting vice chair of the commission, attributed EEOC's success to attention from top officials. "I think there's been a commitment from people in leadership positions that this is important to us," she said.
Griffin said Obama's announcement was the first step toward a renewed focus on hiring the disabled. "Ultimately, it doesn't matter what package the person comes in," Griffin said. "If you've got the skills and qualifications that they need, that's what they want."
As part of the initiative, the White House and OPM will work with the Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy to raise awareness of a hiring authority that allows agencies to recruit disabled workers noncompetitively under Schedule A, subject to a two-year probationary period. According to a March report from the National Council on Disability, agencies don't use the Schedule A hiring authority enough. Only 326 of the 1,298 people with disabilities who joined government in fiscal 2006 were hired using Schedule A, the report said.
OPM will hold online training sessions to educate hiring managers on the Schedule A authority beginning in November. "This should be a core objective of the federal government because it works," said John Berry, director of OPM, in a statement.