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White House urges more hiring of people with disabilities

Initiative attempts to strengthen Clinton-era order

Oct. 27, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Office of Personnel Management Deputy Director Christine Griffin
Office of Personnel Management Deputy Director Christine Griffin (Thomas Brown / Staff file photo)

With agencies facing a renewed White House push to hire nearly twice as many employees with disabilities, the Office of Personnel Management is ramping up a campaign to show them how to do that.

A training event last week drew about 285 hiring managers and human resources professionals to OPM's auditorium; the agency hopes to host similar events elsewhere in the county where there are large numbers of federal employees, Deputy Director Christine Griffin said.

"This was really the kickoff," she said. "This is going to be evaluated: what worked; what didn't."

A July executive order issued by President Obama sets a target of adding 100,000 people with disabilities to the federal work force over five years. About 105,000 disabled people are in the work force now.

The order requires OPM in conjunction with the Labor Department, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Management and Budget to come up with model recruitment and hiring strategies. Under the executive order, those plans were supposed to be completed last month, but were held up in the clearance process at OPM and other agencies, Griffin said. They could be out as early as this week.

With the guidance in hand, agencies will have 120 days to come up with their own plans and numerical goals for hiring more disabled people. Each agency will also have to name a senior-level official responsible for meeting those goals.

Obama's initiative attempts to add some teeth to an order issued in 2000 by then-President Clinton.

Two decades after passage of landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, however, disabled people make up little more than 5 percent of the federal work force, according to OPM. That figure does not include the Postal Service, Griffin said. And since the mid-1990s, the federal government has slipped in its efforts to employ people who are blind, paralyzed or have some other "targeted" disability. Employees with targeted disabilities dropped from 1.24 percent of the workforce in 1996 to 0.88 percent by 2008, and the rate was the same last year.

Despite the 100,000 hiring goal first spelled out in Clinton's executive order, she said, "it was clear there wasn't an interest in actually doing it."

The Obama administration's renewed emphasis on the issue was welcomed by Andrew Imparato, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, an advocacy group.

"The bottom line from my perspective is that there's no excuse for the federal government not to be a leader in this," Imparato said in a phone interview.

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