As the nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government has an obligation to model effective employment policies and practices that advance America’s ideal of equal opportunity for all. Reflecting this, it has taken several steps to increase the representation of people with disabilities in the federal workforce. The underlying foundation for these actions is Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act), which prohibits discrimination against and requires affirmative action in employment of qualified individuals with disabilities in the federal sector, including the U.S. Postal Service, the Postal Regulatory Commission and the Smithsonian Institution. Since the Rehab Act’s passage, the Federal Government’s commitment has been reaffirmed through various Management Directives and Executive Orders:
New Rule Implementing Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act Sets Employment Goals for Federal Agencies
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published regulations explaining what federal agencies must do under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act to comply with their legal obligation to engage in affirmative action in employment and otherwise serve as “model employers” for individuals with disabilities. The rule consolidates existing requirements from a variety of sources and sets goals for federal agency workforces of 12 percent representation for individuals with disabilities and 2 percent for individuals with “targeted” disabilities, measures facilitated by inviting applicants and employees to voluntarily self-identify. To learn more about the new rule, read EARN’s Section 501 policy brief.
Equal Employment Opportunity Management Directive 715
Equal Employment Opportunity Management Directive 715 requires that all federal agencies design model recruitment and hiring strategies for people with disabilities and implement programs to retain these workers. To ensure transparency and accountability, agencies must report on their progress in hiring people with disabilities, and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) posts the results of agencies’ efforts online for public evaluation.
Executive Order 13163
In 2000, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13163 to prompt the addition of 100,000 employees with disabilities to the federal workforce within five years. As a part of Executive Order 13163, each agency was directed to prepare a plan to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities at all levels and occupations within government. This included utilizing available hiring authorities, expanding outreach efforts, and accommodating individuals with disabilities. However, by 2010, employees with disabilities still only represented five percent of the nearly 2.5 million workforce, and those with targeted disabilities constituted less than one percent.
Executive Order 13548
In light of the lack of gains in disability employment following Executive Order 13163, in 2010 President Obama issued Executive Order 13548, which recommitted the Federal Government’s commitment and emphasized greater compliance and accountability, including performance targets, numerical goals and sub-goals for individuals that have targeted disabilities (including deafness, blindness, missing extremities, partial or complete paralysis, epilepsy, severe intellectual disability, psychiatric disability and dwarfism).
Consequently, executive departments and agencies were required to develop plans to improve upon their efforts to employ workers with disabilities through increased recruitment, hiring and retention. Furthermore, OPM was charged with designing model recruitment and hiring strategies for agencies and developing mandatory training programs for both human resources personnel and hiring managers on the employment of people with disabilities. Other components of Executive Order 13548 included:
- Designation of senior-level agency officials to be accountable for developing and implementing employment goals in recruitment, training and advancement of individuals with disabilities, including targeted disabilities.
- Utilization of the Schedule A Hiring Authority and increased participation in internships (including through the Workforce Recruitment Program), training and mentoring programs for individuals with disabilities.
- Institution of a reporting system to track agency progress in implementation of objectives.
A number of resources were developed to support federal agencies in meeting their disability inclusion goals under Section 13548, including:
- Federal Agency Employment Strategies — A Framework for Disability Inclusion
- Increasing Disability Employment in the Federal Government: A Toolkit for Federal Agencies on Implementing Executive Order 13548
- Promising and Emerging Practices for Enhancing the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities Included in Plans Submitted by Federal Agencies Under Executive Order 13548
- Selective Placement Program Coordinator (SPPC) Online Training
In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, in collaboration with OPM and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, established eFedLink, an online community of practice intended to facilitate the sharing of resources and information among Federal Government employees working to increase the federal employment of people with disabilities.