Agencies need more information to retain new employees with disabilities

The federal government has done better than expected in hiring employees with disabilities over the last decade, but understanding how to keep those employees in federal positions has fallen short, according to a June 11 Government Accountability Office report.

The percentage of new hires with disabilities across the government increased steadily over the time that GAO examined, with 11.3 percent of new hires having disabilities in 2011 and 19.6 percent of new hires having disabilities in 2017.

According to the report, agencies were able to retain employees with disabilities at slightly higher rates than other employees — only 39 percent of employees with disabilities left within a year of hire, whereas 43 percent of new employees without disabilities left within that same time — but the Office of Personnel Management has not adequately tracked why the people that do leave choose to do so.

“To pinpoint the root causes behind these departure rates and to determine where appropriate improvements and potential solutions may be warranted, targeted data collection, tracking and analysis is needed,” the report reads.

“Moreover, the loss of such a substantial percentage of new hires within their first two years of employment provides an opportunity for the federal government to examine why this occurs, identify any lessons learned and better target its retention efforts as appropriate to potentially reduce such early departures. Further, these retention trends have implications related to agencies’ ability to meet and sustain progress toward the federal goals of ensuring that at least 12 percent of their workforce is comprised of employees with disabilities including two percent comprised of employees with targeted disabilities.”

OPM has the ability to track the retention of certain categories of employees, such as their reporting of new-hire retention for veteran employees, but does not currently apply those capabilities to the retention of employees with disabilities.

“Without routinely tracking and analyzing data on how long employees with disabilities remain employed in their agencies, federal managers are limited in their ability to assess the performance and effectiveness of the hiring and retention efforts put in place at their agencies,” the report reads.

GAO recommended that the director of OPM track and publish retention data for employees with disabilities through a centralized web portal. OPM agreed with the recommendation.

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