Thank you, Naomi, and all the members of the Perspectives Planning Committee for inviting me here today. It’s an honor to be here with you this morning and to share the stage with OPM’s Director, Linda Springer.
As some of you know, I have been out pounding the pavement talking to anyone who would listen to me about improving employment opportunities in the Federal Government for people with severe disabilities. I've talked to audiences from Boston to Alabama. In each presentation, I always hope there is an individual or group in the audience that has the ability to make a meaningful difference. Well, here you are!!
I think it is fair to say that the hopes we had regarding the employment of people with disabilities have yet to be realized, whether we're talking about the private sector or the federal government. When I joined the EEOC in January, I was keenly aware of the high unemployment rate for people with disabilities, especially those with severe disabilities. For whatever reason, however, I assumed that the federal government was probably doing okay in this area. I learned very quickly that this assumption was wrong. In a briefing by EEOC’s federal sector staff, I learned that the number of people with severe disabilities employed by the federal government has been steadily decreasing for more than a decade. In fact, right now people with severe disabilities make up less than 1% of the federal workforce. We are exactly where we were in 1984!
This was a revelation to me, and one that I felt compelled to address. So, to that end, the EEOC held a Commission meeting on the topic back in June of this year. Turns out I wasn't the only person interested in this topic. That Commission meeting was the largest one ever held at our headquarters facility in downtown DC. Almost 200 people filled our meeting room and over-flow rooms to hear panels of experts testify about the reasons behind this decline and what, possibly, can be done to turn things around. While the meeting was incredibly informative, it was just our first step. I've been working since that day to build upon what we started in June.
Some of you may have heard about EEOC's LEAD Initiative: Leadership for the Employment of Americans with Disabilities. LEAD is the product of that June meeting and under this initiative, my staff and I are working to address the lack of hiring and advancement opportunities for people with targeted disabilities from a number of angles.
Although I don't want to dwell on numbers, I do want to briefly go over the most recent federal sector statistics we have. From FY 1996 to FY 2005, the total federal work force increased by over 78,000 employees. That represents a net increase of about 3%. During that same time period, the number of federal employees with targeted disabilities decreased from almost 30,000 in FY 96 to roughly 25,000 in FY 2005. That represents a net decrease of 16%. In other words, over the last decade, the number of government employees overall grew by 3% while the number of people with severe disabilities employed by the federal government shrunk by 16%.
Of the 2.6 million people employed by the federal government in FY 05, only about 25,000 were people with targeted disabilities. That amounts to a participation rate of only 0.96%, which, as I mentioned, is exactly where we were back in 1984. So, we're not doing so well in the hiring arena.
We're also not doing so well in making sure people with targeted disabilities who do come on board have the same opportunity to advance that everyone else has. For example, in FY05, the average GS grade level for people with targeted disabilities was 8.43. This is nearly two full grades below the government-wide average grade level of 9.98. Moreover, in FY05, while only a third of all federal employees were employed at the GS 1-8 grade levels, more than half of federal employees with severe disabilities were employed GS 1-8 grade levels. In the senior pay levels, we see similar and equally troubling statistics. During FY05, only about 6% of all people with targeted disabilities participated in the senior grade levels of GS-14 to SES. That is less than half of the rate of participation for the total work force at the senior pay levels - which is almost 13%. Only 88 people with targeted disabilities were represented at the SES level in FY05.
Now the statistics I gave you are from FY05 – On a more positive note, from FY96 to FY05, the most positive change for people with targeted disabilities occurred at the senior pay level. We saw a net increase of almost 42%. So, progress has been made in some areas, but tremendous work remains to be done.
Through LEAD, we have been concentrating in the areas of education and awareness. In September of this year, we worked with OPM to put together a program to introduce the newly revised Schedule A Hiring Authority. Our partners from OPM came over and gave a great nuts-n-bolts presentation on the changes made to this hiring tool. This event was standing room only, making clear the need for further training on Schedule A.
In November of this year we held several focus group sessions to hear from a variety of folks on topics such as:
My staff and I learned a great deal from these sessions. We are hoping to have a "Leading Practices Round Table," based on what was learned. We want everyone who can attend to come and hear about all these leading practices. We also hope to publish these best practices for everyone's use.
In addition, LEAD has formed a good working relationship with OPM, which is vital to the success of this initiative. I believe Director Springer might share some of the results of our collaboration when she speaks to you next. I will tell you that, our collaboration included my addressing the CHCO council to talk to them about LEAD and the need for it. The CHCOs (Chief Human Capital Officer) were all receptive to our mission and I look forward to that group making a positive impact in this vital area of human capital management.
In fact, I'll share with you the goal I shared with the CHCOs - I want to see the federal government get to 2% by 2010. Two percent in three years - a modest goal with tremendous impact. 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the ADA. Twenty years, or 37 if you count the time from the signing of the Rehabilitation Act, is plenty of time for us to become the model employer we're supposed to be for all Americans. Not just for those without a disability.
Perhaps the most noteworthy LEAD item, however, has been something other than the training or speeches or collaboration with OPM. The most noteworthy thing about LEAD is the attention and the positive feedback this initiative has received. Much more attention than I would have ever imagined possible in this short period of time. And that attention has brought with it a sense of urgency.
LEAD has even received the attention of Congress. EEOC received a letter of commendation from The Committee on Veteran’s Affairs for the LEAD initiative.
And all this attention is incredibly important because I believe the more attention focused on the problem, the sooner we will start to see some positive changes. Who knows, maybe we will soon see the day when agencies are measured on their performance in this area. We all know "what gets measured, gets done"!
That brings me to my challenge to this audience. As I mentioned, LEAD is trying to address the trend from many angles. We are working to get leaders of federal agencies to commit to providing opportunities for people with severe disabilities. At the same time, we are working to educate potential employees with disabilities about how to apply for a federal position and the different hiring authorities and internships available. But it's in between those two efforts where we will find success. And that is where each of you will play an important role in achieving that success.
Those of you who work in HR or EEO and serve as a Disability Program Managers or Selective Placement Coordinators, or those of you have the most powerful position of all in this area - that of a hiring manager - you all have a pivotal role and can make a difference.
When you start to think you can't make a difference, I want you to remember that YOU CAN.
I want to see each of you make it impossible for your agency to ignore the value of your position as a DPM. So often these positions are collateral duty positions but if we truly want to increase the number of people with severe disabilities hired in the federal government it is clearly a full-time job. And until we see some improvement in this area government-wide, it should be.
And if you're sitting there thinking "I don't know how," find out! Talk to Stephen King from Census. Talk to Jennifer Croft from Commerce. Talk to Kevin Curtain from Labor. These are people who don't talk about all they can't do, but will explain to you all they can do, and have done. They are offering sessions here today and tomorrow that will teach you how to be an effective Disability Program Manager or Selective Placement Coordinator in your agency.
And, above all, continue to clamor for more from us at the EEOC, OPM and ODEP at the DOL. Keep us honest. We all play an important role in making sure the Federal Government is the model employer it should be.
That is my challenge to each of you. I want you to leave here empowered and excited to tackle that 2% goal for your agency. And, I can hear some of wheels turning out there, thinking 'setting goals' can't be done. IT CAN. Plenty of agencies already have goals for the hiring and advancement of people with severe disabilities, including USDA and most of its sub-agencies like the Forest Service, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, the Defense Contract Management Agency, NASA, SEC and VA's National Cemetery Administration, to name just a few. Setting the goal is the small hurdle; the big one is in achieving them!
So when you return to work, find out where your agency is now, and then set a course to improve upon that. It is individuals that are going to make this work within agencies. EEOC can offer guidance and raise awareness, but we cannot do it all. OPM can also offer guidance but OPM cannot do it alone, either. Ultimately, it's up to all of us to do our part, large or small. Don't wait for Congress to pass legislation. Don't wait for the President to sign another Executive Order. Don't wait for anything.
The tools are there for you. Fragmented, disconnected and not as simple as we'd like, but they are out there. There are hiring authorities out there. There are internship programs out there. There are programs for returning service members who are disabled – these women and men returning from war have had some of the most sophisticated training our government can provide –we need them in the federal government.
One job at a time, one applicant at a time, let's change the "Perspective" of individuals with severe disabilities within the Federal Government. Let's strike while this iron is hot. You have me out there yapping non-stop about this issue. You have the Washington Post covering the issue on the Federal Page. While Congress is paying attention, while mayor's offices are paying attention, while managers in Sacramento are paying attention, let's live up to our potential! I truly believe that the stars are aligned and the time is right to tackle this challenge.
Essentially, WE have the floor. What are we going to do with this opportunity? I'm going to keep moving forward and I want you all right beside me.
I want to leave you with a quote from the junior senator for Illinois, Barack Obama;
“I believe that we have a righteous wind at our backs and that as we stand on the crossroads of history[.] We can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us.”
That is my challenge to each of you. We can make the right choices and meet this challenge. I look forward to working side by side with you. Thank you.