oversight

Disability Employment: Further Action Needed to Oversee Efforts to Meet Federal Government Hiring Goals

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-05-25.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

             United States Government Accountability Office

GAO          Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on
             Oversight of Government Management, the
             Federal Workforce, and the District of
             Columbia, Committee on Homeland Security
             and Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate
May 2012
             DISABILITY
             EMPLOYMENT
             Further Action
             Needed to Oversee
             Efforts to Meet
             Federal Government
             Hiring Goals




GAO-12-568
                                               May 2012

                                               DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT
                                               Further Action Needed to Oversee Efforts to Meet
                                               Federal Government Hiring Goals
Highlights of GAO-12-568, a report to the
Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight of
Government Management, the Federal
Workforce, and the District of Columbia,
Committee on Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate

Why GAO Did This Study                         What GAO Found
In July 2010, the president signed             The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Department of Labor
Executive Order 13548 committing the           (Labor) have taken steps to implement the executive order and help agencies
federal government to become a model           recruit, hire, and retain more employees with disabilities. OPM provided guidance
employer of individuals with disabilities      to help agencies develop disability hiring plans and reviewed the 66 plans
and assigned primary oversight                 submitted. OPM identified deficiencies in most of the plans. For example, though
responsibilities to OPM and Labor.             40 of 66 agencies included a process for increasing the use of a special hiring
According to OPM, the federal                  authority to increase the hiring of people with disabilities, 59 agencies did not
government is not on track to meet the         meet all of OPM’s review criteria, and 32 agencies had not addressed plan
goals of the executive order, which
                                               deficiencies as of April 2012. In response to executive order reporting
committed the federal government to
                                               requirements, OPM officials said they had briefed the White House on issues
hire 100,000 workers with disabilities
over the next 5 years. GAO was asked
                                               related to implementation, but they did not provide information on deficiencies in
to examine the efforts that (1) OPM            all plans. While the order does not specify what information these reports should
and Labor have made in overseeing              include beyond addressing progress, providing information on deficiencies would
federal efforts to implement the               enable the White House to hold agencies accountable. OPM is still developing
executive order; and (2) selected              the mandatory training programs for officials on the employment of individuals
agencies have taken to implement the           with disabilities, as required by the executive order. Several elective training
executive order and to adopt leading           efforts exist to help agencies hire and retain employees with disabilities, but
practices for hiring and retaining             agency officials said that more information would help them better use available
employees with disabilities. To conduct        tools. To track and measure progress towards meeting the executive order’s
this work, GAO reviewed relevant               goals, OPM relies on employees to voluntarily disclose a disability. Yet, agency
agency documents and interviewed               officials, including OPM’s, are concerned about the quality of the data. For
appropriate agency officials. GAO              example, agency officials noted that people may not disclose their disability due
conducted case studies at Education,           to concerns about how the information may be used. Without quality data,
SSA, VA, and OMB.                              agencies may be challenged to effectively implement and assess the impact of
                                               their disability hiring plans.
What GAO Recommends
                                               The Department of Education (Education), Social Security Administration (SSA),
GAO recommends that OPM:
(1) incorporate information about plan         Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Department of Veterans Affairs
deficiencies into its required regular         (VA) submitted disability hiring plans, and have taken steps to implement leading
reporting to the president on                  practices for increasing employment of individuals with disabilities, such as
implementing the executive order and           demonstrating top leadership commitment. The executive order provided SSA,
inform agencies about this process;            VA, and Education an opportunity to further develop existing written plans.
(2) expedite the development of the            However, officials at these agencies cited funding constraints as a potential
mandatory training programs required           obstacle to hiring more employees with disabilities. In terms of leading practices,
by the executive order; and (3) assess         all four agencies have communicated their commitment to hiring and retaining
the accuracy of the data used to               individuals with disabilities and coordinated within or across other agencies to
measure progress toward the                    improve their recruitment and retention efforts. For example, each agency has a
executive order’s goals and, if needed,        single point of contact to help ensure that employees with disabilities have
explore options for improving its ability      access to information that is comparable to that provided to those without
to measure the population of federal           disabilities, and for overseeing activities related to hiring and retaining employees
employees with disabilities, including         with disabilities. In addition, VA holds senior managers accountable for meeting
strategies for encouraging employees           hiring goals by including targets in their contracts. Each agency requires training
to voluntarily disclose disability status.     for managers and supervisors on procedures for hiring individuals with
OPM agreed with GAO’s
                                               disabilities, and VA further requires that all employees receive training on the
recommendations.
                                               legal rights of individuals with disabilities. Education, SSA, and VA rely on
View GAO-12-568. For more information,         centralized funding accounts to pay for reasonable accommodations.
contact Yvonne D. Jones at (202) 512-2717 or
JonesY@gao.gov; or Daniel Bertoni at (202)
512-7215 or BertoniD@gao.gov.
                                                                                        United States Government Accountability Office
Contents


Letter                                                                                            1
                       Background                                                                 3
                       OPM and Labor Have Taken Steps to Implement the Executive
                         Order, but Further Action Is Needed to Meet Hiring Goals                 7
                       Selected Agencies Have Plans in Place to Hire and Retain
                         Employees with Disabilities and Have Adopted Many Leading
                         Practices                                                              16
                       Conclusions                                                              23
                       Recommendations for Executive Action                                     24
                       Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                       25

Appendix I             Comments from the Office of Personnel Management                         27



Appendix II            GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                   29



Related GAO Products                                                                            30



Tables
                       Table 1: Key Responsibilities of OPM and Labor in Implementing
                                the 2010 Executive Order                                         4
                       Table 2: Assessment of Selected Agencies’ Initial Plans                  17


Figure
                       Figure 1: Percentage of Agency Plans That Met OPM’s Criteria
                                during Initial Review                                             9




                       Page i                                       GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
Abbreviations

CHCO              Chief Human Capital Officer
EEOC              Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
FECA              Federal Employees’ Compensation Act
HR                Human Resources
MAX               MAX Information System
MD-715            Management Directive 715
OMB               Office of Management and Budget
OPM               Office of Personnel Management
OWCP              Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
POWER             Protecting Our Workers and Ensuring Reemployment
SF-256            Standard Form 256, Self-Identification of Disability
SSA               Social Security Administration
VA                Department of Veterans Affairs




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Page ii                                                 GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   May 25, 2012

                                   The Honorable Daniel K. Akaka
                                   Chairman
                                   Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management,
                                    the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia
                                   Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
                                   United States Senate

                                   Dear Mr. Chairman:

                                   Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Rehabilitation
                                   Act), requires federal agencies to develop affirmative action program
                                   plans for hiring, placement, and advancement of people with disabilities,
                                   as well as to ensure employment nondiscrimination and reasonable
                                   accommodation. 1 To encourage the federal government to become a
                                   model employer of individuals with disabilities through effective
                                   recruitment, hiring, and retention efforts, Executive Order 13548 was
                                   issued in July 2010. 2 This executive order called for increasing the
                                   number of individuals with disabilities in the federal government through
                                   the hiring of 100,000 individuals with disabilities over the next 5 years and
                                   through greater efforts to retain federal workers with disabilities, including
                                   ensuring the return to work of individuals injured on the job. According to
                                   draft data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the
                                   government is not on track to meet the goals of the executive order,
                                   having hired approximately 20,000 employees with disabilities during
                                   fiscal years 2010 and 2011; however, as discussed later in this report, we
                                   were unable to verify these data.

                                   Because of concerns about the federal government’s ability to meet the
                                   goals set out by Executive Order 13548, you asked us to assess the
                                   efforts that (1) OPM and the Department of Labor (Labor) have made in
                                   overseeing the implementation of the executive order across the federal
                                   government, and (2) selected agencies have taken to implement the
                                   executive order and to adopt leading practices for hiring and retaining


                                   1
                                    Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, is codified at 29 U.S.C. §791.
                                   2
                                    Exec. Order No. 13548, Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities,
                                   75 Fed. Reg. 45039 (July 30, 2010).




                                   Page 1                                                  GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
employees with disabilities. To assess OPM and Labor’s oversight efforts,
we examined relevant documents from OPM and Labor, including OPM’s
guidance to federal agencies for implementing the executive order,
agency plans for hiring and employing people with disabilities, and OPM’s
review of these plans. We also interviewed key agency officials at OPM,
Labor, and other agencies cited in the executive order such as the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB). 3 We also interviewed advocates for
individuals with disabilities from the American Association of People with
Disabilities, the National Council on Disabilities, and the National
Disability Rights Network to obtain their opinions on the executive order.
To determine how selected agencies are implementing the executive
order and leading practices, we focused our review on four federal
agencies: (1) the Department of Education (Education), (2) the Social
Security Administration (SSA), (3) the Department of Veterans Affairs
(VA), and (4) OMB. We selected this nongeneralizable sample among
many agencies within the federal government to provide a cross section
for review. Education, SSA, and VA have programs with missions and
goals related to assisting people with disabilities and OMB is specifically
cited in the executive order. We developed and administered a structured
questionnaire, and conducted follow-up interviews with agency officials.
We also reviewed agency specific disability hiring plans and other
documents related to hiring, reasonable accommodation policies, and
strategic planning efforts to better understand their experiences with
hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.

We conducted this performance audit from January 2011 to May 2012 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that
the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
conclusions based on our audit objectives.




3
 EEOC has significant responsibilities with regard to overseeing federal agency equal
employment opportunity laws. As such, EEOC plays a significant role in ensuring that
federal agencies identify barriers to equal employment opportunity and actions to mitigate
those barriers for individuals with disabilities. While EEOC was not given any new
responsibilities in the executive order, it has provided technical assistance and conducted
training for agencies implementing the executive order.




Page 2                                                   GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
             Under the Rehabilitation Act, a person is considered to have a disability if
Background   the individual has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits
             one or more major life activities. 4 Existing federal efforts are intended to
             promote the employment of individuals with disabilities in the federal
             workforce and help agencies carry out their responsibilities under the
             Rehabilitation Act. For example, federal statutes and regulations provide
             special hiring authorities for people with disabilities. These include
             Schedule A excepted service hiring authority—which permits the
             noncompetitive appointment of qualified individuals with intellectual,
             severe physical, or psychiatric disabilities without posting and publicizing
             the position 5—and appointments and noncompetitive conversion for
             veterans who are 30 percent or more disabled. 6 To qualify for a Schedule
             A appointment, an applicant must generally provide proof of disability and
             a certification of job readiness. 7 Proof of disability can come from a
             number of sources, including a licensed medical professional, or a state
             agency that issues or provides disability benefits. The proof of disability
             document does not need to detail the applicant’s medical history or need
             for an accommodation.




             4
              A person is also considered to have a disability for purposes of the Rehabilitation Act if
             the person has a record of such an impairment or is regarded as having such an
             impairment. 29 U.S.C. § 705(9)(B), § 705(20)(B), and 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1).
             5
              5 C.F.R. § 213.3102(u). Under its authority to except positions from competitive
             examination requirements, OPM has established several categories (or schedules) of
             excepted service positions. Schedule A authorizes a number of different excepted service
             appointments for positions that are not of a confidential or policy determining character for
             which it is impractical to use traditional competitive hiring procedures. In addition to the
             specific authority noted above, Schedule A also includes the appointment of attorneys and
             chaplains.
             6
              5 U.S.C. § 3112 provides authority for the noncompetitive appointment and conversion to
             career employment of disabled veterans with compensable service-connected disabilities
             of 30 percent or more.
             7
              OPM has recently proposed eliminating the requirement that an applicant supply a
             certification of job readiness under this authority. Under the proposed regulations, the
             agency determination of job readiness may be based upon any relevant work,
             educational, or other experience. OPM is also proposing a change in terminology in 5
             C.F.R. § 213.3102(u), substituting “intellectual disability” for “mental retardation.” 77 Fed.
             Reg. 6022 (Feb. 7, 2012). We are using the proposed terminology when referring to this
             authority.




             Page 3                                                     GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
Executive Order 13548 committed the federal government to many of the
goals of an executive order issued a decade earlier, 8 but went further by
requiring federal agencies to take certain actions. For example, Executive
Order 13548 requires federal agencies to develop plans for hiring and
retaining employees with disabilities and to designate a senior-level
official to be accountable for meeting the goals of the order and to
develop and implement the agency’s plan. In addition, OPM and Labor
have oversight responsibilities to ensure the successful implementation of
the executive order (see table 1).

Table 1: Key Responsibilities of OPM and Labor in Implementing the 2010 Executive
Order

Responsible
agency               Key responsibilities
      a
OPM                  Design model recruitment and hiring strategies for agencies.
                     Develop mandatory training programs for human resource officials
                     and hiring managers.
                     Identify strategies for retaining federal workers with disabilities.
                     Assist agencies with the development and implementation of their
                     plans.
                     Approve agency plans (the executive order provides that agency
                     plans are subject to OPM and OMB approval, as appropriate.)
                     Assist agencies in implementing strategies for retaining federal
                     workers with disabilities.
                     Implement a system for reporting regularly to the president, heads of
                     agencies, and public on agencies’ progress in implementing their
                     plans and the executive order’s objectives.
                     Compile and post on its website governmentwide statistics on the
                     hiring of persons with disabilities.
                     Review the effectiveness of the definition of targeted disability in the
                     Standard Form 256.
Laborb               Pursue innovative reemployment strategies and develop policies,
                     procedures, and structures that foster improved return-to-work
                     outcomes.
                     Pursue overall reform of the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act
                     (FECA) system.




8
 Exec. Order No. 13163, Increasing the Opportunity for Individuals with Disabilities To Be
Employed in the Federal Government, 65 Fed. Reg. 46563 (July 26, 2000). According to
the 2010 executive order, few steps were taken toward implementing the 2000 executive
order.




Page 4                                                     GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
    Responsible
    agency                    Key responsibilities
                              Propose specific outcome measures and targets by which each
                              agency’s progress in carrying out return-to-work and FECA claims
                              processing efforts can be assessed.
Source: GAO analysis of the 2010 executive order.
a
 As noted in the executive order, OPM was directed to consult with the Secretary of Labor, the Chair
of EEOC, and the Director of OMB in meeting some of its responsibilities.
b
 As noted in the executive order, Labor was to consult with OPM on some of its responsibilities.


For the purposes of determining agency progress in the employment of
people with disabilities and setting targeted goals, the federal government
tracks the number of individuals with disabilities in the workforce through
OPM’s Standard Form 256, Self-Disclosure of Disability (SF-256).
Federal employees voluntarily submit this form to disclose that they have
a disability, as defined by the Rehabilitation Act. For reporting purposes,
disabilities are separated into two major categories: Targeted and Other
Disabilities. Targeted disabilities, generally considered to be more severe,
include such conditions as total deafness, complete paralysis, and
psychiatric disabilities. Other disabilities include such conditions as partial
hearing or vision loss, gastrointestinal disorders, and learning disabilities.

Further, Labor is given responsibilities in the executive order to improve
efforts to help employees who sustain work-related injuries and illnesses
return to work. In July 2010, the Protecting Our Workers and Ensuring
Reemployment (POWER) Initiative was established, led by Labor. 9 This
initiative aims to improve agency return-to-work outcomes by setting
performance targets, collecting and analyzing injury and illness data, and
prioritizing safety and health management programs that have proven
effective in the past.

The executive order also requires Labor to pursue reform of the Federal
Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) system. FECA provides benefits
to federal employees who sustain injuries or illnesses while performing
their federal duties. 10 The FECA program covers over 2.7 million civilian
federal and postal employees in more than 70 agencies, providing wage-
loss compensation and payments for medical treatment. Labor’s Office of


9
 Memorandum: The Presidential POWER Initiative: Protecting Our Workers and Ensuring
Reemployment, 75 Fed. Reg. 43029 (July 22, 2010).
10
    5 U.S.C. §8101, et seq.




Page 5                                                          GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) reviews FECA claims and
makes decisions on eligibility and payments. 11

We have completed a number of reviews that have identified steps that
agencies could take to provide equal employment opportunity to qualified
individuals with disabilities in the federal workforce. In July 2010, we held
a forum that identified barriers to the federal employment of people with
disabilities and leading practices to overcome these barriers. 12
Participants said that the most significant barrier keeping people with
disabilities from the workplace is attitudinal and identified eight leading
practices that agencies could implement to help the federal government
become a model employer:

     (1) top leadership commitment;

     (2) accountability, including goals to help guide and sustain efforts;

     (3) regular surveying of the workforce on disability issues;

     (4) better coordination within and across agencies;

     (5) training for staff at all levels to disseminate leading practices
         throughout the agency;

     (6) career development opportunities inclusive of people with
         disabilities;

     (7) a flexible work environment; and

     (8) centralized funding at the agency level for reasonable
         accommodations.




11
  Currently, there are two bills in Congress aiming to address FECA reform, one in the
House of Representatives and one in the U.S. Senate. H.R. 2465, the Federal Workers’
Compensation Modernization and Improvement Act, which passed the full House of
Representatives in November 2011, and S.1789, the 21st Century Postal Service Act of
2011, which passed the full Senate in April 2012.
12
  GAO, Highlights of a Forum: Participant-Identified Leading Practices that Could Increase
the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Workforce, GAO-11-81SP
(Washington, D.C.: Oct. 5, 2010).




Page 6                                                  GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
OPM and Labor Have
Taken Steps to
Implement the
Executive Order, but
Further Action Is
Needed to Meet
Hiring Goals
OPM Helped Agencies       OPM, in consultation with EEOC, OMB, and Labor, issued a
Develop Plans to Employ   memorandum in November 2010 to heads of executive departments and
More Individuals with     agencies outlining the key requirements of the executive order and what
                          elements must be included in agency disability hiring plans. These
Disabilities, Yet Many    elements include listing the name of the senior-level official to be held
Plans Lacked Required     accountable for meeting the goals of the executive order and describing
Elements and Have Not     how the agency will hire individuals with disabilities at all grade levels and
Been Corrected            in various job occupations. The memorandum also described strategies
                          that agencies could take to become model employers of people with
                          disabilities, such as reviewing all recruitment materials to ensure
                          accessibility for people with disabilities. To help implement the strategies,
                          OPM contracted in December 2010 with a private firm to recruit and to
                          manage a list of Schedule A-certified individuals from which federal
                          agencies can hire. 13

                          OPM received 66 agency plans for promoting the employment of
                          individuals with disabilities, representing over 99 percent of the federal
                          civilian executive branch workforce. 14 OPM officials reviewed all the



                          13
                            The firm adds an average of 30 to 50 individuals to the list each month, according to
                          OPM. OPM includes the resumes of these individuals in a database that federal agencies
                          can search using variables such as an individual’s expertise and desired work location.
                          14
                            OPM required and received plans from 50 agencies. Other agencies were exempt from
                          the requirement to submit a plan because they met certain criteria, such as having fewer
                          than 200 employees and not being actively engaged in hiring. Sixteen of these exempted
                          agencies submitted plans to OPM for review and the results are included in our analysis.
                          Another 4 agencies submitted plans that were excluded from our analysis because they
                          are subcomponents of a department or office that also submitted a plan. The 99 percent
                          estimate excludes intelligence agencies, the Postal Service, the Tennessee Valley
                          Authority, and other agencies for which employment data are unavailable through OPM’s
                          online database of statistical information about the federal civilian workforce.




                          Page 7                                                 GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
plans, recording whether they met criteria developed by OPM based on
the executive order and its model strategies memorandum. 15 OPM also
identified and informed agencies about innovative ideas included in plans.

In reviewing the plans, OPM found that many agency plans did not meet
one or more of its review criteria (see fig. 1). For example, OPM’s review
found that 29 of the 66 agency plans did not include numerical goals for
the hiring of people with disabilities. OPM also found that 9 of the 66
agency plans did not identify a senior-level official responsible for the
development and implementation of the plan. Finally, only 7 of the 66
plans met all of the criteria; over half of the plans met 8 or fewer of the 13
criteria. However, OPM expected agencies to begin implementing their
plans immediately, regardless of any unaddressed deficiencies.




15
  Labor officials also reviewed agency plans, focusing their review on the FECA
component, and in particular those 14 agencies with a statistically significant volume of
serious injury claims, or generally those agencies having an average of 50 or more new
claims annually. According to the executive order, agency plans were to be developed in
consultation with and, as appropriate, subject to approval of OPM and OMB. According to
OMB officials, OPM reviewed the plans and discussed the results of the review with OMB
officials.




Page 8                                                  GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
Figure 1: Percentage of Agency Plans That Met OPM’s Criteria during Initial Review




                                         Note: n=66.


                                         Agencies met some criteria more successfully than others. For example,
                                         OPM found that 40 of the 66 agency plans included a process for
                                         increasing the use of Schedule A to increase the hiring of people with
                                         disabilities. In contrast, 29 of the 66 agency plans provided for the



                                         Page 9                                      GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
quarterly monitoring of the rate at which employees injured on the job
successfully return to work.

OPM provided agencies with written feedback on plan deficiencies and
strongly encouraged agencies to address them numerous times
beginning in June 2011. However, 32 out of the 59 agencies with
deficiencies in their plans had not addressed them as of April 2012.
Specifically, in June 2011, OPM provided agencies with access to
reviews of their plans, which identified deficiencies, through OMB’s Max
Information System (MAX). 16 According to OPM, in July 2011, a White
House official told agency senior executives that they were required to
address deficiencies in their plans. In October and November 2011, OPM
provided agencies with a list of the deficiencies identified in their plans,
and asked agencies to determine how their plans could be improved. In
December 2011, OPM again told agencies they were strongly
encouraged to review and address plan deficiencies and provided
agencies with several examples of plans that met all of the criteria.

Though the executive order does not specifically authorize OPM to
require agencies to address plan deficiencies, it calls for OPM to regularly
report on agencies’ progress in implementing their plans to the White
House and others. In response to the executive order’s reporting
requirement, OPM officials told us that they had briefed White House
officials on issues related to agencies’ implementation of the executive
order, but did not provide information on the deficiencies in all of the
agency plans. In addition, OPM does not think that the federal
government is on target to achieve the goals set in the executive order.
While the executive order did not provide additional detail as to what
information should be reported, providing information on the extent to
which agencies’ plans have met OPM’s criteria would better enable the
White House to hold agencies accountable for addressing plan
deficiencies.




16
  MAX is a federal online resource used to collect, validate, analyze, model, and publish
information relating to government-wide management and budgeting activities. It can also
be used as an information sharing and communication portal between government
organizations. OPM used MAX to allow agencies to access candidates to the Chief
Human Capital Officer shared list of people with disabilities and enable agencies to share
information on disability hiring.




Page 10                                                 GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
OPM Has Yet to Fully   In addition to reviewing agency plans, the executive order required OPM
Develop the Required   to develop mandatory training programs on the employment of people
Mandatory Training     with disabilities for both human resources personnel and hiring managers,
                       within 60 days of the executive order date. We have previously reported
Programs               that training at all staff levels, in particular training on hiring, reasonable
                       accommodations, and diversity awareness, can help disseminate leading
                       practices throughout an agency and communicate expectations for
                       implementation of policies and procedures related to improving
                       employment of people with disabilities. 17 Such policies and procedures
                       could be communicated across the federal government with training on
                       topics such as how to access and efficiently use the list of Schedule A-
                       certified individuals, the availability of internships and fellowships, such as
                       Labor’s Workforce Recruitment Program, and online communities of
                       practice established to help officials share best practices on hiring people
                       with disabilities, such as eFedlink. 18

                       In its November 2010 model strategies memorandum to heads of
                       executive agencies, OPM stated that, in consultation with Labor, EEOC,
                       and OMB, it was developing the mandatory training programs required by
                       the executive order and that further information would be forthcoming.
                       OPM officials told us in March 2012 that they are working with federal
                       Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) to develop modules on topics such
                       as using special hiring authority that will be available through HR
                       University. 19 Officials explained that they need to ensure that the training
                       is uniform to ensure all personnel receive consistent information, and they
                       expect the training modules to be ready by August 2012.




                       17
                         GAO-11-81SP.
                       18
                         The Workforce Recruitment Program connects agencies with college students and
                       recent graduates with disabilities who wish to prove their abilities in the workplace through
                       summer or permanent jobs. eFedlink is managed by the National Technical Assistance,
                       Policy, and Research Center for Employers on Employment of People with Disabilities at
                       Cornell University funded by Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. According to
                       eFedlink, it is designed to support federal managers and human resource personnel to
                       advance the hiring and advancement of persons with disabilities in the federal
                       government.
                       19
                         HR University, the federal government’s one-stop human resources career development
                       center, is designed to address competency and skill gaps within the human resources
                       community.




                       Page 11                                                   GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
                            Although it has yet to fully develop mandatory training programs, OPM
                            has taken steps to train and inform federal officials about tools available
                            to them. For example, OPM partnered with Labor, EEOC, and other
                            agencies to provide elective training courses for federal officials involved
                            in implementing the executive order on topics including: the executive
                            order, model recruitment strategies, guidance on developing disability
                            hiring plans, and return-to-work strategies. 20 OPM also conducted training
                            on implementation of the executive order in July 2011 specifically for
                            senior executives accountable for their agencies’ plans. It also offers
                            short online videos for hiring managers on topics such as Schedule A
                            hiring authority. Further, other governmentwide training on employing
                            people with disabilities exists. For example, Labor’s Job Accommodation
                            Network offers online training on relevant issues like applying the
                            Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act and providing reasonable
                            accommodations. Moreover, the Department of Defense’s
                            Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program offers online training
                            modules to help federal employees understand the benefits of hiring
                            people with disabilities.

                            Nevertheless, agency officials we interviewed told us that they would like
                            to have more comprehensive training on strategies for hiring and retaining
                            individuals with disabilities, confirming the need for OPM to complete the
                            development of the training programs required by the executive order. For
                            example, officials from one agency said that more training on the
                            relationship between return-to-work efforts and providing reasonable
                            accommodations is needed, while officials from another agency identified
                            a need for increased awareness of the Schedule A hiring process. 21


OPM Tracks the Hiring of    Executive Order 13548 requires OPM to implement a system for reporting
People with Disabilities,   regularly to the president, heads of agencies, and the public on agencies’
but Concerns about Data     progress in implementing the objectives of the executive order. OPM is
                            also to compile, and post on its website, governmentwide statistics on the
Quality Exist               hiring of individuals with disabilities. This is important because effectively



                            20
                              The national training is offered through the Federal Executive Boards, which are a forum
                            for communication and collaboration among federal agencies outside of Washington, D.C.
                            21
                              OPM and EEOC have also concluded that agencies are not using Schedule A to its
                            fullest extent. According to OPM, in fiscal year 2011, 1,093, or less than 1 percent, of all
                            new full-time, permanent hires and transfers, were appointed under Schedule A.




                            Page 12                                                    GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
measuring workforce demographics requires reliable data to inform
decisions and to allow for individual and agencywide accountability.

To measure and assess their progress towards achieving the goals of the
executive order, agencies and OPM use data about disability status that
employees voluntarily self-report on the SF-256. 22 OPM’s guidance to
agencies for implementing the executive order explained that the data
gathered from the SF-256 is crucial for agencies to determine whether
they are achieving their disability hiring goals. Agencies also report these
data to EEOC in an effort to identify and develop strategies to eliminate
potential barriers to equal employment opportunities. 23 According to the
form, the data are used to develop reports to bring to light agency specific
or governmentwide deficiencies in the hiring, placement, and
advancement of individuals with disabilities. The information is
confidential and cannot be used to affect an employee in any way. Only
staff who record the data in an agency’s or OPM’s personnel systems
have access to the information. According to draft data from OPM, as
stated earlier, the government hired approximately 20,000 employees
with disabilities during fiscal years 2010 and 2011. 24

However, according to officials at OPM, EEOC, VA, Education, and SSA,
accurately measuring the number of current and newly hired employees
with disabilities is an ongoing challenge. While the accuracy of the SF-
256 data is unknown, agency officials and advocates for people with
disabilities believe there is an undercount of employees with disabilities.
For example, despite the safeguards in place explaining the
confidentiality of the data, agency officials and advocates for people with
disabilities told us that some individuals with disabilities may not disclose



22
  Standard Form 256, Self-Identification of Disability. The executive order states that it
“shall not be construed to require any federal employee to disclose disability status
involuntarily.”
23
  EEOC’s Management Directive 715 (MD-715) provides policy guidance and standards
for establishing and maintaining effective affirmative programs of equal employment
opportunity under section 717 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, and
effective affirmative action programs under section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,
as amended. See, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16 and 29 U.S.C. § 791. The MD-715 includes a
framework for agencies to determine whether barriers to equal employment opportunities
exist and to identify and develop strategies to eliminate the barriers to participation. Under
MD-715, EEOC requires agencies to report the results of their analyses annually.
24
  We were not able to independently verify these data.




Page 13                                                   GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
their disability status out of concern that they will be subjected to
discrimination. Similarly, EEOC reported that some persons with
disabilities are reluctant to self-identify because they are concerned that
such disclosure will preclude them from advancement. 25

Additionally, some individuals may develop disabilities during federal
employment and may not know how to or why they should update their
disability status. We have reported that regularly encouraging employees
to update their disability status allows agencies to be aware of any
changes in their workforce. EEOC guidance recommends that agencies
request that employees update their disability status every 2 to 4 years. 26

During the course of our review, we heard about potentially useful options
for improving the accuracy of these data by attempting to increase
voluntary disclosure, as well as alternative sources of information that
may be used to augment the data provided on the SF-256. For example,
in its disability hiring plan, Labor described plans to increase the accuracy
of its workforce data by implementing a marketing campaign to promote
the voluntary disclosure of one’s disability status by having employees
update their personnel profiles, including disability status. Labor plans to
assure employees of the confidentiality of the information, and inform
them that the information collected on the SF-256 will only be used for
statistical purposes and to determine progress in achieving agency hiring
and retention goals. As a source of alternative data, officials at SSA
suggested examining the types of reasonable accommodations provided.
Likewise, OPM is exploring options for using other federal personnel data,
such as information on veterans with disabilities hired under a special
hiring authority, to supplement its SF-256 data in measuring progress
toward the executive order’s goals. 27 These data could be used to better
understand the makeup of an agency’s workforce and improve the



25
  See EEOC, Improving the Participation Rate of People with Targeted Disabilities in the
Federal Work Force (Washington, D.C.: January 2008).
26
  Many federal agencies use different automated systems for employees to update their
own personal information, including disability status. For example, HR Connect and the
National Finance Center’s Employee Personal Page are both automated systems used
across the federal government.
27
  As previously noted, disabled veterans with a compensable service-connected disability
of 30 percent or more may be noncompetitively appointed and converted to a career
appointment under 5 U.S.C. § 3112.




Page 14                                                GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
                           agency’s ability to establish appropriate policies and goals, and assess
                           progress towards those goals.


Labor Has Taken Steps to   Labor has taken several steps toward meeting the requirements of the
Develop Return-to-Work     executive order to improve return-to-work outcomes for employees
Strategies                 injured on the job, including pursuing overall reform of the FECA system.
                           Specifically, Labor developed new measures and targets to hold federal
                           agencies accountable for improving their return-to-work outcomes within
                           a 2-year period. Agencies were expected to improve return-to-work
                           outcomes by 1 percent for fiscal year 2011 and an additional 2 percent in
                           each of the following 3 years over the 2009 baseline. In fiscal year 2011,
                           the federal government had a cumulative return-to-work rate of 91.6
                           percent, almost 5 percent better than the target rate of 86.7 percent.
                           Goals such as these are useful tools to help agencies improve
                           performance. Labor is also researching strategies that agencies can use
                           to increase the successful return-to-work of employees who have
                           sustained disabilities as a result of workplace injuries or illnesses. 28 The
                           results of this study are expected to be released in September 2012.

                           Another Labor initiative is aimed at helping the federal government rehire
                           injured federal workers who are not able to return to the job at which they
                           were injured. OWCP initiated a 6-month pilot project in May 2011 to
                           explore how Schedule A noncompetitive hiring authority might be used to
                           rehire injured federal workers under FECA. As part of the project, OWCP
                           provided guidance to claims staff, rehabilitation specialists, rehabilitation
                           counselors, and employing agencies on the process of Schedule A
                           certification and the steps it will take to facilitate Schedule A placements.
                           According to Labor, the pilot identified obstacles to reemployment and
                           provided input needed to determine whether such an effort can be
                           expanded to other federal agencies. Identified obstacles included
                           unanticipated questions from potential workers, such as if acceptance of
                           a Schedule A designation would require a “probationary” period, and what
                           impact acceptance of a Schedule A position would have on their


                           28
                             According to Labor, the vast majority of workers either incur no time lost from work or
                           return to work during the first 45 days of injury. Of the approximately 20,000 new cases
                           each year where workers lose wages, approximately 90 percent either return to work or
                           the cases are resolved through other means. In fiscal year 2011, 2,000 FECA cases
                           pertained to workers who did not return to work. Such cases provide the best opportunity
                           to improve return-to-work outcomes for federal workers who may have become disabled
                           through their work.




                           Page 15                                                 GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
                         retirement benefits. Of the 48 individuals Labor screened for Schedule A
                         certification, 45 obtained certification, of whom 5 have been placed into
                         federal employment.



Selected Agencies
Have Plans in Place to
Hire and Retain
Employees with
Disabilities and Have
Adopted Many
Leading Practices
Agencies Are             Each of the four agencies we reviewed submitted a plan for implementing
Implementing Plans to    the executive order as required. Only VA’s plan, as initially submitted, met
Improve Hiring and       all of OPM’s criteria for satisfying the requirements of the executive order
                         (see table 2). Education and SSA revised their plans based on feedback
Retention of Employees   from OPM. Specifically, Education’s revised plan states that Education
with Disabilities        will hire individuals with disabilities in all occupations and across all job
                         series and grades. Education also clarified its commitment to coordinate
                         with Labor to improve return-to-work outcomes through the POWER
                         Initiative, and to engage and train managers on Schedule A hiring
                         authority. Further, Education increased its goals for the percentage of job
                         opportunity announcements that include information related to individuals
                         with disabilities. SSA revised its plan to include goals and planned
                         activities under the POWER Initiative, including quarterly monitoring of
                         return-to-work successes under the program and a strategy for identifying
                         injured employees who would benefit from reasonable accommodations
                         and reassignment. OMB submitted its plan in March 2012 but, according
                         to OMB officials, the agency has not received feedback from OPM.




                         Page 16                                         GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
Table 2: Assessment of Selected Agencies’ Initial Plans

    Criteria                                                            ED      OMBa       SSA      VA
                                                                                      c
    Identifies a senior executive who is accountable for                                          
    implementation.
    Provides evidence of senior executive review.                                                 
    Includes hiring goals.                                                                        
                                                                           b
    Accounts for hiring people with disabilities at all grade                                      
    levels.
                                                                           b
    Accounts for hiring people with disabilities in all job                                        
    series.
                                                                                      c
    Identifies training necessary to advance and/or                                               
    implement plan.
    Includes plan for providing and assessing                                                      
    effectiveness of training.
                                                                           b          c
    Includes plan to increase return-to-work outcomes to                                           
    make accommodations available to injured employees
    who sustain serious workplace injuries and illnesses.
                                                                           b          c
    Includes a plan to coordinate with OWCP to make                                                
    accommodations available to injured federal
    employees.
                                                                           b          c         b
    Provides for quarterly monitoring of return-to-work                                             
    successes under the POWER Initiative.
                                                                           b          c         b
    Includes plan for identifying injured employees, as                                             
    defined under FECA, who would benefit from
    accommodations and reassignment.
                                                                           b          c
    Has a process for increasing the use of Schedule A as                                          
    a means to increase hiring of people with
    disabilities/targeted disabilities.
    Addresses the agency’s reasonable accommodation                                                
    policy and procedures and whether they have been
    updated.
Source: GAO analysis of OPM data.
a
    OMB submitted its own disability hiring plan to OPM, but has not received feedback on it.
b
    The agency has addressed this issue in a revised plan.
c
 OPM determined that this criterion had been met in the Executive Office of the President’s disability
hiring plan.


Agencies had positive views about the executive order’s requirement that
they develop written plans to increase the number of federal employees
with disabilities. In particular, Education, SSA, and VA said that the
executive order provided an opportunity to further develop the written
plans they already had in place for hiring and retaining employees with
disabilities.




Page 17                                                           GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
                           Agencies were supportive of the goal of increasing the hiring and
                           retention of federal employees with disabilities, and reported few
                           challenges in implementing their plans to achieve this goal. Officials at all
                           of the agencies we interviewed cited funding constraints as a potential
                           obstacle to hiring more employees with disabilities. OMB officials also
                           said that it was a challenge to identify individuals with the right skills and
                           experience to fill their positions. For example, officials said that many of
                           the candidates on OPM’s list of Schedule A-certified individuals have
                           entry level skills and not the more advanced skills and experience that are
                           required for positions at OMB. 29 Agency officials cited no special
                           challenges with respect to retaining employees with disabilities at their
                           agencies.


Agencies Have Taken        In October 2010, we reported on eight leading practices that could help
Steps to Implement         the federal government become a model employer for individuals with
Leading Practices for      disabilities. 30 These practices, which are consistent with the executive
                           order’s goal of increasing the number of individuals with disabilities in the
Increasing Employment of
                           federal government, have been implemented to varying degrees by the
Individuals with           four agencies we contacted for this review.
Disabilities
                           Top leadership commitment: Involvement of top agency leadership is
                           necessary to overcome the resistance to change that agencies could face
                           when trying to address attitudinal barriers to hiring individuals with
                           disabilities. When leaders communicate their commitment throughout the
                           organization, they send a clear message about the seriousness and
                           business relevance of diversity management. Leaders at the agencies we
                           talked with have, to varying degrees, communicated their commitment to
                           hiring and retaining individuals with disabilities to their employees.
                           Education has issued annual policy statements to its employees ensuring
                           equal employment opportunity for all applicants and employees, including
                           those with targeted disabilities, and officials told us that they routinely
                           host events that address issues related to hiring and promoting equal
                           employment opportunity. For example, in October 2008, Education
                           hosted an event to encourage hiring individuals with disabilities and



                           29
                             According to OPM officials, when the agreement was developed, the CHCO Council
                           requested that Bender Consulting identify individuals for entry-level positions. The list has
                           since expanded to include individuals with a range of experience.
                           30
                             GAO-11-81SP.




                           Page 18                                                   GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
distributed a written guide about using Schedule A hiring authority to
facilitate hiring individuals with targeted or severe disabilities, as well as
disabled veterans. OMB officials said that it is briefing managers on the
requirements of the executive order and that it planned to communicate
the agency’s commitment to implementing the executive order to all staff
in May 2012. SSA’s Commissioner announced his support for employing
individuals with disabilities and encouraged employees to continue efforts
to hire and promote these individuals in a March 2009 broadcast to all
employees. VA said that the Secretary regularly communicates his
commitment to hiring and retaining employees with disabilities through
memorandums to all employees. In a September 2010 memorandum, the
Secretary announced the agency’s goal of increasing the percentage of
individuals with targeted disabilities that it hires and employs to 2 percent
in fiscal year 2011. 31

Accountability: Accountability is critical to ensuring the success of an
agency’s efforts to implement leading practices and improve the
employment of individuals with disabilities. To ensure accountability,
agencies should set goals, determine measures to assess progress
toward goals, evaluate staff and agency success in helping meet goals,
and report results publicly. Education, SSA and VA’s disability hiring
plans all include goals that will allow them to measure their progress
toward meeting the goals of the executive order. Prior to the executive
order, Education issued a Disability Employment Program Strategic Plan
for fiscal years 2011-2013 that established goals related to reasonable
accommodations, and recruitment and retention, and offered strategies
for meeting these goals, as well as ways to track and measure agency
progress. At SSA, accountability for results related to the executive order
is included in the performance plan of the senior-level official responsible
for implementing it. VA specifically holds senior executives accountable
for meeting agency numerical goals by including these goals in their
contracts. Additionally, VA senior executives’ contracts include a
performance element for meeting hiring goals for individuals with targeted
disabilities. OMB has not yet developed such goals.

Regular surveying of the workforce on disability issues: Regularly
surveying their workforces allows agencies to have more information


31
  As previously noted, targeted disabilities include deafness, blindness, partial and total
paralysis, missing limbs, distorted limbs or spine, mental disabilities, and convulsive
disorders.




Page 19                                                   GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
about potential barriers to employment for people with disabilities, the
effectiveness of their reasonable accommodation practices, and the
extent to which employees with disabilities find the work environment
friendly. To collect this information, agencies should survey their
workforces at all stages of their employment, including asking employees
to complete the SF-256 when they are hired, and asking relevant
questions on employee feedback surveys and in exit interviews. VA
officials said that they encourage new employees to complete the SF-
256, and SSA reminds all employees to annually review their human
resource records and update or correct information, including disability
data. In addition, all of the agencies we contacted survey employees to
solicit feedback on a range of topics. However, only SSA and VA include
a question on disability status or reasonable accommodations on these
surveys. In addition, Education and SSA said that they routinely conduct
exit surveys to solicit information from employees who separate from
service about their reasons for leaving. While VA has an exit survey,
officials said it is not consistently administered to all employees who
separate. Education officials said that they have additional means of
obtaining information about barriers for employees with disabilities. For
example, senior managers hold open forums with staff, and employees
can submit feedback to management through the agency’s Intranet.
Education officials also reported that employees with disabilities have
formed their own group to address access to assistive technology, which
has helped Education to obtain improved technology, such as
videophones. OMB officials said that their Diversity Council and
Personnel Advisory Board provide forums for employees to discuss
diversity issues, including those related to disabilities, and share them
with senior leadership.

Better coordination of roles and responsibilities: Often the
responsibilities related to employment of people with disabilities are
dispersed, which can create barriers to hiring if agency staff defer taking
action, thinking that it is someone else’s responsibility. 32 Coordination
across agencies can encourage agencies with special expertise in
addressing employment obstacles for individuals with disabilities to share
their knowledge with agencies that have not yet developed this expertise.
All of the agencies we interviewed had, to some extent, coordinated
within and across agencies to improve their recruitment and retention



32
 See GAO-11-81SP, p. 13.




Page 20                                        GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
efforts. Specifically, each agency has a designated section 508
coordinator who assists the agency in ensuring that, as required by
section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, employees with disabilities have
access to information and data that are comparable to that provided to
those without disabilities. 33 In addition, each agency has a single office or
primary point of contact that is responsible for overseeing activities
related to hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.

Officials at all of the agencies we talked to said their agencies engaged in
one or more interagency efforts to address disability issues. All of these
agencies participate in the CHCO Council, which facilitates sharing of
best practices and challenges related to human capital issues, including
those related to employees with disabilities. In addition, Education, OMB
and SSA officials said that they work with state vocational rehabilitation
agencies, which can help them identify accommodations that may be
needed for new hires with disabilities. Education and SSA also participate
in the Federal Disability Workforce Consortium, an interagency
partnership working to improve recruitment, hiring, retention, and
advancement of individuals with disabilities by sharing information on
disability employment issues across government. SSA and VA have also
participated in the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students
with Disabilities; 34 VA and Education have also worked together to assist
disabled veterans by providing unpaid work experience at Education,
which may lead to permanent employment.

OPM encourages agencies to coordinate their efforts by sharing
information in its online workspace in the MAX system. For example,
Education, SSA, and VA used MAX to submit and receive OPM’s
feedback on their disability hiring plans, and all four agencies have used
the system to access OPM’s list of Schedule A-certified individuals from
which federal agencies can hire. However, only Education reported using
the online workspace to share other information that could facilitate
implementation of the executive order. Specifically, Education officials




33
 29 U.S.C. § 794d.
34
  Managed by Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Department of
Defense’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity, this program is a
recruitment and referral effort that connects federal sector employers nationwide with
highly motivated college students and recent graduates with disabilities.




Page 21                                                  GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
said that the site is useful for seeing what other agencies are doing, and
that they have also shared their own practices on the site.

Training for staff at all levels: Agencies can leverage training to
communicate expectations about implementation of policies and
procedures related to improving employment of people with disabilities,
and help disseminate leading practices that can help improve outcomes.
All of the selected agencies provide some training for staff at all levels on
the importance of workforce diversity. They also require managers and
supervisors to take training on hiring procedures related to individuals
with disabilities, and the use of Schedule A hiring authority. In addition,
VA requires employees at all levels to take training specifically devoted to
the legal rights of individuals with disabilities. At Education, this training is
required for managers and supervisors, while at SSA it is available but
optional for all employees. 35

Career development opportunities: Opportunities for employees with
disabilities to participate in work details, rotational assignments, and
mentoring programs can lead to increased retention and improved
employee satisfaction, and improve employment outcomes by helping
managers identify employees with high potential. All of the agencies we
interviewed provided special work details or rotational assignments for all
employees; one reported having a program exclusively for those with
disabilities. Specifically, Education uses Project SEARCH to provide
internships for students with disabilities to help them become ready to
work through on-the-job training. Education officials reported that some of
these internships have led to permanent employment at Education.

A flexible work environment: Flexible work schedules, telework, and
other types of reasonable accommodations are valuable tools for the
recruitment and retention of employees, regardless of disability status.
Such arrangements can make it easier for employees with health
impairments to successfully function in the work environment or facilitate
an injured employee’s return to work. All of the agencies we interviewed
provide flexible work arrangements, including flexible work schedules and



35
  Under the Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of
2002 (No Fear Act), agencies are required, among other things, to provide their
employees with training regarding the rights and remedies afforded to them under federal
antidiscrimination and whistleblower protection laws. Pub. L. No. 107-174, 116 Stat. 566
(May 15, 2002).




Page 22                                                GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
              teleworking. These agencies also make assistive technologies, such as
              screen reader software, available for employees with disabilities, which
              can facilitate their ability to take advantage of flexible work arrangements.
              Education, OMB, and SSA also offer all employees opportunities for job
              sharing.

              Centralized funding for reasonable accommodations: Having a
              central budget at the highest level of the agency can help ensure that
              employees with disabilities have access to reasonable accommodations
              by removing these expenses from local operational budgets and thus
              reducing managers’ concerns about their costs. Education, SSA, and VA
              use centralized funding accounts to pay for reasonable accommodations
              for employees with disabilities. At Education, a centralized fund is usually
              used to cover expenses related to providing readers, interpreters, and
              personal attendants. However, in cases where these services are needed
              on a daily basis, Education may require the operating unit to hire
              someone full-time and pay for this from their unit budget. OMB provides
              funding from its own budget to pay for reasonable accommodations,
              rather than receiving funding from the Executive Office of the President.
              OMB officials also told us that they also have been able to rely on the
              Department of Defense’s Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program
              to help provide reasonable accommodations for some of the employees.
              This program facilitates access to assistive technology and services to
              people with disabilities, federal managers, supervisors, and information
              technology professionals by providing a single point of access for
              executive branch agencies.


              As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government has the
Conclusions   opportunity to be a model for the employment of people with disabilities.
              Consistent with the July 2010 executive order, OPM, Labor, and other
              agencies have helped provide the framework for federal agencies to take
              proactive steps to improve the hiring and retention of persons with
              disabilities.

              However, nearly 2 years after the executive order was signed, the federal
              government is not on track to achieve the executive order’s goals.
              Although federal agencies have taken the first step by submitting action
              plans to OPM for review, many agency plans do not meet the criteria
              identified by OPM as essential to becoming a model employer of people
              with disabilities. Though the executive order does not specifically
              authorize OPM to require agencies to address deficiencies, regularly
              reporting to the president and others on agency progress in addressing


              Page 23                                         GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
                      these deficiencies may compel agencies to address them and better
                      position the federal government to reach the goals of the executive order.

                      Further, officials responsible for hiring at federal agencies need to acquire
                      the necessary knowledge and skills to proactively recruit, hire, and retain
                      individuals with disabilities. Agency officials we spoke with said more
                      comprehensive training on the tools available to them, including the
                      requirements of Schedule A hiring authority, is needed. While the
                      mandatory training program remains in development, until it is fully
                      developed and communicated to agencies, opportunities to better inform
                      relevant agency officials on how to increase the employment of
                      individuals with disabilities may be missed.

                      Finally, concerns have been raised by stakeholders, including EEOC,
                      OPM, and advocates for people with disabilities, about the reliability of
                      government statistics on the number of individuals with disabilities in the
                      federal government. Most of the concerns focus on the likelihood of
                      underreporting given the reliance on voluntary disclosure, but the extent
                      of the underreporting is unknown. Unreliable data hinder OPM’s ability to
                      measure the population of federal workers with disabilities and may
                      prevent the federal government from developing needed policies and
                      procedures that support efforts to become a model employer of people
                      with disabilities. Determining the accuracy of SF-256 data, for example,
                      by examining the extent to which employees voluntarily disclose their
                      disability status and reasons for nondisclosure, is an essential step for
                      ensuring that OPM can measure progress towards the executive order’s
                      goals.


                      To ensure that the federal government is well positioned to become a
Recommendations for   model employer of individuals with disabilities, we recommend that the
Executive Action      Director of OPM take the following three actions:

                      1. 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.
                      2. 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.
                      3. 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



                      Page 24                                         GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
                         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.

                     We provided a draft of this report to Education, EEOC, Labor, OMB,
Agency Comments      OPM, SSA, and VA for review and comment. In written comments, OPM
and Our Evaluation   agreed with findings and recommendations identified in the report, and
                     described actions being implemented in an effort to address them. To
                     better ensure agencies address deficiencies identified in their disability
                     hiring plans, OPM has begun notifying agencies that it plans to report
                     remaining deficiencies to the president and on the OPM website by
                     August 2012. With regard to the need to expedite the development of the
                     mandatory training program, OPM, in coordination with partner agencies
                     has identified training for hiring managers and supervisors, and Human
                     Resource personnel. Finally, OPM stated that it is engaged in discussions
                     with the White House and stakeholder agencies to better define questions
                     on the SF-256 to increase response rates. OPM also said it plans to work
                     with EEOC and Labor to develop guidance for agencies to encourage
                     voluntary self-disclosure through annual re-surveying of the workforce
                     and providing employees with the option to complete the SF-256 when
                     they request a reasonable accommodation. OPM expects to complete
                     these efforts by January 2013. While these actions may help improve the
                     accuracy of the SF-256 data, we think taking steps to assess the
                     accuracy of the data will enhance OPM’s efforts. For example,
                     understanding the extent to which employees do not voluntarily self-
                     disclose their disability status and the reasons why may help target the
                     messages agencies can use to encourage voluntary self-disclosure.
                     Without such an understanding, OPM and agencies may miss
                     opportunities to increase the accuracy of the data collected on the SF-
                     256.

                     Education, EEOC, OMB, OPM, and SSA provided technical comments,
                     which have been incorporated into the report as appropriate. Labor and
                     VA had no comments.




                     Page 25                                         GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
We are sending copies of this report to Education, EEOC, Labor, OMB,
OPM, SSA, and VA and to the appropriate congressional committees and
other interested parties. In addition, the report will be available at no
charge on GAO’s website at http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact
Yvonne Jones at (202) 512-2717 or JonesY@gao.gov, or Daniel Bertoni
at (202) 512-7215 or BertoniD@gao.gov. Contact information for our
Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on
the last page of this report. Key contributors to this report are listed in
appendix II.

Sincerely yours,




Yvonne D. Jones, Director
Strategic Issues




Daniel Bertoni, Director
Education, Workforce, and
Income Security Issues




Page 26                                        GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
Appendix I: Comments from the Office of
              Appendix I: Comments from the Office of
              Personnel Management



Personnel Management




              Page 27                                   GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
Appendix I: Comments from the Office of
Personnel Management




Page 28                                   GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
Appendix II: GAO Contacts and Staff
                  Appendix II: GAO Contacts and Staff
                  Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments

                  Daniel Bertoni, (202) 512-7215, bertonid@gao.gov.
Contacts          Yvonne D. Jones, (202) 512-2717, jonesy@gao.gov.


                  In addition to the contacts named above, Neil Pinney, Assistant Director;
Acknowledgments   Debra Prescott, Assistant Director; Charlesetta Bailey; Benjamin
                  Crawford; Catherine Croake; Karin Fangman; David Forgosh; Robert
                  Gebhart; Michele Grgich; Amy Radovich; Terry Richardson; and Regina
                  Santucci made key contributions to this report.




                  Page 29                                       GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
Related GAO Products
             Related GAO Products




             Federal Employees’ Compensation Act: Preliminary Observations on
             Fraud-Prevention Controls. GAO-12-402. Washington, D.C.: January 25,
             2012.

             Coast Guard: Continued Improvements Needed to Address Potential
             Barriers to Equal Employment Opportunity. GAO-12-135. Washington,
             D.C.: December 6, 2011.

             Federal Workforce: Practices to Increase the Employment of Individuals
             with Disabilities. GAO-11-351T. Washington, D.C.: February 16, 2011.

             Highlights of a Forum: Participant-Identified Leading Practices That Could
             Increase the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal
             Workforce. GAO-11-81SP. Washington, D.C.: October 5, 2010.

             Highlights of a Forum: Actions that Could Increase Work Participation for
             Adults with Disabilities. GAO-10-812SP. Washington, D.C.: July 29, 2010.

             Federal Disability Programs: Coordination Could Facilitate Better Data
             Collection to Assess the Status of People with Disabilities. GAO-08-872T.
             Washington, D.C.: June 4, 2008.

             Federal Disability Programs: More Strategic Coordination Could Help
             Overcome Challenges to Needed Transformation. GAO-08-635.
             Washington, D.C.: May 20, 2008.

             Highlights of a Forum: Modernizing Federal Disability Policy.
             GAO-07-934SP. Washington, D.C.: August 3, 2007.

             Equal Employment Opportunity: Improved Coordination Needed between
             EEOC and OPM in Leading Federal Workplace EEO. GAO-06-214.
             Washington, D.C.: June 16, 2006.

             Results-Oriented Government: Practices That Can Help Enhance and
             Sustain Collaboration among Federal Agencies. GAO-06-15. Washington,
             D.C.: October 21, 2005.




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             Page 30                                       GAO-12-568 Disability Employment
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