October 27, 2016
It is an honor to be here with all of you to celebrate the hiring of over 100,000 people with disabilities into the federal government. Through our collective efforts, we have met the goal President Obama set for federal agencies in Executive Order 13548. It is a huge accomplishment, and there are many people to thank for making today possible. I especially wanted to recognize my colleague on the Commission - Chai Feldblum, who unfortunately had a conflict today. She has been a visionary leader who has spent her career advancing the rights of people with disabilities.
I also want to recognize Christine Griffin, who could not be here in person, but who played a special role in making today possible. She is currently executive director of the Disability Law Center of Massachusetts, and, prior to that, she worked on this issue both as an EEOC Commissioner and then as deputy director at OPM, where she oversaw compliance with the executive order from its inception.
We have much to celebrate in achieving this milestone, yet we all know that there is still much more to be done. There are so many qualified people with disabilities who want to contribute their talents and serve their country through federal service. We know that work changes lives. It is vital that we create inclusive workplaces across the federal government and the private sector where people with disabilities can thrive.
Under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, the federal government has an obligation to be a model employer for people with disabilities. For years, EEOC has issued management directives and provided technical assistance to help agencies in achieving that goal. These efforts have played a critical role in assisting the federal government in increasing its hiring of new employees with disabilities. EEOC is now taking the important next step of finalizing regulations that will codify federal agencies' responsibilities under Section 501. I am pleased to report that those regulations were approved by the Commission and currently are being reviewed for clearance by the Office of Management and Budget.
One of the lasting legacies of this administration will be the unprecedented interagency collaboration across the federal government. These partnerships have been essential in improving the federal workplace for employees with disabilities. One important effort has been the Curb Cuts to the Middle Class Initiative, spearheaded by EEOC, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor, and joined by over 10 agencies. Today, this initiative has issued a resource document, "Tips for Applicants with Disabilities Applying for Federal Jobs." This is available on EEOC's website, www.eeoc.gov, and we hope you will share it widely to help more people with disabilities join us in the federal government.
I also want to recognize another important interagency collaboration - the tri-agency work group of OPM, DOL-ODEP, and EEOC - created to positively impact individuals with disabilities where our authorities overlap.
EEOC has also served as a resource to agencies across the federal government to assess barriers to employment and identify steps to eliminate those barriers. Each year, agencies submit affirmative action plans and reports to EEOC. One problem we have seen in these reports is a lack of data about who is applying for federal jobs. It is hard for agencies to improve hiring without knowing who it currently reaches in its recruiting and hiring efforts. To help, EEOC added questions about disability status to its applicant flow form, and continues to work with OPM on this issue.
EEOC also sent a questionnaire to agencies about their use of disability hiring to better understand where we can help. We found that among agencies using Schedule A, many did not fully adhere to the program's rules. In particular, agencies were leaving workers on seemingly perpetual probation, instead of moving them to permanent positions with Merit System protections and advancement opportunities. So we sat down with those agencies to explain the importance of extending permanent positions to people with disabilities hired through Schedule A. After that, we saw hundreds of people with disabilities converted to full-time civil service positions.
To build on this progress, the federal government is committed to exploring new and innovative ways to improve our recruiting, hiring, retention and advancement of people with disabilities. That is why we are thrilled to have all of you - the thought leaders who are advancing opportunities for people with disabilities - here with us today.
To kick off our discussions and highlight improvements made by the president's executive order, I will now turn it over to our arm chair discussion on federal perspectives on inclusion.