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GovExec: Disability Hiring Within the Federal Government

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U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement is forming an alliance with a Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy. It's intended to boost hiring of people with disabilities and develop strategies that can be replicated by other federal agencies. Tom Shoop, Editor in Chief of Government Executive Magazine talked with WAMU Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about how this follows an executive order in July of 2010 of setting a goal of hiring an additional 100,000 people with disabilities over the next five years.

Why has the Obama administration made this a priority?
It's been on their agenda for quite a while. Part of the reason is that an executive order was issued by President Clinton back in 2000 that was very similar to the Obama executive order, but they didn't meet that goal, and from 2000 to 2009, the percentage of federal employees with disabilities actually decreased. So the Obama administration renewed its commitment in 2010, and it's been working towards that ever since.

Why has this been a challenge?
There are several reasons for this. There is evidence that shows that there is some lack of awareness among federal managers about the flexibilities that are available to them to hire people with disabilities. Research has shown that they are unaware of some things like expedited hiring authority.

"I think there are some concerns that individual managers have that whatever budgetary impact making an accommodation for a person with a disability would have, would come to them and their budget."

Have any agencies made any progress? If so, how much?
It's hard to tell. There are some agencies that have historically done better than others, but the administration hasn't really begun to report on what specific agencies are doing to meet its target of hiring 100,000 people with disabilities.

"They required agencies in 2010 to set specific goals and track progress towards meeting them, but we haven't seen yet how individual agencies are doing."

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many veterans are coming back with disabilities of one kind or another -- how do they fit into this equation?
"Well I think, clearly, the administration has made it a priority to hire more veterans and increase veteran hiring and opportunities, and I think this dovetails nicely with that goal, and they would love to see agencies hiring particularly veterans with disabilities as well."

What about government contractors? Do they have to meet these goals as well?
They don't have the same goals. Last fall the administration did set a policy of asking contractors to increase their disability hiring. They want contractors to try and meet a goal of hiring 7 percent of their workforce from the disabled population.

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