Congressional Research Service. (2022). Federal Hiring of Persons with Disabilities
Summary – Federal Hiring of Persons with Disabilities – Summary
Congress and various presidential Administrations have recognized a need to increase and improve federal agencies’ efforts to recruit, hire, and retain persons with disabilities. Impacting the ability to meet this need are the processes to recruit, hire, and retain persons with disabilities, which may differ significantly from those for persons without disabilities.
More broadly, Congress and recent presidential Administrations have also expressed an interest in increasing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in the federal civil service. Efforts to increase federal employment of persons with disabilities may be viewed as aligning with these broader DEIA goals. In 2021, President Joe Biden issued Executive Order 14035, which emphasized his Administration’s focus on increasing DEIA in the federal workforce.
Under federal law, an individual with a disability is a person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record of such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. Targeted disabilities are a subgroup of statutorily defined disabilities, which include developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, deafness or significant hearing difficulties, blindness, missing extremities, significant mobility impairment, paralysis, epilepsy or other seizure disorders, intellectual disabilities, significant psychiatric disorders, dwarfism, or significant disfigurement. The federal government collects information about federal employee and federal employee applicant disabilities using the SF-256 Self Identification of Disability Form.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has established guidance and recruitment strategies to increase federal agencies’ hiring of persons with disabilities, which are accessible via OPM’s website. For example, the OPM website contains information pertaining to resources such as the Chief Human Capital Officers’ Shared List of People with Disabilities, Selective Placement Program Coordinators, and specific strategies for recruiting students with disabilities.
In some cases, federal agencies may use excepted service appointment authorities as an alternative to the competitive hiring process. Excepted appointment authorities referred to as Schedule A may streamline the hiring process for persons with disabilities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has established guidance for federal agencies on the use of Schedule A to hire persons with disabilities.
Despite efforts to increase recruitment and hiring of persons with disabilities, retention of employees with disabilities is significantly lower than that of employees without disabilities. According to OPM, employees with disabilities leave the federal government at about three times the rate of those without disabilities. OPM outlines a number of strategies to improve retention of employees with disabilities, such as providing workplace flexibilities and reasonable accommodations.
On January 3, 2017, the EEOC released a final rule to amend regulations related to Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112). Among other items, this rule sets the following goals for federal agencies: (1) a 12% representation rate for persons with disabilities and (2) a 2% representation rate for persons with targeted disabilities. In practice, these benchmarks are also used as hiring goals. In October 2003, the EEOC issued Management Directive 715 (MD-715), which requires federal agencies to assess their own efforts in establishing and maintaining continuous programs of equal employment opportunity and to submit an annual report to the EEOC that demonstrates these efforts and identifies areas for improvement. According to the EEOC, for FY2014-FY2018, the 12% federal sector hiring goal for persons with disabilities was exceeded in FY2014 and FY2015 but not in the following three years (FY2016-FY2018). The 2% hiring goal of persons with targeted disabilities was reached only in FY2018. In addition, those with disabilities and targeted disabilities were more likely to voluntarily or involuntarily separate from federal employment than were persons with no disability from FY2014 to FY2018.
Congress may wish to consider topics related to the recruitment, hiring, and retention of persons with disabilities and persons with targeted disabilities in federal agencies that may present opportunities for congressional oversight and legislative action, including (1) the availability and quality of disability employment data, (2) the EEOC’s final rule on affirmative action for persons with disabilities and persons with targeted disabilities in federal employment, and (3) federal agencies’ retention rates for employees with disabilities. R47316 November 28, 2022 Taylor N. Riccard Analyst in Government Organization and Management Kathleen E. Marchsteiner Senior Research Librarian