Commission Meeting of June 28, 2006
The Commission was convened in the Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., Conference Room at EEOC Headquarters, 1801 L. Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., Cari M. Dominguez, Chair, presiding.
CARI M. DOMINGUEZ, Chair
NAOMI C. EARP, Vice Chair
LESLIE E. SILVERMAN, Commissioner
STUART J. ISHIMARU, Commissioner
CHRISTINE M. GRIFFIN, Commissioner
CARLTON M. HADDEN, Director,
EEOC Office of Federal Operations
MIKE MAHONEY, Manager,
Staffing Group, Office of Personnel Management
American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD)
Applicant for Federal Employment
HEIDI BURGHARDT, Vice-Executive Director,
Deaf and Hard of earing in Government
MARK J. BENEDICT,
Association of Persons with Disabilities in Agriculture (APDA)
MARK ANDERSON, Associate Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
JUDITH CADEN, Director of the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service,
Department of Veterans Affairs
DINAH COHEN, Director,
Department of Defense CAP Program
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: The meeting will now come to order. Good morning and welcome. In accordance with the Sunshine Act, today's meeting is open to public observation of the Commission's deliberations and voting.
At this time I'm going to ask Bernadette Wilson to announce any notation votes that have taken place since the last Commission meeting. Ms. Wilson.
MS. WILSON: Good morning, Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioners. I'm Bernadette Wilson from the Executive Secretariat. We'd like to remind our audience that questions and comments from the audience are not permitted during the meeting, and we ask that you carry on any conversations outside the meeting room, departing and re-entering as quietly as possible.
Also, please take this opportunity to turn your cell phones off or to vibrate mode. I would also like to remind the audience that in addition to the elevators, in case of emergency, there are stairways down the halls to the right and left as you exit the room. Additionally, the restrooms are down the hall to the right.
During the period May 15, 2006 through June 26, 2006, the Commission acted on 14 items by notation vote:
Approved Litigation on One Case;
Approved Five Federal Sector Decisions;
Approved the Excel Conference Facilities; and
Approved Resolutions Honoring Joachim Neckere, Pamela Ashton, Brenda Borden, Sandra Dunaway, Betty Jean Hickey, Alvin Turner and Charlotte Kelton on the occasion of their retirement.
Madam Chair, it is appropriate at this time to have a Motion to Close a portion of the next Commission Meeting in case there are any closed-meeting agenda items.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Ms. Wilson. Is there a motion?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So moved.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is there a second?
VICE CHAIR EARP: Second.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Any discussion? Hearing none, all those in favor please say aye.
(Chorus of Ayes)
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Opposed? The ayes have it and the motion is carried. Thank you again, Ms. Wilson.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: And once again, good morning. We are delighted to have all of you with us today observing this Commission Meeting. It's a meeting that we've been looking forward to having for quite some time. I'm delighted that the day has finally arrived. It's a great turnout, and I think the turnout here reflects the importance of the subject that we are going to be discussing this morning.
So I am very pleased to convene this meeting on the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Government. I want to extend a special welcome to all of our colleagues, distinguished federal agency colleagues, from the Office of Personnel Management, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.
I also want to recognize a good partner to the Commission, Ollie Cantos, who is the Associate Director for Disability Issues, White House Domestic Policy Council, and I believe Jennifer Sheehy should be arriving shortly, if she's not here already. She's the Acting Director of the Rehabilitation Services Administration of the Department of Education.
We appreciate all of you joining us today to examine this important topic. I know there's a lot of other guests in the building; we have an overflow, a couple of areas with monitors, and a number of our employees have ceded their seats here today and are watching us via closed circuit, so again, a warm welcome to all of you.
I want to begin by expressing my personal thanks and appreciation to Commission Griffin for her leadership in making today's meeting possible. It wasn't long after she took office that we began discussing a number of the challenges facing the Commission with respect to the Federal Sector responsibilities, and today's topic was right at the top of that list.
Commissioner Griffin readily agreed to take the lead in putting together this Commission meeting. She has brought together a distinguished and diverse group of speakers, and we look forward to hearing from each and every one of you.
Within the federal government the Commission's role is to oversee the equal employment programs of all federal agencies and to help agencies advance the shared goal of making the federal government a model workplace, a model for inclusion, for access and opportunity for all.
Each year we examine a report on federal agencies’ progress and results. While there has been much progress in many areas, there is one area where all would agree that results continue to be less than satisfactory in spite of the best intentions and the best initiative, beginning with the leadership that President Bush with his new Freedom Initiative, and the Management Agenda, and all of these things designed to insure full access and inclusion and the full utilization of our human capital. In spite of all these efforts, we still seem to have some barriers and some issues and so we're seeing the number of individuals with targeted disabilities continuing to decline for the last decade in the federal employment sector, and of course this trend is of great concern, not just to the Commission but to all of us here in this room and beyond.
By highlighting the issue at today's meeting, we hope to accelerate efforts toward finding new solutions and better approaches to opening the doors to federal employment for more people with disabilities.
I will now ask Commissioner Griffin to make some introductory remarks about this meeting, and then we will hear from our first set of panelists followed by statements and questions from our Commissioners, my fellow Commissioners.
So with that, Commission Griffin?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair. I, too, would like to welcome all our invited guests and the many members of the public that are here today. We've got quite a full house and as the Chair said, we actually have other rooms in this building that, as people are coming to this meeting, we don't have space right here; they're actually going to another room and they're watching this on television.
So it really heartens me to know that so many people are interested in this topic and as the Chair indicated when I joined the Commission in January, I really welcome the opportunity to work on this issue. I'm certainly familiar with the difficulties people with disabilities have in obtaining employment, however, I assume, like a lot of people that I've talked to, that I thought the federal government was probably doing a great job in this area as compared to the private sector.
And as a new Commissioner I was briefed by one of our first panelists, Carlton Hadden, who's the Director of our Office of Federal Operations, and I asked him about this and he gave me all the statistics which you will hear later on, and I learned that this wasn't true, my assumption was not true.
And when considering both the permanent and the temporary workforce, the percentage of people with targeted disabilities in FY '05, which is the last reporting period we have numbers on, is exactly the same as it was back in 1984. So 22 years and we really haven't made a lot of progress. This, despite the affirmative action requirement outlined in the Rehab Act of 1973, requiring each Executive Branch agency to develop, commit to, and implement plans for hiring, placement and advancement of individuals with disabilities.
Twenty-two years, and no progress despite Executive Order 13163 signed in July of 2000 outlining an expectation that the federal government would hire 100,000 people with disabilities over five years following the Executive Order date of issuance.
It is 2006, and that Order really hasn't yielded the results we hoped it would, so I began asking myself and others how can this be? Why is this the case? As I'm sure most of you know, the answer is not simple. It's as diverse and complex as the disability community is itself, which brings us to the meeting here today.
The EEOC obviously has the responsibility in this area that the Chair talked about, and prior to joining the Commission, the Chair had asked the Office of Federal Operations to begin examining this very issue and to answer some of these questions. So I do want you to know that actually this was something that was on the radar screen and that the Chair and our Office of Federal Operations was actually beginning to look at. And I want to thank both of them because they allowed me to actually step in and elevate this internal discussion to a public one, and I know I speak for both of them when I say it’s vital that we to start to get a handle on this issue and begin to reverse this negative trend.
Today we'll hear from three panels. The first speaker is Carlton Hadden, the Director of the Office of Federal Operations here at EEOC. He will provide the foundation for this discussion.
Also on the panel is Mike Mahoney from OPM who will talk about OPM's efforts and progress regarding the special hire authority under Schedule A, and we really appreciate OPM being a part of this and we look forward to working more closely with them on this issue.
Our second panel represents the faces behind the numbers you're going to hear about in Panel One. I think the Commission and all of you here in the audience can benefit from hearing first- and second-hand what people with disabilities experience trying to obtain a job with the federal government and those trying to advance once they get in the door. The stories are enlightening.
Finally, our third panel will highlight some of the current leading practices. While all employers, especially the federal government, have a long way to go, there are some individuals and agencies whose example could perhaps be adopted by others. We will hear from three federal constituents and one private consulting company who will provide answers to the questions being asked by those who truly want to demonstrate leadership in this area by hiring individuals with disabilities.
I'm looking forward to learning a lot today. I know that you do, too. We hope that this discussion will be just the beginning of some very promising changes to the employment of people with disabilities by the federal government.
People with targeted disabilities represent a valuable untapped resource for employers and we need to embrace that, and I'm glad to see that we're leading the way. Thank you Madam Chair and we'll begin with Carlton Hadden.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much Commissioner. And with that, again, we welcome both of you, and please begin, Carlton.
MR. HADDEN: Good morning Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair and Commissioners. My name is Carlton Hadden. I have the privilege of serving as the Director of EEOC's Office of Federal Operations. I've prepared a written statement which I would ask to be included as part of the record and my comments today will highlight parts of that statement.
Congress and the Rehabilitation Act require that federal agencies establish specific goals for individuals with disabilities. Since assuming responsibility for the federal sector, EEOC has paid particular attention to the progress of individuals with targeted disabilities. Targeted disabilities include deafness, blindness, missing extremities, paralysis, seizure disorders, distortion of limbs or spine, mental illness and severe or intellectual impairments.
However, despite this focus and the consistent and steady attention given this through various White House initiatives and the efforts of federal agencies, there has been no appreciable improvement in the federal government's employment record. The percentage of permanent federal employees with target disabilities reached its peak of 1.24 percent in fiscal year 1994 with a total of 32,337 employees. And the percentage has declined each year since then, falling to .99 percent in fiscal year 2005, with a total of 24,086 employees with targeted disabilities.
Data establishes that from FY 2001 to FY 2005, individuals with targeted disabilities separated from the federal workforce at more than twice the rate that they were hired. For example, in FY 2005 there were only a total of 810 newly hired employees of targeted disabilities while a total of 2,197 employees with targeted disabilities left the federal workforce.
We believe that with the Commission's approval in 2003 of MD 715, agencies now have an additional vital tool to begin to turn this tide. As you know, under that directive, agencies are required to establish model EEO programs under both Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act.
This means that agencies must go beyond establishing a special recruitment program for, and setting specific goals for the hiring of individuals with targeted disabilities.
Federal agencies also must report data on their employment of both individuals with disabilities and individuals of targeted disabilities, including data on each group's participation in the occupational categories and the agency's major occupations, in-career development programs and in recognition and awards programs. Agencies also are to report on each group's grade levels, number of new hires and promotion rates.
The holistic approach adopted by 715 which requires data not only on the numbers currently employed, but also on the opportunities for advancement and recognition, is expected to lead to improved representation rates as individuals with disabilities both choose to join the federal government and choose to remain with the federal government.
For true equal employment opportunity for individuals with disabilities, an agency must have the infrastructure to provide reasonable accommodations. Well-written procedures and guidance help dispel the myth that individuals of disabilities who need accommodations are less competent or less productive than those without disabilities.
The 2003 work trend study conducted by Rutgers University found that one third of surveyed employers believed that people with disabilities would not be able to effectively perform required job duties. Another 20 percent reported discomfort regarding persons with disabilities or concerns over the potential cost of accommodations.
As you know, many accommodations, such as modified schedules, telecommuting and job restructuring cost little or no money. A report issued by the Labor Department found that 50.5 percent of employers accommodated employees without incurring any cost and 42 percent reported a one-time median cost of only $600.
I am pleased to see that Dinah Cohen, the Director of the Computer Electronic Accommodations Program is also speaking today. Thousands of federal employees have been able to realize their full potential due to CAP's comprehensive and always up-to-date technology. In recognition of CAP's accomplishments, including the filling of more than 50,000 requests for accommodations, it became the first federal agency program to be honored with the presentation of EEOC's Freedom to Compete award this year.
In continuing to explore new ways for our federal sector staff to interact with agencies to proactively prevent employment discrimination, we hope to assist agencies as they improve their participation rates for employees with disabilities. This includes our work which we have called Project REDI as well as our ongoing study of the growing body of research addressing the potential uses and misuses of genetic information.
As well, we believe that the federal community can learn from EEOC's successful effort in support of the new Freedom Initiative which has been led by the Chair's Office with support and the excellent staff work of the Office of Legal Counsel's ADA team.
By applying the strategies and tools developed from our experiences and delivering relevant information and solutions to the leaders of federal agencies, we can assist agencies in designing more effective EEO programs. Thank you for the opportunity to appear.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Carlton. Mr. Mahoney.
MR. MAHONEY: Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair and Commissioners, good morning and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning on the Schedule A regulations.
The Office of Personnel Management's mission is to insure the federal government has an effective civilian workforce. In support of our mission, OPM is committed to attracting and developing the best people for federal service and this, of course, includes individuals with disabilities.
OPM's commitment to the employment of people with disabilities flows from the President who is committed to increasing the ability of Americans with disabilities to integrate into the workforce. The President's goal is articulated in his New Freedom Initiative.
To realize the President's commitment, OPM encourages agencies to use all available hiring flexibilities to increase the number of disabled individuals which the agencies employ. Specifically, OPM offers three government-wide excepted service Schedule A hiring authorities for appointing people with disabilities, and these are -- I'll enumerate each of them -- we have a separate hiring authority for individuals with mental retardation, a hiring authority for severely physically handicapped individuals, and we have a hiring authority for persons with psychiatric disabilities.
These three hiring authorities, which we sometimes commonly refer to as the Schedule A Appointments for Disabled People, are the focus of my remarks this morning. To further the objectives of the new freedom initiative, OPM reviewed these three regulations governing the appointment of persons with disabilities to positions in the federal government. At present, those regulations permit agencies to make expedited Schedule A excepted appointments to persons with these three types of disabilities, provided that the individual has been certified as having one of those types of disabilities.
However, the certification process is onerous and it's complicated. It involves review by state and/or federal agencies where the disability has been clearly diagnosed by a licensed medical authority. After careful consideration of that certification requirement, OPM proposed changing the current regulations to simplify the disability determination process. We also proposed consolidating the three appointing authorities into one, more streamlined, easy to use more consistent type of appointing mechanism.
The current regulations specify that, for the purposes of these appointments, the certification of an individual with a severe -- well, for all three of them basically requires, a certification from a state vocational rehab agency, or in the case of individuals, or the appointment, I should say, for individuals with psychiatric disabilities, of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Thus an individual with a disability determination from a federal agency other than a state voc. rehab agency or the VA may not use that documentation for purposes of obtaining eligibility for a Schedule A excepted appointment for a federal job.
The proposed rulemaking seeks to remedy this situation by delegating this certification authority from these limited entities, the State Voc. Rehab, or VA, to other federal agencies. We proposed our regulations on January 11th of 2005 and we are in the process of finalizing those regulations.
OPM believes that the proposed regulations will facilitate the government's ability to hire persons with disabilities in furtherance of the President's New Freedom Initiative which of course, as we know, was designed to increase the employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
We also hope to make the federal government the employer of choice for individuals with disabilities and which is consistent with OPM's strategic objectives. So we believe that the regulatory changes that we have proposed to the Schedule A hiring authorities will remove some of the barriers which currently prevent disabled individuals from obtaining a federal job.
OPM encourages all agencies to use or continue to use these hiring authorities, and we look forward to partnering with the federal agencies and our brethren around the HR community as well as external stakeholder groups in the disabled community to help better support the President's goal stated in his New Freedom Initiative as we move forward and our final regulations are out.
So I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning, and if you have any questions, we'll be happy to respond to them.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Mr. Mahoney. At this point we will have statements and questions from my fellow Commissioners beginning with Madam Vice Chair.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Thank you, Madam Chair. Good morning. Because of the importance of this topic I will waive my time on an opening statement to the panel, but I have a couple of questions for each of you.
Mr. Hadden, let me start with you. If the federal government theoretically reached parity with the number of individuals who have disabilities currently working in the federal service, what percentage of our employees would that be?
MR. HADDEN: That's a good question. That addresses the problem we've had with this issue. For a long time the federal community used 5.95 percent as the availability. That is a number that I'm not quite sure historically how we established that. What we have established is that we expect agencies to benchmark themselves against the agency that has the highest number of people of targeted disabilities right now.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Okay. Good. Thank you. Mr. Mahoney, since September 11th, has OPM given consideration to or expect any impact at all on the Schedule A hiring authority regarding security clearances or issues like that? We see a lot of complaints where individuals with disabilities have concerns regarding security clearances, concerns regarding safety issues, so I guess my question is: As you are working on your NPR and proposing to remove barriers, did you give any consideration to what we may not have expected until September 11th happened?
MR. MAHONEY: Well, I can tell you generally that OPM is very interested and very committed to shortening the time to hire, that it takes for all agencies regardless of the appointing mechanism or the individual, that they're trying to do that, so I don't have specifics on what is being done particular to security clearances, but I know, again, that you know, given the current state of the world and the situation that we find ourselves, we are doing what we can to the extent feasible to try anyway we can to shorten that time to hire. And, you know, if there's anything that we can do in regard to the use of the Schedule A authorities, then we'll certainly take a look at that.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Okay. Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Madam Vice Chair. Commissioner Silverman.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: As you both were talking I was sort of thinking about, what's the problem and where's the solution, and I know that we've talked about the certification process and how it's onerous and what we can do to streamline it.
But one of the witnesses who's going to speak in the next panel is Chad Fenton and he is certified and has applied for many jobs. He's going to talk about this, and he just hasn't been hired for one. And I was thinking as you were talking that, yes, certification is a problem but that it seems like we're missing something here, and I don't know if this exists but I thought well, what if somehow somewhere in the federal government we could create a Department of Advocates, or use an existing department already, that can link the people who are certified with the government jobs that are open instead of leaving it incumbent upon the individuals with disabilities to find the job and apply, and they still should be, of course, working with them, but someone who could actually advocate and link people to jobs. Does anything like that exist or is that feasible or possible?
MR. MAHONEY: I'll respond to that, Carlton, initially anyway. Yes, that's a very prescient point, and I say that because as we are getting closer and closer to getting out our final regulations on Schedule A, one thing that we certainly want to do is work with, again, the federal HR community, the practitioners, not just at the high level, the CHCO council level, but the actual people that are going to be using this day in and day out as well as again, the disability advocacy groups and the external stakeholders in the hopes of coming up with various communities of practice. And I think one of those which we've envisioned happening is a mechanism which, for lack of a better phrase, really will identify groups of people who already are certified, already can be hired and one agency may not have a particular need or the resources to effect a hiring action at a given time but, you know, that person might be a good fit for another agency who otherwise might not have known about the applicant.
You know, you've probably heard a big thrust that OPM has been engaged in for several years, now under Director Springer -- we're certainly continuing it -- is really trying to get agencies the right people at the right time when they need them. The one way to do that is, again, to help to the extent that we can do it, agencies know where the applicants are. You know, you've got to go to where the people are.
The people sometimes come to the agencies, but sometimes that process breaks down a little bit and I think one reason why we're excited about the Schedule A regulation is that I think it's a good example of bringing government closer to the people because it really narrows wherever we can, extra steps and things that separate the applicant from the agency. And as I say, we envision not just an applicant to Agency A but maybe an applicant to several different agencies so that is certainly something that we're --
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Right, like a headhunter-type database and the jobs, just someone that can put the two together. I mean, it seems like it would also remove some of the problems in the agency's people who don't, you know, who buy into the myths, fear and stereotypes and say, but this is what you need and this is the skills this person has. I mean, that little added pressure, plus it would help the individuals who are having problems maybe see all the jobs instead of just referring them, so I just thought that I'd throw that out there. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Commissioner Silverman. Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair. I want to thank you and Commissioner Griffin for holding this hearing today. I think it's a great idea. It reminded me as I was driving in today in the sunny weather we finally have after all this rain, of that great day back in 1990 when we were on the south lawn of the White House and when the first President Bush signed the ADA into law, and how much hope there was that day of how things would change, and how I personally, having worked on the ADA in the Congress, how sad I am to be here 16 years later after the ADA and some 33 years after the Rehab Act was passed and looking at where we are, what the situation is for people with disabilities being hired by the federal government.
This is obviously a difficult issue and people have tried a lot of things over the years, but for the life of me, I am stunned. I was stunned when we were getting ready for this hearing and seeing how we're basically at the same level, as Commissioner Griffin pointed out, where we were in 1984, which is to say that perhaps progress has not been made like it should.
I take some comfort, though, that in the time from 1984 to the present there was growth and there was progress being made, and the numbers had gone up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and I guess one of my questions and one of the things that I'm trying to figure out is what's changed? What caused that to happen back then and why has it declined since?
There always is a lot of good talk and people have good intentions that they want to make the federal government as a model as an employer for people with disabilities and I think in order to live up to that promise we need to bring up these dismal numbers, and I'm delighted that the agency, as the key enforcement agency for employment with people with disabilities, is taking this step at this hearing.
I wonder whether we need to take a look at the incentives that are in place in the federal government for hiring people with disabilities and whether, in fact, the message is getting out to all levels in the hiring process that this is a priority.
We note that when progress is made on a variety of factors and a variety of issues it comes from the top and permeates throughout the organization and I pose the question whether the message has effectively gone out to all the people in the hiring process that this is a priority.
Frankly, I was stunned to hear that 800 people, that was the number of people who were hired in the last year, people with targeted disabilities, out of a much larger pool. As Commissioner Silverman pointed out talking about Chad Fenton's statement of someone ready, willing and able to go off to work and yet he can't find this entry-level job that is the starting point for so many in the federal government.
What is wrong with this picture? I think that's a question that we all struggle with and I hope during the course of the hearing today we can at least start to get to addressing some of those questions.
You know, another thing that I've been thinking about is the whole question of metrics and how I've learned from my time at the EEOC, certainly within this agency and within the government as a whole, that what's measured is treasured. And when people have a goal in front of them they know that's what they're supposed to meet and they will take steps to meet that goal. And I wonder whether, in this situation, whether we need to look at that factor as well, whether the actual hiring of persons with targeted disabilities should be performance measured, that should be a measurement of how well the people doing the hiring are doing their jobs.
So I'm looking forward to the testimony that will come out during the course of the hearing and I have a couple of questions for the panel just to find out, to try to pick their brains from their areas of expertise. Carlton talked about the cost of reasonable accommodation being relatively low and the academic studies showing that over the years. Is that the crux of the problem, the cost of reasonable accommodation, or is the problem really an attitudinal barrier of people doing the hiring, that people with disabilities just can't do the job so therefore we're going to go with someone safe? What's the larger barrier that we find in the hiring process, to either member of the panel?
MR. HADDEN: Well, I'll start with that. I think it's a combination of attitudinal as well as just this misperception of cost. This issue has received attention in the federal community longer than it has in the private community, and that's why it's good that we're having this dialog in terms of what are the barriers and what are the reasons for the decline.
But I do believe attitudinal, added barriers exist and I think, you know, we have to address that. But I think beyond attitudinal it's the leadership, the genuine commitment from the top, and more than that, accountability. I think what you reference in terms of the metrics, holding people accountable.
One thing which is different in the Rehabilitation Act and Title VII is agencies… our Congress established that agencies could establish numeric goals and that is a tool that is available, but I think with the reluctance, some agencies are afraid to do that because of the other discussion and debate which has ensued on Title VII.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But this is specific authority under the Rehab Act to use numerical measures, numerical goals as a tool to try to bring more qualified people into the workforce. Does OPM take a roll in the setting of goals, do you know?
MR. MAHONEY: Well, yes, Commissioner, I can't really speak to that dynamic, but in answer to your broader question, from an HR perspective my experience is that -- and you touched upon it in your remarks a moment ago -- I think it's more a question of awareness. I think there are a lot of things going on in the HR community and certainly over the last 20 or 25 years not the least of which is turnover. A lot of expertise, unfortunately, has exited the government and when agencies are confronted with that, they tend to rely on the mechanisms that they're most familiar with or that they've been using, the tried and true, if you will. A big challenge that OPM has been finding itself trying to resolve, and I've been personally involved in it, is trying to get agencies to realize all of the hiring flexibilities that are available to them. I think there's a perception that OPM controls things a lot more than we actually do. We like to characterize, you know, our role as we provide the tools in an agency’s toolkit, if you will, and the three Schedule A hiring authorities are three of those tools. But there are couple of things that go hand in hand with that. They have to know that they have the tools and they have to know how to use them, and we have been aggressively over the last, oh, I don't know -- five years at least, trying to make agencies aware of those tools, how to use them, what are the conditions that apply when using these authorities and what are the conditions that don't apply. Sometimes it's quite an eye-opener.
So to address your question, I would say that at least in my perspective a lot of it has to do with awareness. And I think, again, as we get closer to rolling out this -- publishing this final regulation and rolling it out, a big thrust of what we're going to be doing is raising that level of awareness, working very, very closely with the agencies and the community saying, you know, this is new, this is what's changed, this is how you can use it, this is what it can to for you, this is the business case for using it, the business case for hiring these individuals under this authority, so on and so on. And hopefully, you know, some of the things that you've mentioned, you know, will be dissipated by that effort.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Which I think is great. I guess I would ask the question of how do you bring it to the next level, though. Does OPM have a role or is it doing something like we've seen in the financial side where they've set goals and were under this requirement to get to green on our financial side, to meet various performance goals that are out there on the financial side. And we've done a good job in getting to green. People have focused on trying to meet what the goal is. Does OPM have a role to play in getting the agencies to get to green on the hiring of people with targeted disabilities? Can OPM or does OPM now play the role of saying, "We think you should be, say, doubling your hiring or bringing up your hiring at some metric to hire more people with targeted disabilities?" So the government as a whole could see a substantial increase over the 800-plus people who are hired in the last year. Does OPM play a role like that, or could OPM play a role like that in the future?
MR. MAHONEY: Commissioner, I'm a little reluctant to speak to that because that falls more on the human capital management leadership side of the house, if you will, than the strategic human resources policy side of the House. But I think generally speaking, what we try to do is make agencies aware of all of the flexibilities and it's if you will, it's a bit of a cafeteria approach. Use whatever flexibilities you need to get who you need when you need them. So I think it's more at that level, but again, it's a little outside of my area of expertise, so I don't really want to talk that specifically about --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So you're the toolbox side of the house where they --
MR. MAHONEY: That's right.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: -- can come and use all these measures to try to make it work and another side of the house would be the side that would push, I guess.
MR. MAHONEY: That's a pretty good characterization and of course we work hand in hand -- two sides of the house, you know, to get the agencies where they need to be, yes.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you very much. Thank you, Madam Chair.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Commissioner. Commissioner Griffin.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: I actually just want to point out because Commissioner Ishimaru made reference to it, when you look at the chart that we have of pointing out this sort of dramatic-looking peak of hiring in 1994 of people with targeted disabilities, I just want to point out that that still only represents 1.24 percent of the whole federal government, so although it looks great and it looks dramatic, it's really not that great and it's still far less than any benchmark used by any advocacy group in the United States, so don't let our chart fool you -- "chart" is c-h-a-r-t, is what I'm saying. I know when I use a work like that, I'd better spell it. So that's all I have. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Commissioner. Well, let me just add first of all, I wanted to commend OPM because I think you're doing a really great job in updating the tools that are available to federal agencies, and certainly the alignment of human capital, in connecting human capital, the strategic management of human capital with the mission of the agencies and how the resources come to bear really is, I think, a very important component of what we're here about.
And I also want to say that we all have to share responsibility. This is not just what OPM is doing. We have a role to play at the Commission and that's why we're here, because accountability is shared, and I think that I echo what's been said before, we all need to focus, and once we have the tools available, what's the performance? And I know we're very focused on results and the performance and that's why we come out with all these reports, having personal meetings with a number of secretaries of agencies to talk about this particular issue.
So building awareness is one thing, and I think I can say without any hesitation that everyone I have spoken with is committed to this. But how it trickles down and the awareness level, when you mix it in with all of the priorities that each manager has, each hiring official has, and how do we make this as important of a priority and make sure that it stays very much present in their minds? I think that's a challenge that we all have to do and to be involved with, and frankly, we do put out these reports and we show the trends, but to me that just enhances the importance of the call for action. And accountability is one, and we share in that, and certainly maybe through management, the President's management council or the CHCOs and some of these other mechanisms, and people have come together.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: CHCOs?
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: CHCOs?
MR. MAHONEY: The Chief Human Capital Officers’ Council. And I apologize; I use that acronym myself without explaining it to you all. We're so familiar sometimes with these terms.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: But anyways, I just wanted to take this opportunity to commend OPM on the work that it's doing to align human resources with mission objectives and also to say that all of us here really need to not just build awareness, but promote and enforce the accountability component of this effort. Thank you both very much.
MR. MAHONEY: Well, thank you, Madam Chair. And I think you make a significant point and I'd like to underscore that, that you know, like they say, it takes two to tango, we need to do what we have to do to modernize the flexibilities through which agencies can hire. We need to spread the word at all levels, at all stratus, from the highest on down. Like they say, you know, the success and failure of things always starts at the top, but we need to get that message down at the middle and the lower levels as well so all of the practitioners, we need to get the word out to the folks who are looking for the jobs, the folks that are helping the people, but ultimately it's the agencies that are responsible for their hiring, as with any authority. So we look forward to really working, you know, kind of in lock-step with them and trying to get them to understand these flexibilities and by all means use them.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Okay, Panel Number 2 is actually Faces Behind the Numbers.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Our second panel is Faces Behind the Numbers and we want to welcome Gwen Gillenwater, from the American Association for People with Disabilities, Chad Fenton, who is an applicant for federal employment, whose name's been mentioned before, Heidi Burghardt, Vice-Executive Director for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government, and Mark Benedict, Association of Persons with Disabilities in Agriculture, APDA. Thank you all very much for being here. Welcome.
MS. GILLENWATER: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I want to say on behalf of the American Association of People with Disabilities whom I do work for and represent, we are very, very grateful to be invited to be a witness here today. We do appreciate this opportunity since employment as a whole, and particularly federal employment is a major issue that we advocate for and are concerned about.
The American Association of People with Disabilities is a national membership organization founded in 1995, partly Commissioner, as a result of the coming together that we found with ADA. We wanted something to be able to continue that momentum. We advocate basically for political and economic empowerment for the more than 50 million children and adults with disabilities living in our country.
I want to begin my testimony today by sharing a portion of a letter from my boss, Andrew Imparato, who is President CEO of AAPD, and he shared this with our membership back in the fall of 2004. He entitled this letter, "A Model Employer?" And he referred much of his early letter -- I won't read the whole thing; there are portions I want to share with you -- but much of his letter expressed the same kind of disappointment that I heard this morning from Commissioner Ishimaru over the disappointment we feel in the statistics and simply the state of affairs in federal employment.
And I do want to share a couple of paragraphs from this letter: "The disturbing trend is something that deserves high level attention from the Congress and the White House. The federal government is the largest employer in the country and has many advantages in providing accommodations for employees with significant disabilities. Federal officials have consistently encouraged private sector employers to do more in providing opportunities for qualified workers with disabilities, but these efforts have much more credibility when the federal government demonstrates by example how to recruit and retain these workers. If the federal government looked like America, about 20 percent of the workforce would be people with disabilities and about 10 percent would be people with significant disabilities.
For years EEOC and the Office of Personnel Management promoted a government-wide goal of 5.95 percent employment for workers with targeted disabilities. Evidently, in the most recent Management Directive on affirmative programs of equal employment opportunity, the EEOC has backed away from that goal because of difficulties in obtaining reliable statistics on labor force participation for individuals with targeted disabilities in the private sector.
Whatever these difficulties may be, we can certainly agree that one percent employment is way too low, and that the recent trends need to be addressed with proactive strategy led by the President and implemented across the entire executive branch."
Going down to another part of the letter: "We must redouble our efforts to create pipelines to federal employment for qualified students and job seekers with disabilities and we must demand presidential leadership to reverse the trend so the federal government can truly lead the way as a model in providing equal employment opportunity for the more than 35 million working-age people with disabilities in the United States."
Now, this is two years ago. Unfortunately, that downward trend has continued and I think many of the points he's addressed certainly apply today. I appreciated the testimony earlier by Mr. Mahoney with the OPM on Schedule A and the proposed changes there.
We certainly support that greatly. I know as an employer -- I have had several different jobs in my life, and for the last 10, 15 years I worked primarily in the disabilities community. I've been a director of a center for independent living, I have led a statewide coalition for citizens with disabilities, I worked at the national level with disability organizations. All of the employees I hire -- and I've been in management all those years -- are people with disabilities. I know that it is possible to find very good employees with disabilities and that the need and requirement, if you call it that -- for us, we don't see it that way -- for accommodations is not difficult. We do this on a daily basis.
I wanted to address something that Commissioner Silverman said, too. I like this idea of advocates within the department or within the agencies to do this, because there are many of us out here who have been doing it for many years and who know that those folks are there, and that they're very, very capable of doing these jobs. So I would encourage that something like that be continued.
I wanted to share with you some thoughts that I got from a friend of mine who has a psychiatric disability and who is a federal employee. He shared with me that he felt that people, particularly with psychiatric disabilities, are rarely recruited or retained often due to little provided accommodations, some of which cost nothing. And yet it is a significant issue for many managers who do not know how to deal with them.
He told me that he knew several people who had left the federal service due to the fact that the workplace could be a hostile environment in general, and more so for those who self-disclose.
I see I'm running out of time. I could talk forever, but I do want to say we did include in my written statement a number of recommendations. I would encourage you to look at those. I'd be happy to answer any questions. We do sponsor an internship program. I have 20-some college-age students with disabilities working in the city and federal agencies and on Capitol Hill this summer -- be happy to share with you some of those experiences as well. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much. Mr. Fenton.
MR. FENTON: Good morning, Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, and Commissioners. Thank you for this opportunity to share an applicant's perspective on the issue of federal employment of people with disabilities.
I was born at the Army's Tripler Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii and lost my sight through complications of birth. My mother has told me that the doctor who relayed this factor said that although I was blind, he was confident in my ability to be a productive member of society. Well, I've got the first part down; I'm still working on becoming a productive member of society.
I was mainstreamed in both elementary and high school and began college at Winthrop University as the first totally blind student on campus. Hoping to pave the way for other blind students who would come after me, I offered recommendations of assistive technology that would be of aid to visually-impaired students in the computer lab.
I majored in history and as a result of typing 90 words per minute, my class notes were thorough and concise. Classmates often offered monetary inducements for these notes.
MR. FENTON: In the year I graduated, one of my professors asked me to not continue in this enterprise as many students were no longer reading the textbook and were studying for exams directly from my notes.
I graduated in 1999 with a 3.0 cumulative GPA and a 3.5 in my major. A few years after graduation, after discussions with vocational rehabilitation counselors in South Carolina and Atlanta, I learned that the federal government was actively seeking to hire qualified people with disabilities. The counselors also brought the Schedule A hiring theory to my attention.
As both my father and grandfather had careers in the navy and air force, the government had always intrigued me. Since I possessed a college degree, met both criteria for the superior academic achievement provision and was Schedule A qualified, I was confident in my ability to begin an entry-level professional position in a federal agency.
Over the last few years, beginning in 2003, I sent over 40 applications for GS-4 through GS-7 positions, including an intelligence operations research analyst with DHS, human resource specialist positions with the IRS and the Navy, an equal opportunity assistant with the Department of Agriculture, and numerous administrative and clerical jobs with various agencies. Out of these many applications, I've only been interviewed for one position -- a customer service representative with the IRS.
When applying for work, I've consistently sought employment in the D.C. metro area, as it offers a strong public transportation infrastructure and federal employment opportunities are plentiful here. Each time I have been informed that while I am qualified for every position for which I’ve applied, I am not deemed best qualified and therefore will receive no further consideration.
My understanding of the Schedule A hiring authority is that if applicants with a disability possess a college degree and meet either criteria of the superior or academic achievement provision -- it's a 3.0 cumulative or 3.5 in their major -- they possess the minimum qualifications for a GS-7 position. Thus, it is my understanding that I qualify for every position for which I’ve applied. However, my experience seems to indicate that Schedule A is rarely utilized by hiring authorities, leaving me to wonder if it is a viable means by which to hire people with disabilities.
I should also point out that while my goal has always been professional employment with upward mobility, I have been willing to start in a lesser capacity in order to prove my value to a potential employer. I recognize that the greatest deficiency in my resume is the lack of tangible work experience, so I've been willing to start at the bottom and work my way up.
However, from networking with people with and without disabilities in the government, I have been counseled to not apply to anything less than a GS-7 position with a career track. The rationale is that a GS-5 position offers little upward mobility, leaving you stuck working in a lesser capacity, this contrasts with working in private industry, where you can conceivable start out in the typing pool or the mail room and gradually work your way up the corporate ladder.
In addition to sending numerous federal applications, I have written many of the selective placement coordinators with some of the larger federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense, with very few replies.
The selective placement coordinators appeared to me to be the ideal officials to contact as their primary responsibility is to recruit and hire qualified people with disabilities into their respective agencies.
On the occasions when I received a response, it would be along the lines of apply under the Schedule A hiring authority. In every application I have sent, I have included a Schedule A letter. However, I'm speculating that most selective placement coordinators don't have the seniority or the upper-level management support to actively recruit in the higher-qualified people into their agencies.
I also found that the list of selected placement coordinators on the OPM website is not up to date, as many of the e-mails I sent did not go through because of inaccurate e-mail addresses, and some individuals listed as coordinators were no longer working in that capacity.
I also have written letters to Virginia representatives Eric Cantor and Thomas Davis, and U.S. Senators John Warner and George Allen, Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson with DHS, and even President Bush in an effort to address this issue. In every correspondence to a selected placement coordinator or an elected official I included a package containing my resume and a Schedule A letter. All replies were generic in nature, referring me to USAjobs.com.
When I first began seeking federal employment, I concentrated on a broad range of entry-level careers. Realizing that sending out resumes wasn't yielding the results I had hoped, I decided to narrow my focus and acquire education that would distinguish me from other applicants.
In the last two years I have become interested in the field of equal employment opportunity as a result of my friendship with Ernest James, a blind EEO investigator at the EEOC office in Richmond. I sought to acquire certifications that would be of value in that field. In order to show initiative, I paid for and took a certification course for new EEO investigators at my own expense in November of 2005 and followed this up with the certification for EEO counselors in February of this year.
I believed that these courses would be advantageous when applying for an entry-level EEO specialist position as new hires would be unlikely to possess them. However, a recent application for a GS-7 EEO specialist position with the Fish and Wildlife Service was rejected, leaving me to scratch my head in puzzlement.
I do have pending applications with the Department of the Navy and the Corporation for National and Community Service, but have learned not to be too optimistic. I have not filed any complaints of discrimination after being rejected from further consideration, as I felt it would be counter-productive to apply for a position and after receiving a notice of rejection, immediately file a discrimination complaint against a potential employer. In truth, I questioned if I was indeed facing blatant discrimination since all a hiring manager would need to say is that I had little or no work experience and the candidate who was selected possessed such experience.
I hope my struggle in this area has helped you to understand some of the special difficulties that people with disabilities face in seeking federal employment. Like many others with disabilities, I strive to be creative and flexible in my job search and to enhance my competencies at every opportunity. If federal employers give more people with disabilities the chance to prove themselves, I think you'll find this untapped workforce ready, willing and able to do so. Give us this chance and we will give you results. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Mr. Fenton. Ms. Burghardt.
MR. BURGHARDT: Good morning, Madam Chair, Vice Chair and Commissioners. My name is Heidi Burghardt. I am the Vice Executive Director of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government, which is a non-profit organization 501(3)(c), and we serve about 5,100 members who are deaf and hard of hearing within the federal workforce.
Our main concern and request is that agencies be held accountable for the hiring and promoting and retaining of people who are deaf and hard of hearing. I believe everything else will then fall in place once there are negative consequences for agencies who do not comply.
The Federal Government is the largest employer of the deaf and hard of hearing individuals. There continues to be a sharp decline in the number of deaf and hard of hearing people entering into the federal workforce. The number of targeted deaf and hard of hearing employed in the federal government has declined 22.51 percent from 6,123 people to 4,745.
What makes us different from other people with disabilities is that we have a different language and therefore we have communication barriers, so our issues are unique and different from the general disability population.
Deaf and hard of hearing government employees are often isolated because of communication barriers between deaf people and hearing people. DHHIG is interested in breaking down those communication barriers so that the isolation of the deaf employee is minimized.
We believe that isolation of deaf employees is part of the reason why deaf people are not getting promoted. Networking for job promotion is largely based on communication. Managers responsible for promoting employees need to be aware that the traditional approach often bypasses those who have this communication disability.
We hope that EEOC will assist DHHIG to work with different agencies to train people who are responsible for promoting people within the workplace, providing effective communication strategies that will give the deaf people exposure, and then also establish an SES training program designed to admit qualified deaf and hard of hearing candidates for SES placement.
We would like to see established an OPM directive or a congressional mandate for federal agencies to set hiring goals and establish time lines for meeting those goals, and then of course reporting back the results to Congress. In MD-713 EEOC had set a standard or goal of 5.95 percent of the workforce being people with targeted disabilities. However, with the MD-715 EEOC abandoned the 5.95 percent and then began asking agencies to try to match the "federal high." That ratio continues to drop. It was recently 2.24 percent and it's now 2.16.
We'd like to see established a full-time office of disability within OPM to promote, advocate and support the White House initiatives on hiring and retention and promotion of people with disabilities. The expectation of this office would also insure that deaf and hard of hearing employees be given the opportunity to participate in an SES program, also provide more training for employees, and provide more employment for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
We'd like to see the reasons for denial of new technologies and federal agencies identified. These technologies help to break down the communication barriers that the deaf and hard of hearing people face. It's very common for agencies to call a meeting at the last minute and not request an interpreter and if they do request an interpreter, very often that interpreter is not available. Often the deaf employees are left behind.
We applaud the EEOC for recognizing the urgency of this issue today. We appreciate any assistance that you can provide to help Congress to provide federal agencies the authority and resources to implement these improvements, and with EEOC being the model agency leading the way, I would see a much brighter future for deaf and hard of hearing employees. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much for your testimony here today. Mr. Benedict.
MR. BENEDICT: Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioners, distinguished guests and especially the HR professionals who are here today who are very aware of this issue and are trying their best to address it, but are faced with obstacles and difficulties that you've heard about. The numbers speak for themselves.
When I was a lawyer we learned something about res ipsa loquitor, something speaks for itself. I know there are many lawyers in the room today. If this doesn't speak for itself I don't know anything that does, and this simply cries out for your attention and thank you so much for paying attention to it today.
I'm a native Texan, I'm a lawyer, I work for the federal government and I want you to trust me anyway.
MR. BENEDICT: You know I got up this morning, it was sunshine, it was blue skies and I'm thinking this is an omen; this has got to be a good thing. Well, then I called for a cab to get from the other side of the mall over here to where you are, and I realized like so many things in life, this was going to be a long and difficult journey.
So from the sunshine and blue skies to the terrible cab ride with traffic lights not working and the police rookies, in many cases I think, trying to direct traffic, we all have a very large job in front of us.
But you know, I just have to say -- and I wanted this conversation with you because my written statement is of the record -- but I just think, you know, shame on all of us for what's happening here. This to me, more than anything else, is a cycle of shame that the federal government appears to be caught up in and for the life of me, ladies and gentlemen, after 35 years of being an advocate on behalf of people with disabilities, I don't understand why.
People with disabilities, especially severe disabilities, are the best kind of person you could possibly hire for your organizations. They're multi-taskers, they're problem-solvers, they’re time-managers. They have to do more to get out their front door than many of you have to do in an entire day's work. And why in the world it is that the federal government cannot realize the value of that resource and act on that is something that I simply cannot get my old Texas mind around. It just doesn't make any sense to me.
But you've heard the numbers; it's been there for a long time, I'm afraid that in another 22 or 23 years another group of you will be hearing the same conversation if something definitive and effective isn't done now, starting now, starting with this effort which I certainly applaud all of you for.
You know, I was able for the first 20 years of my life; I was an athlete when I suffered a massive stroke in 1972, so I saw that part of life. And for the last 35 years I've seen the other side of the equation, dealing with disabilities.
One of the greatest ironies I find in my life is the fact that I really never encountered discrimination or limitations on my ability to advance until I became a federal employee in 1990. And it was only 10 years later that I was denied promotion beyond grade 13 for no reason that I could understand and still to this day cannot.
Many credentials as you've heard, credentials don't seem to make any difference, experience doesn't seem to make any difference, what you're able to do at your desk doesn't seem to make any difference. But hiring someone -- and we've all talked about hiring -- is only part of a multi-dimensional equation. And if you hire folks without providing them the full range of career development, which is training opportunities, exposure opportunities, and especially promotion opportunities, we're going to see more and more and more people leave federal employment.
Hiring is not enough. It's an important step, it's a first step, but it cannot be the last step. The rest of the equation, the rest of the paradigm must be addressed or there simply will be no reason for people to stay.
As a former president of the Association for Persons with Disabilities in Agriculture I was asked, and it's a privilege to sit on this panel today, to try to provide a face to the issue that we're talking about. Hundreds of members of my organization, hundreds of members -- of employees -- in federal government experience what we're talking about, experience it every day, whether it's an accommodation issue, a hiring issue, a Schedule A issue -- and I was Schedule A when I was first hired by a special hiring coordinator back in 1990 -- and Schedule A, ladies and gentlemen, can become a two-edged sword, because on the one hand it can get you a job in federal government but then when you apply for other positions, and you become a best-qualified applicant on a cert, and you're applying both competitively and noncompetitively as you're allowed to under Schedule A, everyone looking at that cert knows that Schedule A there that you have a disability, probably severe enough, to warrant their unwarranted concern.
So Schedule A on the one hand is wonderful, but on the other hand it can really be a limiting factor on what an employee can do. I applaud OPM for what they've done with Schedule A, but I think it's important and imperative that we all be aware of the ongoing dynamic of what this means. And this is not, ladies and gentlemen, a political issue because I've met with the Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns and Mike Johanns is very aware of disability. He was very aware of it as the Governor of Nebraska. He is all for disability rights and the advancement of people with disabilities. The problem here, in my opinion respectfully, lies at the operational level. The good ole boy tier who's been there forever who doesn't want things to change. And they don't want things to change because all of us, ladies and gentlemen, as human beings, are most comfortable with what we know best. And for all of you or many of you in this room, what you know best is not severe disability, so the people that you are most comfortable working beside, or alongside, are probably people more like yourself, not like someone like myself, or someone with a blindness issue or a hearing impairment issue.
That doesn't mean that those people shouldn't be beside you. What it does mean is that you should be aware of the fact that they're not, and try to find a way to help them to get there.
But I would like to suggest to you, as one of the proposals that APDA has made to the Secretary's Advisory Committee for Employees with Disabilities -- and that was referred to earlier by Heidi -- and that is, why don't we take advantage of tools that already exist, like executive potential programs? Why don't we get heads of agencies on the operational level to agree to nominate a certain number of people with targeted disabilities to those programs on an annual basis, commit to fund those people in those programs, which will by the way, include mentoring with high-level people, working alongside high-level probably non-disabled people, and maybe we can raise awareness at the same time and raise integrity and raise the whole process and try to get this problem solved.
You know I was thinking coming over, carpe diem, you know, seize the day. Seize this day. Try to find a way through all of this testimony and information to break this cycle of shame, and try to find a way to where we'll not have to have this same meeting again in the future. Because if we don't, we're not a high-performing organization, we're not most efficient teams and most efficient organizations. What we are, is we should be ashamed of ourselves for what we're doing to people that deserve much better from us. If there is anything that APDA can do to assist you beyond this point, APDA stands ready to do so, I personally stand ready to do so, and again, we're all just a heartbeat away from having a serious disability and right now, with all the early outs in retirement, what better time, ladies and gentlemen, to start to use this moment, carpe diem, seize this day, and move people forward to allow them to be at these higher levels where maybe we can make a meaningful change in this very long-lasting dynamic.
On behalf of APDA and all the people that can't speak today, thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Mr. Benedict and thanks to all of you for your valuable presentations here this morning. Madam Vice Chair.
VICE CHAIR EARP: Thank you. It seems to me that a centerpiece of these discussions so far, and I suspect will continue, is accountability. Every one of the speakers mentioned it in one way or another. I want to just add my office to the commitment for accountability that's being expressed here today.
Commissioner Silverman mentioned earlier having an advocate. I think that an advocate exists. Mr. Fenton encountered them in the form of the selective placement coordinators who were either out of date, uninformed, or not capable of providing the kind of service that was required. We need to hold agencies accountable for that position, and the people who hold that position need to be held accountable for actually doing their job.
Someone else mentioned urgency, and I agree that seems to be another centerpiece of the discussions, so in the interest of not reinventing the wheel when we are in an urgent situation, I would just like to say that my office also stands ready and willing to work with my colleagues and our staff director in OFO on these issues specifically targeted at holding agencies accountable for programs that already exist. No questions.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Madam Vice Chair. Commissioner Silverman.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: I was so excited about my advocate idea that I forgot to thank you for having this incredible hearing and thank Christine for putting it together, and I know that if I ever get to do a hearing again, I'm going to have her do the publicity because all of her things seem to be packed, so thank you. And I want to thank the panelists for truly putting a face to the case. It's always good to hear from the people who are really experiencing this and it means a lot, and I really think that I won't forget what you said.
I think Chad, you did a great job explaining to us the problems about getting in and Mark as well as Heidi, you spent a lot of time explaining to us the difficulty of advancing and I think those are things that we have to keep in mind as we look at the system.
Apparently both Mark and Heidi talked about this executive potential program and in your written testimony, Mark, I know you talked about the Department of Homeland Security has one. Could you flush that out a little bit more for us and tell us a little bit more about it?MR. BENEDICT: Yes, ma'am. My understanding is that the Department of Homeland Security currently has a special hiring initiative underway and the special hiring initiative which I've explored at the Department of Homeland Security even goes beyond executive potential. What it's designed to do is specifically hire people with targeted disabilities into the higher-grade positions -- 14, 15, SES. This goes beyond what I'm proposing. This is a departmental-level effort at Homeland Security to try to do this. We talked about the clearance issues earlier. There can't be a more urgent department to work in and to allow people with targeted disabilities to operate at that level in this time of urgency in that department, I think is tremendous.
How well they're doing, I can't speak to. I know that I've not been successful in trying, but I'm sure there can be a variety of reasons for that. But in that case, to answer your question, it's a hiring initiative.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Heidi, do you have anything to add?
MR. BURGHARDT: To the best of my knowledge, we never had a deaf individual in an SES program and I believe that's due to the fact that they've never been asked to participate in such a training, or allowed to. If there is one, I have no knowledge of that, so I can’t give you much on that.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Okay, well, thank you. We should definitely look into that. Have your members or -- your members, Gwen, have they articulated reasons why they're leaving government employment and where are these folks going after they're leaving?
MS. GILLENWATER: I think that's an excellent question because I know I can't imagine why, with the great benefits you all have, because I can tell you no disability organization has that same thing, however AAPD was fortunate in getting a very good employee just last month who had spent seven years in the federal government at a good level.
What I hear has to do as much with what this friend called a hostile environment, attitudinal, I think a great deal. I hear the same things from our summer interns. I've got a student from Harvard University, Cornell, the one who was previously at the Air Force Academy before suffering an injury that meant his whole life changed. Very bright, exceptional students -- we go through hundreds to vet these interns and then end up with only 20. And these students -- and I'm meeting with two of them tomorrow -- are very frustrated at not being able to utilize the skills that they bring even to these summer internship programs, and it's more of an attitudinal issue.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Well, I think a lot of interns get frustrated when they get stuck at the coffee machine, but when we talk about people who have worked in the federal government, and you talked about hostile environments and attitudinal, it's one thing to go to an association or a work environment where the consciousness is raised with people with disabilities around you. What about -- are they finding it easier in the private sector? I mean, how do we rate versus the private sector? Have you heard any new numbers on that?
MS. GILLENWATER: I think they feel as if they're being judged, at least what I hear, judged more on their merit, you know, and being reimbursed, you know, in that same way, okay. More opportunity.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Okay. Thank you. I see my time's up.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Commissioner Silverman. Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you, Madam Chair. I'd like to follow up on Commissioner Silverman's question, because Mr. Benedict talked about how he didn't run into problems until he joined the federal sector, and I'm curious what the differences are. Why did you not run into barriers until 1990 when you became a federal employee?
MR. BENEDICT: Well, Commissioner, in part I guess it's because I was my own boss and I really valued myself. [Laughter] And I guess a lot of the problem is that since 1990 I haven't been my own boss either as a lawyer or a consultant, and other people have held my fate in their hands.
Going back to Commissioner Silverman's question, if there are not advancements, all of us have mirrors to look in all the time. If the mirrors that we look in don't have a favorable reflection of ourselves when we see them, why would we want to look in that mirror? And if the mirrors that we, as targeted disability employees in the federal government see so often gives a reflection back which is not what we know ourselves to be, why would we want to stay in front of that mirror? And if we leave and go elsewhere, perhaps we'll have a better chance. I am hopeful that when people are not leaving government to on the public dole, which would be a terrible tragedy for all of us. But as was mentioned, the benefits are great, the no-retirement age is great, and all of that is wonderful stuff, but again, over and over again I would say to you that a job is a career; it's not a desk and something to do.
And specifically in my case I was allowed to go up like a rocket and I hit a ceiling at 13. That was quite a few years ago, and every time I've applied for a 14 since, and I've been best qualified on every application I've ever made, I’ve never had a chance to get there. And to me, logically, I just can't find a suitable answer for that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And in your situation, you were brought in for interviews and received consideration?
MR. BENEDICT: Well, you folks have heard me here today. I'm pretty good in a BEI. You know, many times …
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: BEIs?
MR. BENEDICT: Behavioral Event Interviews that are many times done at the 14 level and above now in federal agencies are done telephonically. And I have a pretty good voice, I think. I think my voice is a lot better than my face, so don't put this face on the issue, but the voice is okay. So I believe that I've always done exceptionally well. Trained as a lawyer, trained as an advocate in BEI-type interviews. I've even been selected best qualified and then received a letter saying, "Oh, we canceled the position; we've rewritten the requirement."
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: But Mr. Fenton doesn't even get interviews. That's what it sounds like -- that he sends in his application and it goes no further than that and he gets the form letter back saying, "Sorry. Not today."
MR. BENEDICT: Well, I mentioned to you as a possibility, Schedule A will appear on the cert as a non-competitive application. That will tell the reviewing group that this person, whoever it might be, probably has a serious disability. One could make the logical argument that there's a reason why it doesn't go any further. Like I said, to me the cycle of shame is the best phraseology I can put on it.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: It's quite the double-edged sword, something we grappled with in drafting the ADA and not allowing pre-employment inquiries. This obviously may be some sort of unintended barrier or unintended consequence of allowing people to submit their paperwork to show that they're qualified under Schedule A may be working against them.
Does anyone on the panel know, for people with targeted disabilities in the federal government now, is there a bunching of people at the entry level rather than further up the line? I'd be curious.
MR. BENEDICT: Yes, absolutely there is, and the reason I can speak to this is that I've been fortunate recently to serve on an FSIS HR reform committee that is looking at the Working for America Act and looking at pay banding and pay for performance. And the reason I got on that group as a specific request is because I was terribly concerned and am terribly concerned about what that could hold and mean for people with targeted disabilities in federal employment because you will find them clustered at the lower grades, generally. And when you pay band and cluster at the lower grades and then eliminate within-grade increases to where time-in-service no longer matters, not at all, you could find, theoretically, a person with a targeted disability, or any person for that matter, simply stuck and COLAs are just letting you tread water in place; they're not letting you advance at all.
So yes, you're going to find clustering, you're going to find it at the lower grades, you will very rarely if ever find people with targeted disabilities in managerial or supervisory positions and the SES ranks and the 15 ranks. And until we can break through that ceiling, what we're talking about here today, in my opinion respectfully is never going to be resolved because that's the tipping point in my judgment and my experience.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: And Ms. Burghardt, you had mentioned that it's your understanding that there's never been a deaf SES candidate or actually a person in the SES ranks, or both? I just wanted to get clear as to what you were saying.
MS. BURGHARDT: From my knowledge I don't know if -- well, I'm not sure if there was perhaps a deaf candidate. That may exist, but I don't know of anyone that's been into that advancement program.
But I'd like to go back to Commissioner Silverman's question. We did work with OPM and they did set up a program for the SES program to work with deaf people, but it was never followed up, it was never implemented.
Now, back to what you were asking me Commissioner Ishimaru, I don't know if there were any deaf candidates for this program to my knowledge. I don't know of anyone accepted in the SES program, advancement program.
In terms of those pay clusters, deaf people are among the lowest paid federal employees clustered up to about GS-7, maybe some with 9. We are paid just a little bit better in average than employees with mental retardation and there are very, very few advancement opportunities. There are some deaf people who are working as a GS-15 and looking for that opportunity to work in the SES spots.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you very much. Thank you, Madam Chair. I see my time's up. I hope we have a chance for the Commission to further explore and drill down to see what the advancement opportunities are like. I think that's one area that we may gloss over when we talk about the difficulties of getting into the federal service. Once you're in, what happens then? But I hope we have the chance to use the data we have at our disposal to take a closer look. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: We actually do have, just to let people know, that the Office of Federal Operations in our annual report does some reporting on where people with targeted disabilities are in the upper ranks, so to speak, in the upper grades in the federal government, so we have some of that information.
And we actually did look at this a little bit in preparation for this meeting because we weren't just thinking hiring, you know, although we're talking about that because that's what we really track are the numbers of people within the federal government. But the advancement is a huge issue and we do want to, you know, subsequent -- anything we do subsequent to this we want to include that as one of the issues.
We do know that there's actually one deaf individual who's in an SES level right now and Jeff Rosen, who used to work here identified that person for us, but that's one person and I think as Heidi said, the banding of people, especially deaf people, into these lower-level positions and then to not give them any chance for advancement is horrible.
And I think, you know, the Post Office is, a larger employer of people with disabilities and specifically deaf people for some reason, but probably is in some ways the biggest oppressor of them once they get them in the door. So it really is an issue that really needs to be looked at. We need to, I think, look at all of the internship programs that are available that really are the way that a lot of people enter into jobs in the federal government with chances of advancement and really have to start, you know, insisting that people with targeted disabilities are included in those types of internships and programs that exist.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Commissioner. You know, it occurs to me as I heard your presentations and others, and all the meetings that we have had over the years on this, that there are so many mandates out there. Obviously when you look at a cert as so many of us have, there's priority consideration for veterans for example, five point preference. The President has an Executive Order because of the Hispanic under-representation in the federal government. There are all of these other issues and competing priorities, but I get the sense that there's no centralized focus to make sure that all of these needs, and one is no better than another; they're all issues that we have to face and deal with.
But they don't seem to be coordinated in a complimentary fashion. I'm a little skeptical, I don't think that issuing another mandate, issuing another order -- I remember when I was at the Department of Labor 12 years ago, we had a 6.9 percent goal to get women into the construction trade. That goal was in place for over 20 years. I think there's some things that require us to look behind all of these mandates and look at the behaviors, and perhaps make things easier for the entry level supervisors and selective placement specialists. And it's an issue of empowerment, it's an issue of feeling that they have the backing-- I think your examples today really reaffirm the fact that we need that. We need to look at the behavioral actions, we need to look at the, again, I think the word that has come across consistently has been accountability and the coordination of all these requirements, because everyone has a different set of priorities depending on the agency, and we have all of these other requirements that are being imposed upon managers and rightfully so, because we want to leave no one behind. Thank you very much for your presentations, and as Commissioner Ishimaru said, this is just the beginning, so we'll continue our dialogue and hopefully our action. And before we hear from Panel number three, let's just take a 10-minute stretch break.
(Whereupon, a short break was taken.)
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Like a good dessert, left lots of goodies for last. Let me welcome our third panel members, Mark Anderson, Associate Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Judith Caden, Director of the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service, Department of Veterans Affairs, Dinah Cohen, Director of the Department of Defense CAP Program and Joyce Bender, Bender Consulting. Welcome to all of you. We're delighted that you're here. Mr. Anderson, please begin.
MR. ANDERSON: Thank you. Madam Chair, Madam Deputy Chair and Commissioners. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Social Security Administration's efforts to hire and retain employees with disabilities.
SSA is an agency of 64,000 employees working in 1,500 installations nationwide. We are a workforce that is highly committed to the agency's mission and values. Our overarching goal is to provide the American people with service, the service that they expect and deserve. SSA's workforce is a diverse group. Seventy percent of our employees are women; forty-six percent are members of minority groups.
Diversity is reflected in all of the major components at all levels, including our Deputy Commissioners, Regional Commissioners and Associate Commissioners. There's another important characteristic of the SSA workforce. We're also a very experienced group, with an average age of 16 years of service and an average age of 46. SSA is committed to having a workforce that reflects the American public it serves, and is recognized as one of the most diverse organizations in the federal government.
We have developed a business case for diversity in SSA and established an organizational culture that believes that diversity strengthens our organization and enhances the quality of service we deliver to the American public.
By comparison to the 46 percent of our employees who are members of minority groups, minorities comprise 27 percent of the national civilian labor force and 32 percent in the rest of government. Employees with disabilities represent 7.9 percent of SSA's workforce compared to 7.1 percent in the federal workforce.
I am also pleased to report that SSA employs over 1,500 individuals with targeted disabilities. As a result, SSA ranks second among federal agencies with 2.1 percent of its employees with targeted disabilities.
And SSA has a comprehensive recruitment plan, administered by a national recruitment coordinator. Under the guidance of our recruitment coordinator, we have developed a professional marketing strategy that enables us to compete effectively with government and private organizations.
SSA's Office of Human Resources produces a monthly hiring report that cumulatively tracks fiscal year hires on a monthly basis for all of the EEO groups, both at the agency and Deputy Commissioner level. Each month the Commissioner, who is the agency, reviews the report with her direct reports in an executive meeting and notes or addresses any areas that shows significant problems.
We have established a partnership with national organizations with ties to colleges and universities to help us attract individuals with disabilities.
SSA has a proactive, selective placement program that provides guidance to selective placement coordinators in each region in the country in SSA. The special placement coordinators work with the local vocational rehabilitation services and the department of veteran affairs to match qualified disabled persons with suitable positions based on their skills and abilities.
SSA staff attends career fairs to advertise SSA's programs and job positions. SSA also markets its career opportunities and disability-related publications and websites. For example, SSA advertises in the Careers in Disabled magazine, Quest, and equal-opportunity publications.
In March 2006, the readers of the Careers in Disabled magazine ranked SSA as the second-best agency among the top 20 federal government agencies for whom they would most like to work or they believe would provide a positive work environment for people with disabilities. You can't get better advertisement than this, we get numerous resumes that we distribute across the country to our offices and to our managers.
We also have six equal employment opportunity advisory groups assist the agency in its recruitment initiatives. In addition to their primary role of assisting our agency to better address our employee's concerns and to better serve persons with disabilities, women, minorities and the non-English speaking public, one of the employee groups is the National Advisory Council for Employees with Disabilities, or we call them NACED. NACED serves as an advocacy group for SSA employees with disabilities that advise the Commissioner and the executive on issues and concerns raised by employees. They also advise us on issues in the community and how better to serve the community.
NACED members also provide support for new employees with disabilities; they serve as mentors for the new employees, helping them to understand their new environment and providing guidance on how to be successful in their new job. SSA seeks to be a model employer for employees with disabilities and is proactive in this approach to providing an inclusive and supportive work environment. We take a holistic approach and an approach that we try to eliminate excuses.
Several years ago SSA established a center for disabilities in the Office of Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity to provide a single point-of-contact for agencies, managers and employees seeking advice and information on the effective and appropriate forms of reasonable accommodation.
We have a centralized budget so managers don't have to worry about whether they have the budget or worry about their funds. We also developed a web-based application called The Reasonable Accommodation Wizard to automate the process for employees with disabilities to request reasonable accommodation.
Now, the Wizard is accessible with assistive technology. It expedites the reasonable accommodation process, and it offers a description of available assistive devices. With the Wizard we have an electronic database of employee requests for accommodation that insures timely processing of these requests for adaptive equipment, personal assistance, and assistive software.
SSA maintains a nationwide, full-time equivalent pool and spends an average of $5.8 million annually to provide readers, personal assistants, sign language interpreters and reasonable accommodation. The FTE pool is used to provide assistance service to help employees with disabilities perform more effectively in the workplace. The assistants are employed nationwide through the centralized fund. The FTE pool currently provides 209 assistants for 414 employees with targeted disabilities.
We also spend approximately $2.5 million annually to provide daily, onsite interpreters at SSA's Headquarters and by request, provides hourly interpreter services at all of the SSA offices. In addition, we use the centralized funding to provide CART services for deaf or hard of hearing employees who are not fluent in American Sign Language.
SSA has an inner component workgroup comprised of representatives from all SSA components which meets monthly to focus on disability issues. The workgroup formulates strategies for developing assistive technologies, develops hardware and software standards, identifies needed resources, provides awareness of accessibility needs and acts as an advocate for employees with disabilities.
Some of the keys to our success include support from the highest levels of the agency, a strong linkage to the agency's strategic plan, we help managers and supervisors understand what's in it for them, we've established an aggressive agency-wide recruitment strategy and marketing campaign. We use all current hiring flexibilities and use an accountability system that everyone understands to track and measure the results of our hiring initiatives.
In closing, I would just like to emphasize SSA takes pride in its workforce and its efforts to promote diversity among its employees. Thank you for this opportunity and I'll be glad to answer any questions.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Mr. Anderson. Ms. Caden.
MS. CADEN: Thank you, Madam Chair, Vice Chair and Commissioners. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to talk about a couple of programs at the VA.
The VR&E, or the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, delivers timely effective vocational rehabilitation services to veterans with service-connected disabilities. These services enable veterans with disabilities to successfully transition from military service to suitable civilian careers.
Traditionally the VR&E program has included some form of skills training or college education and the majority of the VR&E veterans who are going through our program continue to follow this approach. However, a steadily increasing number of VR&E participants are following other paths to employment, and under our new Five Tracks to Employment Program, veterans can follow the track most appropriate for their specific needs.
I'll quickly tell you what the Five Tracks are: Re-employment. This is really ideal for members of the Guard and Reserves who are coming back from serving and want to return to the job they held before being activated. And the assistance we provide includes job accommodations, job modification, advice on re-employment rights, work adjustment services and employer consultation.
The rapid access to employment track is designed for those individuals who already may have the necessary skills to be competitive, but they need job readiness preparation, resume development, how to interview -- because they probably haven't done it for a very long time -- and job accommodations and post-employment follow-up.
We have a track for self-employment, that's for individuals with disabilities who have limited access to traditional employment. They might need flexible work schedules, they need a more accommodating work environment and so we will work with them in the self-employment area.
Employment through long-term service is our traditional track for those who need training or education to then go out and find a job, and there we can work with them on on-the-job training programs, non-paid work experience, apprenticeships, internships, job shadowing, work-study, public-private job partnering and then higher education, if needed.
The last track is independent living services. Those are really for individuals who, because of their disabilities, can't work right now, so we will work with them to enhance as much as possible, their independent living skills with employment always as a final goal.
I wanted to mention one of our success stories as an example, and it was a U.S. Army veteran who was several months into a VR&E-sponsored computer systems training program who then decided he wanted hands-on experience. So we worked with him, with a referral to a non-paid work experience with the Office of Information Technology in Indiana, and seven months later when a full-time position opened there for a help desk technician, he applied and was chosen through a competitive process. But that non-paid work experience plus the training that he'd been able to get - he was able to get the job and he is now a successful, suitably-employed IT specialist.
And the other program I really wanted to talk about today was the Coming Home to Work, or CHTW, and that's a new initiative for us as part of our early outreach effort. And through this initiative, unpaid work experience in a government facility is made available to service members pending medical separation from active duty at military treatment facilities. And we have a special emphasis on veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and some of them have very severe injuries.
Participants work with a VR&E counselor to obtain volunteer or work experience in a government facility that supports their career goals. CHTW provides the civilian job skills, exposure to opportunities, and work experience history that many of them don't have, to the service members facing medical separation from the military and an uncertain future.
The type of work can include administrative, clerical, professional, technical or wage-grade jobs. The government agency incurs no cost, has no obligation to hire the CHTW participant -- of course, we encourage that -- and the government agency, though, has the opportunity to evaluate the veteran prior to consideration for hiring in a temporary or a permanent position.
Under the 30 percent or more disabled veteran and the veteran's recruitment appointment direct hiring authorities, these participants can be hired quickly and noncompetitively. These direct hiring authorities provide value to both the veteran and the hiring manager, and many service members who participated in CHTW while their physical evaluation boards were pending here locally at Walter Reed, have been hired to fill salaried positions within the VA immediately upon their separation from the military. These positions were filled both here in D.C. and at VA offices near where they ultimately wanted to live, near their homes.
We began the program here in Washington at Walter Reed because of the very large population of injured service members from Iraq and Afghanistan receiving medical care at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval. And due to the success, we are expanding it now to six other military treatment facilities around the country.
We worked closely with the Department of Labor and the Department of Defense in this outreach effort. We have partnerships with DOL's REALifelines program, with the CAP program that you'll hear about, with the physical evaluation board liaison officers and with the medical hold companies.
What we don't want to do is aggravate their disabilities. We need to work through as they continue their medical rehabilitation but also get them employment as soon as possible.
Some of the agencies that have shown interest and support in this program include the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, Federal Aviation Administration and Social Security Administration.
And finally, I want to mention that in fiscal year 2005, 342 graduates of the VR&E program were hired by VA and in the first and second quarters of fiscal year 2006, 211 more have been hired. However, it doesn't stop with VA. We've tried to partner with many other government agencies and departments, and in our southern area which includes 12 VA regional offices, well over 400 VR&E graduates were placed into salaried positions in the government in fiscal year 2005. Over 160 of these veterans are now working for DOD, and other government agencies include the U.S. Attorney's Office, Bureau of Public Debt, Center for Disease Control, the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education – basically, almost every department and agency in the federal government has been participating with us.
We think by increasing awareness of the direct hiring authorities while providing disabled veterans with direct exposure to government opportunities, we can significantly increase the employment of disabled veterans in the government sector. Thank you very much.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much. We'll reserve the questions until we hear from our two remaining panel members. Ms. Cohen, and welcome as not only as Director of the CAP, but as a freshly-minted recipient of the Freedom to Compete award.
MS. COHEN: Thank you, Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioners. It's a true honor and pleasure to be here again to be part of today's very special activity.
I am the Director of the Computer Electronic Accommodations Program, better known as CAP, and it has always been CAP's goal to help level the playing field for people with disabilities by removing the barriers and the challenges of accommodating employees with disabilities.
We were established in 1990 as a centrally funded program in the Department of Defense to provide the assistive technology and accommodation services for DOD. Based on our success, we were expanded to serve as a federal government centrally-funded program to buy and pay for accommodations, truly leveling the playing field for our people of dexterity, hearing, vision and cognitive disabilities.
We currently have partnerships in 64 federal agencies, including the VA, not the SSA, because they already do such a fine job, there is no need to duplicate efforts, but to focus on the agencies that don't have a centrally-funded managed program.
To me, it's really the key ingredient to a good disability management program, because to me, you have to not only think about bringing them in, but to promote them, to accommodate them, to retain them, and to be prepared for the things that may happen to any of our employees who come into the federal government.
A couple of our key elements of success will be the number of accommodations we have filled. We have just filled our 50,000th accommodation as the cover story of our Captions for the summer issue. The person was a GSA employee, and he was so excited when he heard that GSA became a partner with CAP because he felt for the first time he will be getting his accommodations.
Since he received his accommodations from CAP, he's been promoted as a contract specialist, he's gone back to get his master's and he's also got a Seeing Eye dog. I'm not sure we can really take credit for the Seeing Eye dog and CAP's role, but he's felt that he has truly become extremely independent.
I think one of the other key elements to success of any good disability management program is for people to know how easy it is to get the accommodations and use the accommodations. We have what is known as a CAP Technology Evaluation Center. I had the honor of having Madam Chair visit it, and it really shows how easy it is for a person who does not have vision, does not have hands, cannot hear, can work in today's competitive information environment. When you see the tools, it truly makes the doors open. To me, the way I would call CAP Tech, it totally demystifies how a person with a disability can be employed in today's information environment. We have many high-level guests coming to CAP Tech, including our Honorable Vice Chair, our Honorable Chair, but also the President of the United States. He made a visit, in fact, it was his very first visit to the Pentagon, was to visit CAP and CAP Tech. That was his first time, and that was June 19th, 2001. The second time the President came to the Pentagon, September 12th, 2001, very different day, very different reason.
We then started to put a new emphasis on our emphasis on retention. We immediately went into full gear to try to accommodate our Pentagon survivors. Louise Kurtz came into CAP Tech one day. She came in very disgruntled. She said, "There's no way I can come back to work. The rehab professionals told me that now, without my hands, because I was so badly burned, the best I can do is stick a pen, put tape around it and hit the keyboard."
We said, "Come over here, let's show you what you can do." And we showed her voice recognition where she could actually talk to the computer. She said, "I can do this and use this for emails?" We said, "Sure you can." She gets a little excited. Then we show her how she could use this to do Word documents. She gets even more excited.
Then she goes, "Well, can you use this to do the Web?" And we go, "Sure. Where did you work?" And she goes, "Army." We go, "www.army.mil." It comes right up. Of course, it was 508 compliant.
MS. COHEN: So then we said, "Where in the Army?" She tells us where, and we went, "Well, use our voice and went straight to the Army." She gets even more excited. Then she turns to and gets a little bit depressed, and she said, "Well, that's fine, but I'm an accountant, I can't use my hands anymore. Does this work with spreadsheets?" We go, "Sure it does." We show her how to do the spreadsheets. She turns to her husband she goes, “Mike, you don't have to do the checkbook anymore. I can do it again, and thank God, because you made such a mess out of the checkbook."
MS. COHEN: You could see her physically be five inches taller by the time she left. She saw herself being a productive employee again.
It's wonderful to bring people in with disabilities because that's what I'm passionate about, but we have to be equally as passionate about what we're doing to promote people with disabilities and retain them, because we will all get older, God willing, because look at the option, and we will all probably develop disabling conditions if we get old enough. So to have a strong program that not only brings them in, but focus, as we talked today so many times about promoting. It's not good enough to bring them in and let them stay at the 5 or 7 level, but make sure they move ahead and that's what we see ourselves dealing with employment life cycle. Employment, recruitment, retention, promotion, making sure the accommodations are there as they change, as they go through their employment life cycle to make sure that their accommodations will be there as they may become more severely disabled or develop new disabling conditions.
I know that when I started working in the federal government as a person with a disability, I did not need to wear these little glasses to magnify print. I know that as I get older I will need things. I know I've lost some of my hearing, and I may need to have more accommodations. We will need new accommodations. We need to understand how to accommodate.
I think at a minimum, having that expertise so we take that issue away from that line manager. We talk so much about competing features and problems for that manager. Well, I'll tell you, people with disabilities are not only people with disabling conditions, but they're women and men. They're minorities. They come from different populations, so if you want to get your triple points, hire a disabled woman that's from a minority population. We're part of that population. You go to a disability conference and you'll see us there representing all sorts of venues.
We have a new population, our wounded service members. I work closely with our treatment facilities to make sure they're being accommodated as soon as they get in there and to be exposed to assistive technology because why would an able-bodied Marine know about a technology, assistive technology? Only now that he has no hands, and can no longer see, does he need to know about it.
So our challenge here today is not only to talk about increasing employment of people with disability, which it has to be addressed, and I thank this forum for doing that, but to talk about how we can do more for not only to bring them in, but to make sure they're going to have those opportunities to get ahead. Not only to get ahead, but to stay on board as they develop other disabilities and other conditions.
So I invite all of us to continue working together, not to only bring on our young people with disabilities, but to help promote them, and to retain our people who are becoming older, and to support the employment of my soldiers, my sailors, my airmen and my marines. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Ms. Cohen. Your passion is inspiring. And now we'll hear, certainly last but not by any stretch of the imagination least, our terrific partner in all of our efforts to advance the employment of people with disabilities, Joyce Bender.
MS. BENDER: Thank you very much. "Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down." How many times have we heard that quote repeated over and over? And I know you all know that was President George Bush at the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Do you know what the operative word is there? "Finally." Finally, finally has not happened. We have in this country today only 35 percent of Americans with significant disabilities who want to work actually working. It is a national tragedy. That is why, Madam Chair, Vice Chair and Commissioners, and Commissioner Griffin, I must specifically commend you for not just talking about it, but doing something about this.
I can't begin to tell you how honored I am to speak before all of you. I am so honored, because as a young adult growing up in the 1960s, I have always been about civil rights, civil rights for all Americans, and here I am with the federal agency, that that is what you're all about -- freedom for all Americans! That includes Americans with significant disabilities.
And you know what I'm hoping as I heard all these testimonies today? That some day we'll look back upon this day as a historic day where this Commission didn't just talk about it, but did something to create change and accountability. That's what I'm hoping.
I am the CEO of Bender Consulting Services and the host of the internet talk radio show, "Disability Matters with Joyce Bender." I am also a woman with epilepsy and a hearing loss. It is a seizure that changed my life. I had an accident over 21 years ago due to a mis-diagnosis. I didn't know I had epilepsy and I had a tonic-clonic seizure while standing at a movie theater at the concession stand, fractured my skull, had an inter-cranial brain hemorrhage, ended up having brain surgery, and that is really what changed my life and can change, by the way, anyone's life at any point in time.
I now was a person with disabilities, but you know, my area of expertise was employment. I worked in executive search. I worked with all the hiring managers across the United States, and I started thinking, wait a minute, wait a minute, people with disabilities, they can do these jobs. They can work in information technology. They can work in finance and accounting. It doesn't matter that they're in a wheelchair, blind, or deaf, or have epilepsy, but that's when I found out about that wall you ask about. It is attitudinal; let me tell you, it is an attitudinal wall where they look at people with disabilities as being inferior to do the job. So I decided I would do something about it, I started Bender Consulting Services, a for-profit company. No charity, no pity, we don't need pity, we need paychecks.
I started Bender Consulting Services to focus on the competitive employment of Americans with significant disabilities in IT, finance, accounting and human resources, and I started in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with Highmark Blue Cross-Blue Shield. And when I started this company, my idea was, okay, I'll hire the person. I'll pay 100 percent of the healthcare coverage -- we're not a temp firm -- 100 percent with no contribution by you. I'll hire you, I'll put you on my contract, I'll pay your salary and benefits, I'll put you at one of these companies to work on a six-month contract. And at the end of that contract, if you have performed well -- only if -- you will be hired by the partner company.
And I'm proud to tell you in 11 years we have a 90 percent success rate of our employees transitioning to the partner company, because you know who really is the heroes in my company are the employees. That is who sells the program because they are such tremendous workers.
And do you know what everyone would say to me, because it's hard? When I received the President's award at the White House from President Clinton, before I received the New Freedom Initiative Award from the Bush Administration, I only had a handful of employees, and still they thought this was amazing because it was competitive employment.
And do you know what everyone in the private sector would tell me? "Oh. You need to go to the federal government. If you go to the federal government it will be so much easier. Oh. Joyce, you won't have this hard time. You'll be able to get hundreds of people hired -- hundreds."
So, in 1999 I started going to the federal agencies, and I went to many of them, and do you know what everyone would say to me? "Joyce, it's so wonderful what you do." Because I have a database of over 5,000 employees with significant disabilities, your targeted population, ready to work. "Oh, this is fantastic, but we don't know how to work with you. We don't know how to get a contract. We don't know how to work through procurement. We don't know how to do this."
Now, I'm telling you, I went to so many meetings over a three-year time period that guess what happened? I gave up. I said, it will never happen. And then this one government agency called me on their own, called the National Security Agency, and they came to Pittsburgh to meet me, because they had heard about what we do. And guess what? Two years ago they worked out a contract. I guess somehow they know how to do this contract that no one else knows how to do. And do you know what they're doing? Let me tell you what they’re doing… they're hiring the best and brightest college students with significant disabilities in computer engineering, in mathematics, in linguistic to do, guess what? Protect our country. That is the paradigm shift right there. They're not just hiring people; they're hiring them to protect our country. It doesn't get better than that. It doesn't get better than that. And when former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburg complimented my company in this formal speech he said -- because as you probably know, he too is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania -- he said, "If the NSA can do it, what the heck is your excuse?” That's my question.
I want to end by telling you I have in my office something I treasure so much, a shadow box that I purchased at Dredda with the ADA and pictures from the ADA and guess who put it together? Evan Kemp's wife, and his notes are in there, your former Chairman said, "On that sunny day more than 3,000 people cheered, wept and hugged each other as they witnessed the signing of the Act that guaranteed -- guaranteed -- that they were at last citizens with equal rights in a country where their government wanted them to have the opportunity to participate in and contribute to all aspects of public life."
I ask you on behalf of all Americans with disabilities to help us change this today. Thank you.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much, Ms. Bender. We're going to have to invite the National Security Agency at our subsequent session so that we can share the best practices across. Madam Vice Chair.
VICE CHAIR EARP: I don't know Madam Chair, I feel like, especially after Ms. Cohen's comments, that I should be giving a Marine Corps. Hoo Ha! It is inspiring. I think that the Chair is absolutely right, and it's encouraging, because if all we heard today were the speakers this morning, I think that we would all leave here pretty dejected, thinking that we didn't have an opportunity to make things change and that no one out there was making a change.
So I don't really have questions. I think, though, that I'll probably be speaking to Social Security Administration off line to talk a little bit more in detail about your success indicators from an operational standpoint. I just want to thank you, each of you, for your commitment and look forward to working with you further.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Madam Vice Chair. Commissioner Silverman.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Mr. Anderson, you talked quite a bit in your testimony, in your written testimony, about SSA's great track record with both hiring, recruitment and providing reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities. This morning we also talked about advancement issues, and I suspect that SSA is also a leader there, and I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about what you do on that end of the shop.
MR. ANDERSON: Let me respond first by qualifying the great job we're doing. We are proactive, we're proud of what we're doing, but we know we have a long way to go. But we do focus on two things: recruitment and retention. And the retention part if very important in terms of making sure we have an inclusive environment and people are able to advance, so we do track. We call it the pipeline. You look at how employees are situated in grades 12, 13, 14, 15 and the SES and we do look specifically for all of the groups.
We're not doing as well as we would like with employees with disabilities in the higher grades, but we do have representation there. We need to improve upon that, so we are making sure that, for example, with our developmental programs that we have clearly communicated to all of our employees about the opportunities to advance and to market in a way that everybody feels inclusive, or included in the announcements.
We had a specific task force that we brought together of employees with disabilities to talk about the low number of employees who were applying for the developmental programs because that's a vehicle to move people up quickly and learned that people wanted to apply but didn't feel like the agency would invest our resources. We made sure in our next opportunity for announcing those opportunities that we marketed it differently; made sure everybody was aware that we wanted to include them, and we were very pleased with a lot of folks who then applied for those developmental opportunities and were able to be selected and to go on and improve.
So we're very conscious, we watch that very closely because we know if you're recruiting and people cannot advance, then that word will get out and you will suffer, so we do pay close attention to that.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Thank you. Ms. Cohen, you mentioned 64 federal agencies partnered with CAP. I understand why maybe SSA isn't a partner, but I'm wondering why aren't there more -- are there special things that agencies have to do to partner with you?
MS. COHEN: We make it so non-bureaucratic. It's a simple interagency agreement but we always do try to keep our -- because we do have limited resources to do it with agencies who don't have already established program. So the agencies we have, the 64, pretty much includes all the cabinet except for HUD and Education because they do have existing programs and there's no need to duplicate efforts or energies, and then really trying to address the smaller agencies we started off working with the Small Agency Council because it wasn't cost-effective for them to establish a technology center and centrally fund it. So we really tried to target the agencies that really were having challenges providing accommodations. The Interagency Agreement is so simple. It's on the website. Download it; sign up. That's how simple it is. We may have some new partners. Who knows?
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: Well, maybe we'll get some on it today. I had the pleasure of speaking at an event that Ms. Bender spoke at in Boston, also my hometown, although it's not as obvious, in the years here.
COMMISSIONER SILVERMAN: And I remembered everything you said. You're a fantastic speaker, an incredible advocate. In fact, I just got a note from my assistant saying that you are my advocacy firm, all you need to do is contract with OPM. I don't know if we can solve the problem that easily, but this may be a little elementary for this audience who - obviously many people are here because they do work in disability issues. But you talked about, I think it's your 10 reasons why somebody should hire somebody with a disability and I was wondering if you could just do that for this group.
MS. BENDER: Okay. Well, I don't know what speech specifically that was, but I'm going to go through what I think are the key points I always review with everyone.
Number 1, when you hire a person with a disability, you are hiring someone who is disadvantaged, so when you give them the opportunity for employment, guess what? You don't have to worry as much about retention. I have employees who have worked for me for over ten years and the only day they missed, of course, was vacation or a holiday -- no sick days. This is because when you're disadvantaged, if someone gives you a chance to work, you are so appreciative of that chance.
The other thing I talked about that day was the issue of stress. You know, a lot of times companies will say to me, you know, "We need people that can deal with stress. This is a very stressful environment, I mean; can we hire these people with disabilities?" I remember them saying that to me when one of my employees had just gone through the windshield of her car, you know, was in a wheelchair, the other woman has MS. I myself, after having brain surgery could not drive a car for one year. Guess what, folks? We already know how to deal with stress, we already live with stress, like when we get a job and you think stress is dealing with e-mail, it's like, you've got to be kidding, you know. We've dealt with more of this through our whole life.
The other thing is thinking outside the box. When you're a person with a disability, every day of your life you have to think outside the box, how to communicate, how to get somewhere. Do they really have access? Do they know access… or getting into a building is not one step? Do they understand that? Which is, of course, an important reason because these are some of the key skills from my background and executive search that employers look for.
Another one, of course, is diversity. If you want a truly diverse environment, as Dinah said, you must include people with disabilities because diversity does not discriminate. You know, 45 percent of my employees are minorities and minorities have been left out once again from the hiring process, they have, you know when I hear people say, “Oh, it’s so hard for me to find someone who is a minority for this position.” I say, that's a corporate lie, because I have many employees with minorities who have disabilities, not hard to find. And, you know, I have to tell you, the one thing that has really changed me so much is my employees have an impact on the productivity of the other employees.
Several of the companies have called me and said, "You won't believe this. Our productivity has gone up with the non-disabled employees by having your employees work with them." Because they're there every day and they're doing the job every day, when people are whining and complaining -- I'm sure maybe you know one or two of those people that whine and complain about stupid things -- but people with disabilities want to work and do the job.
You've got to get over looking at the disability. You've got to look at the ability of the person. I will tell you, you know who sells this program? My employees, and they are working in competitive areas every day succeeding at the highest level every day.
I just want to mention I had one employee went to work, the wheelchair broke, and instead of calling off work, he called the Pittsburgh Police to call an ambulance and went back to work on a stretcher because he did not want to miss work. This had such an impact on the CEO because he said, "Wow! We're used to people leaving here on a stretcher, but we've never seen them come in." (Laughter)
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: That's a tough one to follow. Madam Chair, I'd be remiss if I didn't recognize my friend, Ollie Cantos, from the White House. I first met Ollie when he was at the Department of Justice. I think the President's chosen well having Ollie on his staff working on these issues.
And also my old friend, Yoshiko Dart, who she and her late husband, Justin, were leaders in the disability rights movement -- Yoshiko still is. And I remember on stage that day with President Bush when the ADA was signed, it was Justin Dart and Chairman Kemp, and I think that eloquently stated the importance of this important law.
I have questions for each member of the panel. A single question, I think, each, but let me just run down the line. Mr. Anderson, at the SSA from what you've said it sounded like the reports that go to the Commissioner and the top management of the agency are numerical reports that come in on a regular basis and that those are reviewed and studied to see how well the agency is doing. Is that right?
MR. ANDERSON: That's correct. Both for our hires on a monthly basis and also a report that shows the pipeline, grades 12, 13, 14, 15 and SES where groups are situated.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I see. Does it also matter at the SSA that a fair number of the customer base of the agency are people with disabilities?
MR. ANDERSON: Absolutely. Our mission is very important and that's why we have a strategic link and a sensitivity to this whole issue. We've been dealing with diversity and advocates before diversity was cool, so we've been at it a long time and it does go to the core of our mission.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Great. Thank you. Ms. Caden, at the VA, the Coming Home to Work Program, does the VA pay the salary for the person while they're in this training or does the person work as a volunteer to get this experience?
MS. CADEN: Well, while they're still in the military, they're still getting their military pay.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Military pay. Okay.
MS. CADEN: What we do is help them get that unpaid work experience in the civilian government.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So when they're getting that work experience, are they generally still members of the military drawing military pay?
MS. CADEN: They are generally still members. It's while they're in their military hold capacity, and instead of sitting around doing nothing, they have a chance to work.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I see. So that's a great way to capitalize on --
MS. CADEN: It is, and for many of them they turn that into a permanent position or they may come into the formal VR&E Program and at that point we will pay for their training or help them find another position.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Could you also touch briefly on the interplay between veterans’ preference in government hiring and the role your office plays?
MS. CADEN: Well, what we do is we try to make sure that everyone is aware of the veterans preference of the laws, of the rules that are out there because we find that when we go out to talk to different federal agencies, they don't seem to be aware of it. And so we try to promote that as much as possible.
We've done also broadcasts to our own employees, to the counselors that work with the veterans who are in the program, and with our partners at Department of Labor to make sure that we're also aware and that when we're working with a veteran, if they're looking for government employment, that they know that's a tool for them to use.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Great, Thank you. Ms. Cohen, your program has centralized the reasonable accommodation process for these various agencies. Is this available to applicants as well, before they get hired, to use it as a selling point when they go in for an interview saying, "I need such and such, and I've already talked to the people at CAP"?
MS. COHEN: There's a couple of ways we address that. Like SSA, we have on our Web a process, we call it Ebay for disability, where you can actually go through our website and actually talk about your disability and it will drive you to accommodation solutions. Whether you're with the federal government or not, you can enter as a guest, you find out your accommodation solution. You can take that information to your agency as an applicant and go, "I'm going to be coming in for an interview. This is the information I need, this is the accommodation I need and I understand that CAP will be there to provide the accommodations."
So it kind of starts very early on as a way to help identify the accommodations for that applicant. We also work with HR and selected placement coordinators, program offices, say, make sure your personnel office is accessible. We will buy and pay for another TTY or closed circuit TV to have in your personnel office, to have in your areas, so when they come in it will feel like, "I belong here; they're going to take care of me."
So we want a first line to be as open and as accessible as possible, so we'll buy not only for the employee, but to also increase public access for our applicants and for our general public with disabilities.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Great, thank you very much. Ms. Bender, about the NSA Program. It sounds like a great success that NSA came forward, figured out how to do the contract and work for it, but why wouldn't NSA just hire directly? Why would they not do it that way?
MS. BENDER: Well, the NSA is doing it that way. They worked out a new contract where they're paying me ahead of time and that's how they're bringing the people on.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: So they're using you more or less as a facilitator to find good people for them?
MS. BENDER: Find people, recruit people, go through the whole process and then work with them to have someone onsite to, you know, to work with the people. A Bender person onsite.
But for right now what they're doing is, they're doing it that way and the reason is that they wanted to work with someone that could bring aboard a large number of people with significant disabilities and it has been absolutely exciting.
Now, with other companies across the United States, sometimes people have preferred to work with the program the way it is because I'm the one hiring the person first. So actually, I'm the one taking the risk; they're my employee.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Right.
MS. BENDER: You mentioned something earlier I just wanted to comment on. When you were asking someone some questions, why? Why aren't these people being brought on? One other reason is that people seem to forget all the data. You know, we talk about this 35 percent; only 35 percent of people who want to work are working. So when I meet people with disabilities, they sometimes have not one, but two master's degrees, they have a work internship; they have everything except one thing: Work experience.
And if you have that high unemployment, of course, when you meet people they’re entry-level, and yet sometimes federal agencies, when they're looking for people, they'll say, "We want people with 5, 10 whatever years of experience." And, you know, what part are you not understanding? There is a huge group of people unemployed.
And you mentioned something about that earlier. I thought that was very insightful of you, so I just wanted to comment on that.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Do you also find, though, that sometimes applicants are in a paradox that they're over-credentialized and they say, "You have too many degrees for this job." Does that every come up?
MS. BENDER: You mean do people ever say -- yes, yes. There are sometimes the person says, "Oh. Now look, now your person has two master's degrees. They're probably going to be overqualified for some of these jobs." But, you know, you just have to keep assuring them, the person wants --
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: A job.
MS. BENDER: -- to work.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Great. Thank you. I thank the panel. It was very helpful. Thank you, Madam Chair.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, Commissioner Ishimaru, and let me also add my welcome to Yoshiko Dart, such a good friend of the Commission and it's wonderful to have you here. I earlier welcomed Ollie Cantos with whom we're working very closely. Commissioner Griffin.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: I really don't have any questions. I just actually had to, like, stop myself from not applauding at the end of some of these, I really did. I think it's just great that we have some examples of models that we can actually look at and build upon and as we go forward, you know, talking about this issue, we have some resources to call upon. So I just want to thank you all.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you. Well, let me just say I don't think it's any accident at all that the agencies that are here today are leading by example, and I recognize that we're not where we want to be, but the fact that you've laid out specific strategies that are tangible, that include accountability, that include leading by example, and I think that's really what we need -- we need leadership by example.
I have met with Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart, I've met with Secretary Nicholson from Veterans Affairs, I've met with Dinah and Under Secretary David Chu and a lot of his leadership. I've had lots of interactions with the work that you're doing, Ms. Bender, from a private-sector perspective and now with the federal sector.
I think the fact that you mentioned insurance is very important because what I notice, having had an executive search background myself is that the concern about health insurance and to the extent that we can debunk the myth that employees with disabilities are more costly, when you factor in -- it's been said many times that of $10 trillion economy that we have, $20 billion are lost because of work stoppages, people calling in sick and doing all kinds of productivity lapses.
So I think it's important to continue to reaffirm what you're reaffirming. So I just wanted to again applaud and thank all of you for leading by example. This morning I woke up and there was the President jogging -- jogging -- with a double amputee. That picture, to me, was worth a thousand words. And I think we need to keep that. We need to make sure that we all lead by examples in the work that we do.
So I agree with you Commissioner, I think all of the presenters deserve a round of applause.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much. Before adjourning the meeting, let me take the opportunity to explain what it is that we plan to do next. I have asked Commissioner Griffin to build upon the information that we received here today and to lead an initiative that will be charged with coming up with a series of recommendations that will be designed to insure the full and inclusive utilization of people with targeted disabilities in federal employment.
The initiative should dovetail with the President's New Freedom Initiative and the President's Management Agenda which calls for human capital strategies of opportunity and inclusion. We've talked about that today.
Hopefully that will help us take full advantage of the talents and the skills and the abilities of people with disabilities and will continue to take into consideration the kinds of input that we have received here today from stakeholders and individuals with disabilities and our federal agency partners. And so we look forward to those recommendations.
Let me finally add that we will be posting on the EEOC website, eeoc.gov, the meeting transcripts which the statements will be made part of that posting and it will be posted later on today, so that's very important. All of the very valuable information that's been shared with all of us today, and there is a sizable overflow, so all of you on the 10th and the 8th and the 4th floor; you're very much a part of this effort.
Before adjourning, would you like to say a few final words, Commissioner Griffin?
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: I just wanted to say I’d be honored to spearhead the initiative. We actually have thought up a perfect name for it, and the kudos go to Steve Zanowic on my staff, for naming this initiative LEAD, which stands for Leadership for the Employment of Americans with Disabilities. So there's Steve in the back. Stand up and take a bow.
COMMISSIONER GRIFFIN: Anyway, I look forward to reporting back to all of you, working with all of you, and coming up with recommendations that truly will improve the hiring, retention and promotion of people with disabilities in the federal government, so thank you all very much.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Yes, thank you all very much for all of your valuable input, and there being no further business, do I hear a motion to adjourn the meeting?
VICE CHAIR EARP: So moved.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Is there a second?
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Second.
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: All in favor?
(CHORUS OF AYES)
CHAIR DOMINGUEZ: Opposed? The ayes have it. The meeting is adjourned.
(Whereupon, at 12:28 p.m., foregoing meeting was adjourned)
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