Federal Exchange on Employment & Disability (FEED) Meeting
July 26, 2018
10:00 a.m. – Noon
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
I. Welcoming Remarks
Dexter Brooks, Director of Federal Sector Programs for the Office of Federal Operations at EEOC, welcomed attendees to the meeting by wishing everyone a happy Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) anniversary. He then welcomed new members of the group, and explained that FEED was developed through a partnership between the Department of Labor (DOL), Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and EEOC to share resources and ideas related to federal employment of people with disabilities. He thanked Akinyemi Banjo from DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) for his leadership in helping to create and grow FEED, and the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) for supporting the agencies’ efforts.
Mr. Brooks then noted the recent passing of Dinah Cohen and Stephen King, two key members of the FEED community. He discussed some highlights of Mr. King’s career, including his work as Disability Program Manager at the Census Bureau, the director of the Department of Defense’s Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) and as Disability Program Manager at the State Department, as well as his impact on federal disability employment policies and programs. Mr. Brooks then invited Michael Murray, Director of the Employer Policy Team for ODEP, to share his memories of Dinah Cohen.
Mr. Murray discussed his personal memories of Mrs. Cohen, highlights from her career and her contributions to the field of disability employment, including the vital role she played in helping to create DoD’s CAP and her work running the program for 23 years. He encouraged FEED members to honor her memory by focusing on the ripple effect their work has on the people they encounter every day.
After a moment of silence for Mr. King and Mrs. Cohen, Dexter Brooks introduced Natalie Veeney, Diversity Program Manager for Outreach, Diversity and Inclusion at OPM, who provided updates from OPM on Schedule A.
II. Update on Schedule A
Natalie Veeney began her remarks by providing an update on a new Schedule A resource that was being created by OPM. She stated that the resource, called “Myth Busters,” was close to completion. She clarified that no new policy changes had occurred, but that the document was meant to clarify some common questions about Schedule A that OPM receives. She said that the Myth Busters document will be dispersed from OPM via the HR community and promised that FEED members would receive the resource prior to it being distributed through other avenues.
She clarified that Schedule A policy was written to allow agencies to have maximum flexibility, recognizing that different agencies hire for different reasons, so the policy does not state that agencies “must” or “shall,” but rather that they “may” or “could.” She mentioned that often when discussing Schedule A people working in disability employment only think of the parts of the policy directly related to employment of people with disabilities, but that there are many other parts of the policy that may impact federal hiring of people with disabilities. She encouraged FEED members to have a good understanding of their agency’s Excepted Hiring Plan in order to best utilize all of the various parts of Schedule A to expand hiring, advancement and retention of federal employees with disabilities.
Ms. Veeney then introduced Anupa Iyer, Policy Advisor for the Office of Federal Operations at EEOC, as the moderator of the panel discussion on using special hiring authorities, as well as the members of the panel:
- Alexander Jacobs, Presidential Management Council Fellow, Special Assistant, Diversity and Inclusion, OPM, on detail from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS);
- Tiara D. Ballard, EEO/Diversity Consultant, Diversity Management Division, Equal Opportunity and Diversity Office, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), U.S. Department of Defense;
- Martha Hennen, Management and Program Analyst, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); and
- Paul M. Plasencia, Director, Diversity and Inclusion Branch/Veterans Employment Program Manager, U.S. Department of Labor.
III. Panel Discussion on Using Special Hiring Authorities
Anupa began the panel discussion by recognizing the 28th anniversary of the ADA and noting the progress that has been made since the ADA’s inception. She then commented that despite the progress that has been made, according to the EEOC’s findings, federal employees with disabilities are still hired and employed two grade levels below their peers without disabilities. She encouraged the FEED community to think about strategies to not only hire people with disabilities but also identify opportunities for their advancement, especially in “mission critical” occupations.
Ms. Iyer then asked Ms. Hennen to provide a brief description of the SEC’s recent efforts related to federal employment of people with disabilities.
Ms. Hennen began by describing how the SEC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program has supported the agency’s disability employment efforts. She noted that the SEC has developed a strong partnership across the Commission with their partners in the Office of Human Resources and the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. She continued that as part of the agency’s Barrier Analysis Program, SEC initiated a study looking at the opportunities of people with targeted disabilities. She stated that the SEC has also instituted a recruitment strategy for 2018-19 that specifically targets hiring people with disabilities. She mentioned that part of this strategy includes hosting networking events during which the SEC gathers information and develops a contact list of attendees, which is used for their outreach efforts when hiring for vacancies through the Schedule A, Part U hiring authority.
Ms. Hennen stated that in addition to placing an emphasis on outreach to potential job candidates with disabilities, the SEC has also conducted a resurvey of their current employees every year for the past four years in order to identify those who have had a change in their demographic information, including their disability status. She said that so far this year, 185 SEC employees have made a change to their demographic information due to the resurveying campaign.
Ms. Iyer then asked the audience whether their agencies have considered doing a resurvey campaign in the immediate future.
Ms. Hennen noted that the SEC has a high proportion of attorneys that have been hired through Schedule A, Part C, but have transitioned to the Competitive Service from the Excepted Service and are coded with that transition in their Legal Authority Code related to Schedule A, Part U. She then encouraged the audience to look at their agency’s employees that have been hired under other authorities for Excepted Service to determine if something similar had occurred at their agency.
Ms. Iyer then invited Tiara Ballard to share the work that the DIA has done in creating their own Excepted Service hiring program for people with disabilities.
Ms. Ballard stated that since DIA is a Title X agency, it does not necessarily fall under the same rules as Title V agencies. She continued that after the final ruling for the Rehabilitation Act came out last year, she drafted a policy that included verbiage similar to Schedule A for hiring people with disabilities, as well as special hiring flexibility for veterans. She said that her division has been working with the agency’s HR office to put that policy into place, and noted that the DIA does have direct hiring authority under Title X, but presently does not have anything in writing to codify how they can use that toward individuals with disabilities and veterans. She then said that the agency also utilized the Wounded Warrior Program and Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) to recruit employees with disabilities.
Ms. Ballard stated that overall, the DIA is doing well in terms of meeting disability recruitment and hiring goals, and that currently 11.98 percent of their employees are people with disabilities. She then said that her efforts and those of her colleagues are helping the agency’s HR staff realize that putting policies in place that support recruitment and hiring of people with disabilities lets potential job candidates know that the DIA has hiring flexibility, which helps with passive recruiting.
Ms. Iyer thanked Ms. Ballard and asked Mr. Plasencia to describe the work that DOL has been doing to increase the number of veterans, including disabled veterans, employed by the agency.
Mr. Plasencia stated that DOL reaches out to service members prior to them leaving the military to make sure that they understand the federal hiring process. He emphasized that DOL can hire through the Excepted Service, but the service members’ resumes have to meet OPM basic standards first. He said that the DOL takes the time to show service members how to bring their skills to light so their resumes will meet OPM’s standards.
Mr. Plasencia stated that DOL is currently in the process of revamping their entire online career center and putting in step by step instructions on how the federal hiring process works. He said that DOL has also created a resume repository so that Schedule A applicants and veterans will be able to upload their resumes for consideration. He mentioned that DOL developed an internal policy several years ago called “advanced consideration,” which states that before a DOL job announcement is posted, the hiring manager (or other staff member who is posting the job) should first contact the Department’s Veterans Employment Program Manager and consider filling the position non-competitively. He then emphasized the importance of counting disabled veterans in agency disability numbers.
Mr. Plasencia continued that DOL is conducting a demographic census to make sure that their disability employment numbers are accurate. He encouraged the audience to look for employees who are veterans that are 30 percent or more disabled that check off blocks 1 and 5 on OPM’s Standard Form 256, Self-Identification of Disability (SF-256), because they count as onboard representation.
Ms. Iyer reiterated that even small changes in disability employment policies and programs can make a big difference. She then asked Alexander Jacobs to share his experiences using Schedule A as a federal employee with a disability.
Mr. Jacobs began by describing how was born profoundly deaf in America and grew up in England. He shared that he started going to speech therapy at a young age, as well as took sign language classes, but that when he started talking, he never wanted to stop, so he never learned sign language. He then described the beginning of his journey to federal employment. He said that after graduating with his first master’s degree from George Washington University, he applied to every job he could find related to national security and intelligence. He said he eventually reached out to the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency in Virginia who wrote him a Schedule A letter of certification. He stated the VR agency forwarded the letter to some federal Selective Placement Coordinators and within a few weeks, he received an email from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). He said he was then interviewed and received a job offer in September 2007. He expressed that he appreciates the value of the Schedule A program because it helped to start his career with the Federal Government.
Mr. Jacobs then described his career in national security. He worked as an Intelligence Research Specialist, and in 2011 joined a different part of USCIS as an Immigration Officer working in national security and fraud detection. He said that he immensely enjoyed this position, which helped him overcome his fear of public speaking so that he could teach a class. He mentioned that while in this position, he found out that his supervisor withheld training feedback from him, specifically that students had difficulty understanding him. He stated when he found out about this, he immediately started trying to address the issue by going to speech therapy and using CART when he spoke, which he said improved the issue, but didn’t complete resolve it.
He continued by sharing his experiences with trying to advance his career in the Federal Government. He stated that he had applied for various positions that would have allowed him to advance using Schedule A letter but, despite being highly qualified, he was not selected for them and in fact ended up training the person that was hired for the position. He concluded by saying that he is working on his speaking skills, reaching out to as many Selective Placement Coordinators as he can find, networking, and pursuing cochlear implant surgery in order to advance his career.
Ms. Iyer thanked Mr. Jacobs and commented that it takes a collaborative effort within an agency to help people with significant disabilities move up to leadership positions.
IV. Question & Answer Session
Ms. Iyer then began the question and answer session by asking Ms. Hennen to address a question about the collaborative approach that is used by SEC.
Ms. Hennen emphasized the strong partnership between her agency’s Office of Human Resources, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, which has led to the sharing of data between the offices. She also stated that SEC has a strong employee affinity group (EAG) program, especially the Diversity Interest Advisory Council Committee (DIAC). She said that the SEC shares internal vacancy announcements through email distribution lists from the leadership of the EAG and from other groups within the agency. She also mentioned that the SEC held a diversity showcase as a partnership between the Office of Information Technology and the Office of Human Resources to share resources that are available to assist employees with disabilities and others who may need technological tools or HR resources.
Ms. Iyer noted that employee resource groups (ERGs) are something that a lot of agencies have, but may underutilize. She then invited the rest of the panel to respond to the question regarding collaborative activities at their agencies.
Mr. Plasencia agreed that affinity groups are a vital part of including people with disabilities in the workplace. He stated that DOL has 14 such groups, including the Disability Action Group, that are very involved and active in the Department.
Ms. Ballard described an initiative at the DIA that provides training for what the agency calls “non-federal entities (NFEs)” to become recruiters.
Ms. Veeney mentioned that OPM’s Outreach, Diversity and Inclusion Center has an Employee Resource Group Community of Practice (ERGCOP) where agency ERGs can share information and resources and post questions. She stated that anyone inserted in learning more should send an email to: diversityandinclusion@OPM.gov.
Ms. Iyer asked if OPM’s ERGCOP is for any agency and whether members of ERGs can sign up to join.
Ms. Veeney said anyone can join the ERGCOP, although currently the members of the group are mostly ERG presidents or groups. She also stated the ERGCOP has an online presence on MAX.gov.
Ms. Iyer then asked the panel about what training is available for hiring managers, other HR practitioners and EEO practitioners regarding the various Excepted Service hiring authorities for people with disabilities.
Ms. Veeney stated that OPM’s “Roadmap to Success” and the Selective Placement Coordinators training that is currently on HRU.gov might be moved to MAX.gov. She stated that OPM has received a lot of suggestions on the topic, but does not have specific training on Schedule A available for hiring managers yet.
Ms. Iyer asked if there are agencies who do have this type of training in place and if they could share it with OPM to serve as a framework.
Ms. Veeney said that any federal agency can share their trainings on the FEED Community of Practice (CoP) on MAX.gov or by sending an email to: diversityandinclusion@OPM.gov. She state that anyone who has a .gov address can use MAX.gov.
Mr. Plasencia stated that DOL conducts internal disability etiquette and Schedule A training on a quarterly basis. He mentioned that the Department will be making Schedule A training mandatory for all of their HR professionals and hiring managers. He said that this training is part of the curriculum for a leadership course recently launched at DOL that every manager and HR person has to take in order to obtain a certain amount of CEU or continuing education credits. He added that OPM’s Veteran Services department recently released new veterans employment training, which is available on HRU.gov and mandatory for all hiring managers and HR professionals, by Executive Order.
Ms. Hennen stated that SEC has incorporated Schedule A and other hiring authorities information into their first level supervisor and mandatory leadership training. She also said that in addition to that, SEC’s Special Employment Program Managers and leadership from DIAC meet regularly with hiring managers and others who are participating in the training course.
Ms. Ballard stated that DIA has training that covers their hiring authorities and that their reasonable accommodations team goes out frequently to provide training to the workforce.
Ms. Iyer then asked a question from an online meeting participant regarding how to convince hiring managers to use Schedule A when the hiring managers say that they want candidates to compete because they want to hire the best.
Mr. Plasencia said to tell hiring managers that Schedule A applicants can go through the standard application process and if they are one of the best qualified candidates, they can be hired using Schedule A. He added that hiring managers can be told to look at their organization’s demographics and reminded that it’s important to work to increase the diversity of the agency. He also said that it’s critical that agencies have Special Placement Program Coordinators that are willing to continuously follow up with hiring managers about qualified candidates. Additionally, he stated that hiring managers can be reminded about the efficiency gained through using alternative hiring authorities.
Ms. Iyer invited Mr. Jacobs to respond to the idea that there is a stigma around Schedule A applicants not being seen as qualified.
Mr. Jacobs said that many hiring managers see reasonable accommodations as the biggest issue and need to be educated and reassured that accommodations can be easy to implement for everybody involved.
Ms. Iyer asked representatives from who have not done so already to submit their reasonable accommodation (RA) procedures via email to: RAprocedures@EEOC.gov. She said that if anyone has a question about how to improve the RA program at their agency, they can email her as well. She then asked Ms. Veeney if agencies have to announce a job vacancy of if they can utilize Schedule A to fill a position without posting it.
Ms. Veeney stated that even if a position has been posted or closed, agencies can still use Schedule A. She also said that the position does not have to be announced using the standard methods. She clarified that positions can be filled non-competitively, meaning if a hiring manager knows about a vacancy and sees a qualified Schedule A applicant from their Selected Placement Program Coordinator list, they do not have to post the opening. She stated that the position can also be filled without being posted through the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) database. She clarified that not everyone in the WRP database is Schedule A eligible, but that the vast majority of the candidates in the database are. She added that the question of filling position non-competitively will be addressed in the Myth Busters document, and reiterated that when that document is available it will be shared via email and posted in the FEED CoP on MAX.gov.
Ms. Iyer then invited the audience to ask additional questions.
The Veteran Program Officer and Special Placement Program Coordinator from the Department of Education asked if there are programs for Schedule A applicants that are similar to non-pay work program for veterans, so that agencies can bring them in as volunteers. He clarified that the purpose of such programs are to bring in applicants with disabilities as volunteers so that they can show their skills to hiring managers and be hired afterwards.
Mr. Plasencia said that his agency participated in a private sector program called Project Search that brought in high school students to work for and be trained by DOL.
Michael Murray from ODEP clarified that agencies are allowed to accept volunteer service from anyone who has an Individualized Employment Plan under Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). He stated that VR is funded in every state and those funds can be utilized to provide short-term, paid opportunities for people with disabilities. He also stated that those individuals are automatically Schedule A eligible and can be hired using that hiring authority if they are with VR. He said that Schedule A gives agencies the flexibility to hire someone in a temporary position in lieu of a certification of job readiness, however it may not make sense to use that exception if the agency does not have a job opening at the time.
Ms. Iyer opened up the floor to more questions. An audience member asked if there were programs specifically designed to help agencies hire veterans. Ms. Iyer said that the EEOC has hired veterans through a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program through which the veterans receive job training from their VA counselor.
An audience member mentioned the Operation War Fighter program that allows agencies to bring on disabled veterans that have been hurt in combat free of charge while they are rehabilitating. The speaker said there is no cost to the agency because the veterans are still being paid their salaries by DoD and once they are discharged they can be hired non-competitively as 30 percent or more disabled.
An audience member asked how potential applicants can learn about job openings before they are posted so that the Schedule A hiring authority can be used.
Darrell Overbey, an audience member who works at the EEOC and used to work at the U.S. Forest Service, mentioned that the Forest Service has a form on their external website for individuals who are interested in employment. He said that hiring managers are required to put an outreach notice in that system 30 days prior to it being posted on USAJobs, so the agency can intake applicants and Schedule A letters. He added that hiring managers can use the repository to find candidates and hire people. He stated that his daughter recently received a job offer by using that system. He added that employees inside the agency can also sign up to be notified of internal postings.
Ms. Iyer asked if an agency would need permission from OPM to create an online system similar to what the Forest Service uses.
Ms. Veeney said she did not know if the Forest Service had to get an exception to allow them to create the repository, but she encouraged any agency that is considering using a similar approach to contact OPM before developing it. She said she will get more clarification and follow up with FEED members about this issue.
Mr. Plascencia said that DOL’s advanced consideration policy addresses this issue and that he would be happy to share the policy with the group.
Ms. Iyer asked a question from a meeting participant regarding how agencies can use partnerships with employment organizations to recruit and hire people with disabilities.
An audience member said that their agency partners with Virginia’s Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) by using a blanket MOU template developed by their legal team that allows them to easily engage in partnerships. The audience member added that their agency does mock interviews with people with disabilities and provides training on the federal hiring process, and in return DARS shares their job announcements and provides the agency with resumes of qualified candidates.
Ms. Iyer added that the EEOC has good relationships with the Maryland, DC and Virginia VR agencies, but reminded the audience that most of the federal workforce is not in the DC area, so she encouraged them to reach out to their regional and field locations in order to build local partnerships. She mentioned that this topic was being considered as the focus for the next FEED meeting and asked audience members to share their information about organizations that agencies partner with, their MOUs, and other helpful resources on the FEED CoP.
Ms. Iyer then turned the meeting back over to Dexter Brooks.
V. FEED Updates & Closing Remarks
Mr. Brooks introduced Brett Sheats, National Project Director EARN. He said that EARN is a key member of the FEED partnership and that Brett would be providing updates about EARN and next steps for the FEED group.
Mr. Brooks continued that the FEED partners would like to make the transition to having FEED members guide the content of upcoming meetings and tell the partners what they need as a community to help them do their jobs better. He said the partners would like to know if members want the FEED meetings to focus on other topics that have not yet been addressed. He then he turned the meeting over to Mr. Sheats.
Mr. Sheats began his remarks by discussing the achievements of the FEED group. He then shared an announcement from DOL that the WRP is looking for federal employees to serve as recruiters to conduct phone interviews in November with college students with disabilities for inclusion in the WRP database. He added that anyone interested in becoming a recruiter can visit WRP.gov or email: WRP@DOL.gov. He then announced that a new online training center is being created for EARN’s website, AskEARN.org, which will be named in honor of Dinah Cohen, and that the center will include a tribute video to her that was recorded by EARN.
Mr. Sheats then stated that answering the earlier question regarding why hiring managers should use Schedule A is critical to the work that FEED members do. He said that standard hiring processes and parameters do not consider all experiences, abilities and perspectives, and that using Schedule A is a great way to find the best candidates that will create a diverse team.
Mr. Brooks concluded the meeting by once again encouraging audience members to let the group know about topics they would like to see discussed at future meetings.