Issue Briefs

Following is the executive summary of a report from the National Council on Disability, a federal entity, on the employment of those with disabilities by the federal government.


The purpose of this paper is to examine the status of employment of people with disabilities in the Federal Government and to make recommendations for improving federal hiring and advancement of employees with disabilities. The paper summarizes the legal authorities and policy guidance, the responsibilities of various federal agencies charged with ensuring equal opportunity in federal employment, barriers to hiring and advancement, provisions for reasonable accommodations, and agency initiatives.

The National Council on Disability has determined that despite laws, regulations, policy guidance, and excepted service hiring authorities designed to promote federal employment opportunities for people with disabilities, barriers to federal employment remain, and the number of employees with disabilities in the federal workforce is low.

Summary of the Status of People with Disabilities in the Federal Government

Total workforce. The Federal Government employed 23,969 people with targeted disabilities in Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, which was 0.92 percent of its total workforce of 2,608,172. From FY 1998 to FY 2007, the total workforce increased by 128,973 employees, a net change of 5.20 percent. However, the number of federal employees with targeted disabilitiesD decreased from 28,035 in FY 1998 to 23,993 in FY 2007, a net loss of 14.42 percent.

Agencies employing people with disabilities. Among agencies with 500 or more employees, those with the highest percentage of people with targeted disabilities are Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (2.65 percent, or 58 employees); Social Security Administration (2.06 percent, or 1,288 employees); Defense Finance and Accounting Service (2.03 percent, or 253 employees); and Defense Logistics Agency (1.89 percent, or 404 employees).D D Among Cabinet-level agencies, five have participation rates greater than 1 percent: Treasury (1.70 percent, or 1,748 employees); Veterans Affairs (1.48 percent, or 3,756 employees); Education (1.36 percent, or 59 employees); Housing and Urban Development (1.31 percent, or 126 employees); and Labor (1.25 percent, or 193 employees).D


Separation rate. Increasing the number of employees with disabilities in the Federal Government is made more difficult by the fact that employees with targeted disabilities leave the Federal Government at nearly twice their rate of hire. In FY 2006, there were 1,298 new hires with targeted disabilities, while 2,096 employees with targeted disabilities left the Federal Government. In other words, employees with targeted disabilities accounted for 0.55 percent of total new hires but 0.92 percent of separations.D Therefore, to increase the overall participation rate, it is necessary to hire at a rate that exceeds the separation rate and to find ways to reduce the separation rate.

Supervisors. In FY 2007, employees with targeted disabilities made up 0.49 percent of the 50,038 first-level managers (GS-12 level or below); 0.49 percent of the 65,792 mid-level managers (GS-13 or GS-14); and 0.43 percent of the 38,837 senior-level managers (GS-15 or Senior Executive Service).D

Senior Executive Service. The Senior Executive Service (SES) is a separate personnel system covering a majority of the top managerial, supervisory, and policymaking positions in the executive branch. In FY 2007, the SES had 7,720 members; only 35 (0.45 percent) were people with targeted disabilities.D D Government-wide, the representation of career SES members reporting targeted disabilities declined from 0.52 percent in FY 2000 to 0.44 percent in FY 2007.D

Schedule A is a hiring authority that allows for noncompetitive appointment of people with targeted disabilities; it is designed to remove barriers and increase employment opportunities. However, the Schedule A hiring authority for people with disabilities is underutilized. In FY 2006, 237,612 new employees were hired by the Federal Government, but only 326 (0.14 percent) of the 1,298 new hires with disabilities were hired under Schedule A.D

Top management commitment. Lack of top management commitment to hiring people with disabilities is evident. In FY 2005, only 15.8 percent of the agencies with 1,000 or more employees established a numerical goal for increasing the employment of people with targeted disabilities, even though these goals are required by EEOC Management Directive 715.D

Harassment. Since FY 2002, harassment has been the most frequently alleged issue in complaints of discrimination filed by employees on the basis of mental or physical disability. In FY 2006, harassment accounted for 38.1 percent of the 1,130 complaints based on mental disability and 30.5 percent of the 3,843 complaints based on physical disability. Other frequently alleged complaints involved reasonable accommodation or discipline issues.D

Opportunities. Recognition of continuing barriers to federal employment has led to some promising solutions that create opportunities for agencies seeking qualified workers and for persons with disabilities seeking employment with the Federal Government.


The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Partnership for Public Service estimate that about 550,000 federal employees will leave the government in the next five years, the majority through retirement. OPM has estimated that of the 956,613 employees who are eligible to retire through FY 2016, a predicted 586,339 employees (61.3 percent) will retire during that period.D These retirements will create a significant number of job opportunities.

A survey of senior executive officers conducted in 2008 confirmed OPM projections of high turnover among the senior ranks in the near future: 41.6 percent of career respondents plan to leave in the next three years, and 62 percent plan to do so in the next five years. A majority (66 percent) of those planning to leave in the next year are under age 60.  The need to replenish the senior ranks provides an opportunity for advancement and calls for new approaches to attract employees with the requisite skills to fill these vacancies.

The Partnership for Public Service issued a report summarizing the Federal Government’s most critical hiring needs through September 2009 by agency, occupation, and skills.D This report provides applicants with disabilities information on where job opportunities are, which agencies proactively recruit people with disabilities, and which agencies rate highly as best places to work. By 2009, federal agencies project hiring nearly 193,000 new workers for mission-critical jobs.

Call to Serve, a joint initiative between the Partnership for Public Service and the OPM, is dedicated to helping students learn more about internships and careers in the Federal Government. Participating agencies facilitate recruitment and retention of younger members of the federal workforce and communicate with the campus coordinators in the network to provide guidance on how students can find information about and pursue jobs in federal service. 


On the basis of the current status of people with disabilities in the Federal Government, 10 recommendations were developed. Five recommendations address the need for the Office of Personnel Management to examine personnel practices that continue to be barriers to hiring and advancing qualified people with disabilities. Four recommendations call on Congress to request the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct studies on Schedule A, supervisor practices, and the veterans’ preference system; and to expand the authority of the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program. One recommendation is for job seekers, encouraging people with disabilities to take advantage of the information available on opportunities in the Federal Government. These recommendations will address current barriers and promote opportunities for federal employment.


Recommendations for the Office of Personnel Management

1. Reduce the two-year probationary period for employees with disabilities under Schedule A to one year. With the exception of the Federal Career Intern Program (which requires a two-year training period) and the Veterans Recruitment Appointment excepted service authority (which requires a two-year probationary period), new hires in the Federal Government are subject to a one-year probationary period. Reducing the two-year probationary period required for people with disabilities who are hired under Schedule A to one year will bring Schedule A hires into parity with other new hires.

2. Require the Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program to include data on employees with disabilities. OPM has the responsibility to report annually to Congress on progress under the Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program. The report is prepared in compliance with the law and contains information on the representation of minorities within the Federal Government and best practices of federal agencies; however, it does not include data on employees with disabilities. The reporting requirements for employees with disabilities should be on par with other represented groups.

3. Establish mandatory training on targeted disabilities for all supervisors within Federal Government agencies. The training should be overseen and delivered by the agency’s senior training cadre who are full-time federal employees. There are several resources that can help supervisors and hiring managers recruit and hire applicants with disabilities, lessening one of the barriers to employment.

4. Conduct a marketing campaign to encourage applicants with disabilities. The marketing campaign should be aimed at erasing any negative perceptions of being a federal employee with a disability and accentuate the positive aspects of federal employment. This marketing approach is particularly important given the impending retirement of a large percentage of the federal workforce in the near future and the need to fill these vacancies.


5. Conduct a study of best practices in the Federal Government and develop a model program for hiring, retaining, and advancing people with disabilities. A few agencies, with visible commitment from top leadership, have developed innovative practices to encourage hiring, retaining, and advancing people with disabilities. However, information on these practices is not readily available on agency Web sites and therefore is not widely known. There is a need to identify and promote successful practices for conducting effective outreach, hiring qualified candidates, establishing efficient programs for providing accommodations, and providing opportunities for promotion, including advancement to the Senior Executive Service. A study of best practices would recognize innovative agency practices, use those practices to develop a model program, and encourage other agencies to adopt those practices. This study could be based on the study of best practices in state governments conducted by EEOC.D

Recommendations for Congress

6. Request that the Government Accountability Office examine Schedule A employment for people with disabilities. EEOC has determined that the Schedule A hiring authority for people with disabilities is underutilized. A comprehensive study of the Schedule A hiring authority for people with disabilities would determine why agencies are not using this authority so the requisite training and initiatives could be instituted to increase its use.

7. Request that the Government Accountability Office conduct a survey of federal supervisors. It has been eight years since the President’s Task Force conducted the study of federal agency supervisors and managers about accommodation and employment of persons with disabilities in the federal sector. Since supervisors have a responsibility to protect the rights of employees with disabilities, it is important to determine whether they have the necessary knowledge to carry out that responsibility and to determine where further training is needed. Conducting the survey again will document progress and identify areas that need improvement.

8. Request that the Government Accountability Office study the effectiveness of the preference system for veterans with disabilities. This study should investigate the avenues for recourse if the veteran is not awarded the preference. It may be useful to determine whether this system has significantly reduced barriers to employment for veterans with disabilities and to identify best practices that can be translated to Schedule A appointments of employees with disabilities.

9. Grant the Department of Defense Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) the authority to include accommodations such as job structuring, telecommuting, and job-sharing. While electronic accommodations make federal employment accessible for employees with disabilities, an entire package of accommodations should be available to employees whose agencies have CAP partnerships. CAP has done an excellent job of providing assistive technology to federal employees and would be a logical place to house the expertise needed to provide support to supervisors who may not be familiar with job structuring, telecommuting, and job-sharing arrangements.


Recommendation for Job Seekers

10. Investigate employment opportunities in agencies with critical hiring needs and agencies that have shown a commitment to hiring people with disabilities. For example, almost 80 percent of projected new hires will be in five professional fields: security, protection, compliance and enforcement; medical and public health; accounting, budget, and business; engineering and sciences; and program management/analysis and administration. Among agencies with 500 or more employees, those with the highest percentage of people with targeted disabilities in FY 2007 were Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2.65 percent of a workforce of 2,192); Social Security Administration (2.06 percent of a workforce of 62,407); Defense Finance and Accounting Service (2.03 percent of a workforce of 12,449); Defense Logistics Agency (1.89 percent of a workforce of 21,394); and Department of the Treasury (1.70 percent of a workforce of 102,787).