Federal Exchange on Employment & Disability (FEED) Meeting
April 19, 2017
10:00 a.m. – Noon
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Whitten Building, Room 107-A
- Welcome and Introductions
Alison Levy, Disability Employment Program Manager at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), welcomed everyone and introduced Bobbi Jeanquart, the agency’s Chief Human Capital Officer. Ms. Jeanquart then provided brief introductory remarks. She noted how strongly USDA supports increasing the inclusion of people with disabilities, and other underrepresented groups, in USDA’s workforce and said she believes in mentoring as a strategy for doing so. She stated that USDA is proud of its leadership in this area and the disability representation it has at all levels of employment in its agency. Ms. Levy then went over some “housekeeping” rules and introduced Natalie Veeney, Diversity Program Manager at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
- Updated SF-256, Self-Identification of Disability and Workforce Re-Surveying
Ms. Veeney gave an overview of recent happenings at her agency related to disability inclusion. As part of this, she provided the most recent statistics regarding disability hiring in the federal workforce. A summary of these statistics is included in her PowerPoint presentation, which was sent to all FEED members by Brett Sheats via email on April 21, 2017. Ms. Veeney stated that 18.99 percent of new hires last year were people with disabilities, which was a tiny bit down from 19.02 in FY2015. However, in FY2016, overall Schedule A hiring increased to 2.25 percent, which is significantly up from 2011 (when it was .98).
Ms. Veeney also reviewed the Section 501 goals of 12 percent for people with disabilities and 2 percent for people with targeted disabilities, at both higher and lower levels of federal service. She then shared plans for OPM’s resurvey of the workforce, for which the agency is planning a coordinated campaign to encourage participation and self-identification. The resurvey will take place from July through the end of the fiscal year, which coincides with National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).
Ms. Veeney also noted the changes on the new SF-256, which aren’t really changes in terms of purpose or procedure, but rather updates to reflect changes in terminology, expanded codes and to explain why information about disability is being collected. She asked meeting participants to, when they returned to their desks, check to see if coding in their systems matches the new form and, if not, email her as soon as possible, ideally that day. She noted that agencies do have until April 28 to meet the deadline, but that if one hasn’t done it yet, she might be able to nudge their providers.
Anupa Iyer from EEOC provided a little more information about the intended photography campaign being planned to bolster participation in the resurvey of the workforce, noting that the goal is to demonstrate the range of careers available, especially at higher levels, and ideally some agencies’ leaders would participate.
Ms. Veeney concluded by reminding everyone about available training on HRU, including the Roadmap to Success course, which 25,000 people have taken, and the SPPC online training. She also provided her email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, should there be any questions about her presentations or OPM’s plans regarding resurveying the workforce.
- Updates on Section 501 Final Rule
Dexter Brooks, Director of Federal Sector Programs, and Anupa Iyer, Policy Advisor, from the Office of Federal Operations at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provided information about recent updates to Section 501 of the Rehab Act. Mr. Brooks noted that at the last FEED meeting they provided a formal presentation, while at this meeting they would be holding a more informal discussion about the EEOC’s efforts related to implementation of the Section 501 updates. Mr. Brooks said they have been getting a lot of questions from agencies’ leaders and that they are committed to getting everyone what they need before the January 2018 deadline.
He noted that as EEOC laid out the Section 501 implementation process, the focus was on four products:
- MD-715 will be revised; the proposed revisions will be coming at the end of July, for comment.
- Stand-alone guidance explaining personal assistance services (PAS) [note: the word “guidance” likely won’t be used for the document. It will probably be called “information” or a “fact sheet”]. This will be from EEOC, who is working on it with OPM and the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). It will be developed based on the information they’ve gathered from comments to the proposed rule, recent webinars, the “501 mailbox” and other sources. The goal is to have this ready by the summer.
- A meeting attendee asked if EEOC has a list of agencies providing PAS. Mr. Brooks noted the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and DOL’s efforts with regard to providing PAS and that information from agencies that have programs could be highlighted in the Section 501 InfoCenter on AskEARN.org.
- A meeting attendee asked if agencies working to revise their reasonable accommodations policies should include PAS in them or wait until the guidance is issued. Mr. Brooks said if agencies have already started the process of revising their reasonable accommodations policies, they should include policies related to PAS rather than wait for the guidance. Ms. Iyer noted that within the regulation, the EEOC says that agencies can make processing for PAS the same as processing for reasonable accommodations.
- Guidance on reasonable accommodations, synthesizing all information into one comprehensive document.
- Outreach – EEOC is working with OPM, DOL/ODEP and EARN to provide resources to help agencies understand their requirements under Section 501. There have held webinars and there is a new Section 501 InfoCenter on the EARN website (askearn.org). They have also met with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation’s (CSAVR) National Employment Team (NET) and are conducting a Twitter chat about Section 501 with EARN at 2:00 p.m. today. They are also speaking at various conferences, including the 2017 EEOC EXCEL conference, taking place June 27-29 in Chicago.
There was a discussion about ways to report/capture data about the number of employees with disabilities other than using SF-256, with one attendee noting that the only time it would be filled in on behalf of someone is if they were Schedule A. Mr. Brooks said that a request for an accommodation can count toward the number of employees with disabilities at an agency. A meeting participant asked what an agency should do if someone didn’t fill out SF-256. Mr. Brooks and Ms. Iyer noted that this is still an area that needs to be worked out, that they will need to talk about ways to capture information about the number of federal employees with disabilities outside of the voluntary self-ID form. For example, if an employee asked for a reasonable accommodation, they could be asked at that time to fill in a SF-256, but it was acknowledged that the individual still might choose to not do so for various reasons.
Ms. Iyer noted that this is exactly the premise behind the campaign to encourage people to self-ID during the resurvey the workforce campaign; they want to reduce stigma and help people understand that it is okay, and beneficial, to self-ID. A meeting attendee noted that her agency assigns a code on others’ behalves, but they are in the legislative branch where the rules may be different. Another attendee asked about tracking applicants as opposed to employees. Mr. Brooks noted that disability is the most recent thing added to the applicant data form, so very little “clean” data exists before 2016. Thus, little also exists in the way of best practices, but they hope to gain more knowledge going forward.
A meeting attendee said that while they agree with the changes in theory, they are concerned they are not getting the “how to.” They want more “granular advice,” especially related to best practices on data collection, reasonable accommodation (especially reassignment as an accommodation), and PAS. Mr. Brooks and Ms. Iyer emphasized that they are committed to providing guidance on best practices, but also looking to this group to help inform that guidance. Mr. Brooks noted that FEED is meant to serve as an action group, but sometimes it can be difficult to get agencies to share their knowledge. Ms. Iyer noted that when they reviewed 715s, they got a lot of good practices around recruitment, but less around advancement and retention, and that this group is where the answers are, because they are the ones doing this. Ms. Levy encouraged people to “not be afraid of sharing,” which some people said agencies are reluctant to do in case they are doing something wrong. Bobby Silverstein noted that when he was developing the “how to” standard operating procedure document on Schedule A, it was indeed difficult to get feedback from agencies on what policies and practices they were implementing.
The discussion then turned to mentoring, with a joint presentation by Ms. Levy; Derek Shields, Co-Chair of the National Disability Mentoring Coalition (NDMC); and Rod Mance, Mentoring Program Manager in the Office of Human Resources Management at USDA. Details of the presentation can be found in the PowerPoint presentation emailed to all FEED members by Brett Sheats on April 21. Ms. Levy started things off by talking about the positive influence a mentor played in her youth, while Mr. Shields gave an overview of the origins and current activities and partners of NDMC. Mr. Mance concluded by sharing details about USDA’s mentoring model.
Following the presentation, a discussion ensued, much of which centered around ways to encourage people to serve as mentors, including whether or not it should be included in performance measures. Mr. Mance said that, although he knows it may surprise some people, he does not feel that it should be included in performance measures because mentoring is something that people should not be “forced” to do. Rather, people should want to do it. Mr. Brooks noted that there may be a happy medium between making people do it and creating expectations and holding it up as a model of good leadership.
Mr. Mance agreed that demonstrating mentoring as a leadership expectation/quality is a good idea, and that USDA’s “flash mentoring” events help do this; the agency tries to get SES people to participate in them, which helps send a message. These events are about two hours long and convene mentors and mentees, who meet and talk in the context of set questions. The mentors are rotated around the room, so that participants have 15-20 minutes with different mentors with various interests and job responsibilities. What happens after that is up to the mentors and mentees, but the events provide a forum for bringing them together. The events have proven beneficial in engaging senior leadership, and it is Mr. Mance’s belief that they, and mentoring in general, has had a positive impact on USDA’s Employee Viewpoint Survey; he noted that the agency ranked third best on places for diversity. He also noted Google as an example of an organization in which mentoring is an expectation, much like in military branches.
Mr. Shields noted that the benefits of mentoring extend significantly to mentors, not just mentees, citing his own personal experiences.
A meeting attendee noted that for smaller agencies, resources, both human and financial, are an issue. Mr. Mance emphasized that while he runs USDA’s mentoring program, it is only one of many responsibilities, and that there are low-cost and even no-cost options for infusing mentoring into an agency’s employee engagement efforts. He said that USDA did spend money to build a portal to assist in managing its program, but that there are ways to not do so. Ms. Levy emphasized that the flash mentoring programs are low cost but high yield.
- Closing Remarks
Akinyemi Banjo, Policy Advisor at ODEP, and Brett Sheats, National Project Director for EARN, then provided brief closing remarks, thanking attendees for coming and reminding them that the purpose of FEED is to exchange information and for ODEP, OPM and EEOC to hear from participants about what is and is not working at their agencies and what resources they need to be more effective in their disability inclusion efforts. The next FEED meeting will take place in June and will be a roundtable discussion on PAS in the workplace. Details will be emailed to FEED participants in the near future.