Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Lundberg, for your kind introduction. It is wonderful to be here with you all this morning, for Navy’s first joint civilian EEO and military EO conference. I think it’s a terrific idea to get both groups together for one training conference. Just like all of you, I am very much looking forward to all the information being rolled out today.
The theme of your conference is an interesting and timely one – Equality of Opportunity [as a] Roadmap to Diversity. Just about three weeks ago, the EEOC held a Commission meeting on this very topic. During this meeting, EEOC Chair Naomi Earp launched a new initiative called E-RACE: Eradicating Racism and Colorism in Employment. The point of this new national initiative is to bring a fresh, 21st century approach to combating racism, which remains the most frequent claim filed with the agency. Some people are quite surprised to learn that racism remains as prevalent a problem today as it was when the Civil Rights Act was passed more than 40 years ago. Some people are not surprised at all, unfortunately.
During the meeting, a great deal was said about the value of diversity. We had academics as well as diversity practitioners explain why diversity is worth striving for not because it is politically correct or morally correct, but because diversity increases the success of an organization. Diversity is directly related to an improvement in the bottom line. Obviously, the bottom line, and improvement to it, is what all businesses are striving for, whether you’re Kraft Foods, IBM or the Marine Corps.
Now, hearing that diversity makes good business sense was no revelation to me. I’ve known this to be true for years and seen first hand the benefits reaped by having a diverse workforce. Nonetheless, I may still be in the minority in my thinking. There are still those who hear the word diversity and believe it’s only a code word for affirmative action. Frankly, if those non-believers were to be truly honest, they would admit that underneath their baseless beliefs about diversity is a basic belief that all minorities are inherently less qualified than non-minorities.
This affects African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, immigrants, anyone who speaks with an accent, women and, notably, people with disabilities. It is this group, people with disabilities, that I want to spend the bulk of my time talking to you about.
Disability as a Component of Diversity
How many of you immediately think “women and minorities” when you hear the phrase “equal opportunity” or the word “diversity?” Most of us, I suspect. Taking that one step further, how many of you think about African-Americans mainly, or even exclusively, when you hear the word minority? Again, I suspect most of us, and therein lies the problem. Clearly, racism is not strictly black and white. It should be just as clear that diversity is not strictly about race.
Every year, as some of you may know, the magazine Diversity Inc. publishes a list of the “Top 50 Companies for Diversity.” In addition to this overall list, they also include what they call “specialty lists.” This includes lists on the top companies for women, top companies for Asians, and the like. One of those lists is the “Top 10 Companies for People with Disabilities.” As you can imagine, I was fairly interested in this one. After reading it, one glaring omission stood out; an omission that made this list different than the lists for all the other groups. Let me tell you what that is – actual statistics! In the top company for African-Americans, for example, Diversity Inc reported that African Americans represented 17% of this company’s overall workforce and 24% of all new hires.
How does the top company for people with disabilities measure up? As reported by Diversity Inc., it has a web site that specifically reaches out to customers with disabilities, a Disability Awareness Professional Network, and a supplier-diversity effort aimed at people with disabilities. Now that’s all well and good, but how many people with disabilities are actually working for this company? How many were hired? How many were promoted? How many hold management positions? I asked these questions of Diversity Inc. They did not know the answers. So, how do we know it’s not all fancy titles and mission statements? We don’t.
The Navy and Disability
So let me ask the same questions of you. What is the diversity of this organization? And not just the Navy overall, but your individual commands? How diverse is NAVSEA or NAVAIR? Are you providing equal opportunities to all groups? When you think diversity, is it more than just a policy? More than just lip service? What about for people with disabilities?
Now, before you all lie to me and tell me how great you’re doing in this area, for all groups, I’ll confess up front that I already know the answer to those questions! Like most federal agencies, the Navy has some work to do. In FY05, people with severe disabilities represented only 0.87% of your permanent work force. That amounts to less than 1500 people in an organization that employs almost 170,000 permanent employees. That also represents a decline from FY04, which means things are not moving in the right direction.
The Navy is not alone. The government wide average in FY05 was 0.96%. That is down from an abysmal high of only 1.24% in FY94. The government as a whole has been declining since FY93. In fact, we’re at exactly the same place today that we were in 1984. Clearly, the government as a whole has significant work to do.
Roughly 54 million Americans have disabilities. An estimated 30 million of that 54 million are of working-age, and about half of that 30 million is made up of individuals with severe disabilities. So we’re talking about roughly 15 million working-age people with severe disabilities, or roughly 5% of the overall population. So, you’d expect to see PWTDs employed at about a 5% rate, right? Not even close. In fact, in the federal government, only four agencies with more than 500 people even reached the 2% mark in FY05, let alone 5%!
The truth is Americans with disabilities have faced an unbelievably high unemployment rate for decades. This has been the case despite the efforts of numerous federal, state and local programs. The estimated unemployment rate for individuals with severe disabilities is 70%. Seventy percent! Think about that in comparison to the national unemployment rate of less than 5%. Considering the consistent need for available talent, I’m shocked that employers would continue to overlook this potential talent pool, but I know that they do.
We know that 40% of all federal employees are eligible to retire in the next five years. Where will we be if they all actually do retire?? You must consider every group of potential employees. All Americans who want to work and are qualified to do so should have the freedom of opportunity and equality of opportunity to do so.
The EEOC is committed to reversing the declining trend. We are committed to the federal government being a model employer, as Congress has mandated. We are committed to making that happen one agency at a time. We want and expect to see agencies start to hire and promote people with disabilities. We also want and expect to see a concerted effort by agencies to retain the disabled individuals already on board. As both OPM Director Springer and I have stated, all federal agencies should reach 2% by 2010. 2010 represents the 20th Anniversary of the ADA.
I was pleased to learn that the Navy has taken this mandate to heart. First, I note that Navy’s MD-715 reports include references to the plans to address the issue of poor participation by individuals with disabilities in the work force overall, as well as at the higher grade levels and in management positions. MD-715 is a critical tool for both the EEOC and for federal agencies. It allows us to monitor affirmative employment efforts, and for agencies, MD-715, when implemented properly, represents a road map to success.
Second, and importantly, last November, Assistant Secretary Bill Navas issued a memo detailing Navy’s FY07 hiring plan for people with severe disabilities. I hope you have all seen it and are now living it. The plan for FY07, as set by Assistant Secretary Navas, is to hire 400 individuals with severe disabilities. Each major command is responsible for a share of that 400. For example, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery is expected to hire 26 people across its workforce. Naval Sea Systems is expected to hire another 80 individuals. The Pacific Fleet is expected to hire 37. These numbers may sound small, but they amount to a solid overall effort.
Further, the memo indicates that the progress of each command will be reported quarterly. I was particularly pleased to see this because, as we all know, what gets measured gets done.
In working toward hiring 400 disabled individuals, I hope that each command makes good use of the Schedule A hiring authority. Schedule A allows you to non-competitively hire individuals with disabilities into almost any job that the individual is qualified for. This means no announcements, no interviews, no 6-9 month lag time. It’s a wonderful tool, and if you are not familiar with it, please become familiar. If you want further information on Sch A, please contact my office.
I commend the Navy and Secretary Navas for making a concrete, realistic plan to improve. It is clear that the Navy recognizes the importance of putting plans into action, and I am thrilled to see that you’ve taken this first step. If I’m invited to your next EEO conference, I very much look forward to learning how many commands met this challenge.
Among all the commands, number one in FY05 was Chief of Naval Personnel. Number two was Naval Supply Systems Command. And number three was the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Who will be one, two and three next year?
I will also keep a close eye on how the Navy progresses overall. As I recall from the 26th Annual DOD Disability Awards Ceremony held last December, it was the Army that walked away with the award for Best Military Component. Being a veteran of the Army, it was a proud day. Hoo-ahh! :)
It is vital to remember that hiring is a crucial step, but it is not the end point. We must all work to make sure our work place is inviting and welcoming to all groups. Equality of opportunity must be extended to all aspects of employment. This means assuring that all groups, including people with disabilities, are afforded the opportunity to advance, to become managers, to take on special projects, to receive awards, etc. It also means making sure that individuals with disabilities who need an accommodation are provided one. Where you have managers out there with attitudinal biases that are getting in the way, I say move those manager out of the way! If there are policies in place prohibiting a whole class of qualified individuals from being considered for a position, even where the individuals can otherwise do the job, change or eliminate that policy. We must ensure that equality of opportunity is extended to all and is extended to every aspect of the employment relationship.
In closing, I want to share a few thoughts on patriotism. A lot has been said about patriotism in the last few years. There are those that have questioned the patriotism of others based on, for example, their stance on the war in Iraq. Frankly, whether you are for it or against it, we are in it. And one of the horrendous results of this war is the thousands of service women and men returning to the US severely wounded and, often, permanently disabled. Despite the new challenges they face, these wounded warriors overwhelmingly want to continue their career of public service. They too are finding federal employment opportunities closed to them.
Everyone in this room recognizes the multitude of skills military service provides an individual, skills and experience that the average civilian does not possess. Yet and still, disabled veterans are facing the same biases and barriers as other individuals with disabilities face when trying to find federal employment.
Veterans with disabilities are actually finding the private sector more friendly and welcoming to them. I recently met a gentleman who works for a group called Marine for Life. Specifically, he works to help disabled Marines find civilian employment. He relayed to me that he has more difficulty helping disabled Marines find employment with the federal government than any other employer. I think that’s disgraceful!
If ever it was warranted to question the patriotism of a group, it is now and we are that group. The private sector sees the value of hiring our wounded warriors, but the federal government does not? How patriotic is that!? We can do better. In fact, we must do better! I see no reason why the Navy should not lead the way. I challenge you to be a positive example of how to recruit, hire, and retain a diverse workforce comprised of the best and the brightest workers this nation has to offer, including individuals with disabilities, veterans or otherwise.
Thank you. I appreciate being able to speak to this group and I look forward to meeting some of you throughout the day today. Thank you.