Lawmakers want data to further investigate the hiring and firing of workers with targeted disabilities.
Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday accused federal agencies of failing to hire enough disabled Americans and accused the Trump administration of firing disabled employees at a disproportionate rate.
Citing statistics from both the Obama and Trump presidencies, more than two-dozen Democrats in the House and Senate said the federal government was not fulfilling its promise to be a model employer for individuals with disabilities. Agencies have failed to meet their hiring and retention targets, the lawmakers said, and appear to be firing disabled employees at twice the rate of the rest of the federal workforce.
The Democrats, led by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.—herself a double amputee due to an injury sustained while serving in the Iraq war—and Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., focused on employees with “targeted disabilities” in their letter to acting Office of Personnel Management Director Margaret Weichert. That includes those with developmental disabilities, deafness, blindness, missing extremities, partial paralysis, complete paralysis, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities and dwarfism. The government updated and expanded that definition in 2016 to add categories such as mobility impairments and significant disfigurement.
Under a regulation set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which implemented an executive order President Obama signed in 2010, 2% of the federal workforce must be made up of individuals with targeted disabilities. The lawmakers in their letter noted the rate was 1.01% in 2016 and grew to just 1.34% in 2017 despite the expanded definition.
Obama issued the executive order after the participation rate of people with targeted disabilities shrunk for many consecutive years, beginning in the mid-1990s. The order also set a goal of hiring 100,000 people from the larger disabled community within five years, a target the federal government reached in 2016. As of fiscal 2015, 14.4% of federal employees had a disability.
Agencies are continuing to struggle to reach their goals for targeted disabilities, however. Lawmakers cited data provided to their offices, not yet made available to the public, that reportedly show in 2017 workers with targeted disabilities “may have been involuntarily removed” from their jobs at double the rate of those without disabilities.
“We are concerned that the federal government is falling short in its efforts to hire more workers with targeted disabilities and, even more troubling, may be removing these workers during their probationary period at rates higher than those for nondisabled workers,” the lawmakers wrote.
They asked OPM for detailed information, including more recent figures for the participation rate of individuals with targeted disabilities in the federal workforce. Specifically, they requested data from 2015 through 2018 on all feds removed from their positions, including their disability status, veteran status, whether the employee was in a probationary period and if the separation was involuntary.
“Many of these workers are prone to unemployment and underemployment as a result of their disability,” the lawmakers said. “Therefore, we request additional information to better understand the current administration’s efforts to hire and advance these workers.”