Disability Employment:

Further Action Needed to Oversee Efforts to Meet Federal Government Hiring Goals

GAO-12-568: Published: May 25, 2012. Publicly Released: May 25, 2012.

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Yvonne D. Jones
(202) 512-2717
JonesY@gao.gov

 

Daniel Bertoni
(202) 512-7215
bertonid@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Department of Labor (Labor) have taken steps to implement the executive order and help agencies recruit, hire, and retain more employees with disabilities. OPM provided guidance to help agencies develop disability hiring plans and reviewed the 66 plans submitted. OPM identified deficiencies in most of the plans. For example, though 40 of 66 agencies included a process for increasing the use of a special hiring authority to increase the hiring of people with disabilities, 59 agencies did not meet all of OPM’s review criteria, and 32 agencies had not addressed plan deficiencies as of April 2012. In response to executive order reporting requirements, OPM officials said they had briefed the White House on issues related to implementation, but they did not provide information on deficiencies in all plans. While the order does not specify what information these reports should include beyond addressing progress, providing information on deficiencies would enable the White House to hold agencies accountable. OPM is still developing the mandatory training programs for officials on the employment of individuals with disabilities, as required by the executive order. Several elective training efforts exist to help agencies hire and retain employees with disabilities, but agency officials said that more information would help them better use available tools. To track and measure progress towards meeting the executive order’s goals, OPM relies on employees to voluntarily disclose a disability. Yet, agency officials, including OPM’s, are concerned about the quality of the data. For example, agency officials noted that people may not disclose their disability due to concerns about how the information may be used. Without quality data, agencies may be challenged to effectively implement and assess the impact of their disability hiring plans.

The Department of Education (Education), Social Security Administration (SSA), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) submitted disability hiring plans, and have taken steps to implement leading practices for increasing employment of individuals with disabilities, such as demonstrating top leadership commitment. The executive order provided SSA, VA, and Education an opportunity to further develop existing written plans. However, officials at these agencies cited funding constraints as a potential obstacle to hiring more employees with disabilities. In terms of leading practices, all four agencies have communicated their commitment to hiring and retaining individuals with disabilities and coordinated within or across other agencies to improve their recruitment and retention efforts. For example, each agency has a single point of contact to help ensure that employees with disabilities have access to information that is comparable to that provided to those without disabilities, and for overseeing activities related to hiring and retaining employees with disabilities. In addition, VA holds senior managers accountable for meeting hiring goals by including targets in their contracts. Each agency requires training for managers and supervisors on procedures for hiring individuals with disabilities, and VA further requires that all employees receive training on the legal rights of individuals with disabilities. Education, SSA, and VA rely on centralized funding accounts to pay for reasonable accommodations.

Why GAO Did This Study

In July 2010, the president signed Executive Order 13548 committing the federal government to become a model employer of individuals with disabilities and assigned primary oversight responsibilities to OPM and Labor. According to OPM, the federal government is not on track to meet the goals of the executive order, which committed the federal government to hire 100,000 workers with disabilities over the next 5 years. GAO was asked to examine the efforts that (1) OPM and Labor have made in overseeing federal efforts to implement the executive order; and (2) selected agencies have taken to implement the executive order and to adopt leading practices for hiring and retaining employees with disabilities. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed relevant agency documents and interviewed appropriate agency officials. GAO conducted case studies at Education, SSA, VA, and OMB.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that OPM: (1) incorporate information about plan deficiencies into its required regular reporting to the president on implementing the executive order and inform agencies about this process; (2) expedite the development of the mandatory training programs required by the executive order; and (3) assess the accuracy of the data used to measure progress toward the executive order’s goals and, if needed, explore options for improving its ability to measure the population of federal employees with disabilities, including strategies for encouraging employees to voluntarily disclose disability status. OPM agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

For more information, contact Yvonne D. Jones at (202) 512-2717 or JonesY@gao.gov; or Daniel Bertoni at (202) 512-7215 or BertoniD@gao.gov.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that the federal government is well positioned to become a model employer of individuals with disabilities, the Director of OPM should incorporate information about plan deficiencies into its regular reporting to the president on agencies' progress in implementing their plans, and inform agencies about this process to better ensure that the plan deficiencies are addressed.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To address our recommendation, OPM contacted agencies with deficiencies in their plans and asked them to address these deficiencies. To help the agencies update their plans, OPM provided model language that agencies could use to correct each deficiency. OPM also told agencies that it would be presenting to the President's Management Council on July 11th 10th, 2012 and that any agencies that had not yet addressed plan deficiencies would be identified during the presentation. As of November 15, 2012, all agencies required to submit disability hiring plans had corrected any plan deficiencies and OPM reported this success to the White House.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the federal government is well positioned to become a model employer of individuals with disabilities, the Director of OPM should expedite the development of the mandatory training programs for hiring managers and human resource personnel on the employment of individuals with disabilities, as required by the executive order.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Open

    Comments: To address our recommendation, OPM reviewed existing federal trainings on the employment of individuals with disabilities and identified an online training used by the Department of Homeland Security that would serve as the basis for the mandatory training required by the executive order. OPM then contracted with a courseware training developer to adapt existing training to meet the needs of OPM. Once the training is added to HR University, expected in December 2012, OPM plans to issue a memorandum about the mandatory training with instructions for its use and describing its importance. OPM also plans to monitor the number of employees per agency that complete the training. Based on these numbers, OPM will assist agencies in educating their employees. We are awaiting additional information from OPM regarding the status of training progress.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the federal government is well positioned to become a model employer of individuals with disabilities, the Director of OPM should assess the extent to which the SF-256 accurately measures progress toward the executive order's goal and explore options for improving the accuracy of SF-256 reporting, if needed, including strategies for encouraging employees to voluntarily disclose their disability status. Any such strategies must comply with legal standards governing disability-related inquiries, including ensuring that employee rights to voluntarily disclose a disability are not infringed upon.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To address our recommendation, OPM updated its 2012 Employee Feedback Survey (EVS) to allow federal employees to confidentially self-disclose a disability and report on their experiences at their agency as an individual with a disability. This will serve as a source of comparison through which OPM will be able to assess the accuracy of the SF-256. Also, in order to more accurately track data on the hiring of individuals with disabilities, OPM is now supplementing SF-256 data with 30 percent or more disabled veterans data. Further, OPM is training agencies on best practices for increasing self-identification of disability and working with the White House, EEOC, DOL, DOJ and OMB to revise the SF-256 in a way that increases response rates for new and existing employees.

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