Federal Disability Assistance:

Stronger Federal Oversight Could Help Assure Multiple Programs' Accountability

GAO-07-236: Published: Jan 26, 2007. Publicly Released: Jan 26, 2007.

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Congress has created 20 federal employment-related programs that are aimed at helping people with disabilities obtain jobs. Little is known about the effectiveness and the management of some of these programs. GAO was asked to review four of these programs; the Department of Education (Education) oversees three--Projects with Industry (PWI), Supported Employment State Grants, and Randolph-Sheppard. An independent federal agency, the Committee for Purchase, oversees the fourth, Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD). Specifically, GAO assessed the extent to which (1) performance goals and measures have been established for these programs and (2) the agencies responsible have established adequate oversight procedures. We reviewed program planning and performance information, interviewed agency officials, and visited each of the four programs in four states.

Three of the four programs have federal performance goals. No federal performance goals or measures currently exist for the Randolph-Sheppard program, which provides opportunities for individuals who are blind to operate vending facilities on federal properties. Without goals, it is difficult to assess the program's performance, but Education officials told GAO they are developing them. Education has a goal and a measure for the Supported Employment State Grants program--a federal grant program that provides job coaching and other support to help individuals with severe disabilities secure jobs. The goal indirectly measures the program's performance because grant funds are mixed with other funding sources to provide supported employment services. Education has also developed one goal for the PWI program--a federal grant program that helps individuals with disabilities obtain competitive employment--that is consistent with the mission of the program. The goal is to create and expand job opportunities for individuals with disabilities in the competitive labor market by engaging business and industry, and one of the measures tracks the percentage of individuals placed in employment in work settings making at least minimum wage. The Committee for Purchase, which oversees the JWOD program--a program that helps to create jobs through the federal property management and procurement systems--first developed federal goals and measures for its fiscal year 2005-2007 strategic plan and has since revised them. The revised measures still have limitations, such as not being clearly defined or being difficult to measure. Education's and the Committee for Purchase's oversight of the four programs has been uneven. Education has established procedures, such as on-site reviews, for the PWI and Supported Employment State Grants programs that, if consistently followed, would provide reasonable assurance that the programs are in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. However, Education conducts limited oversight of the Randolph-Sheppard program. For example, Education does not routinely analyze or report the data it collects from states and has provided little guidance to ensure states comply with laws or consistently interpret program requirements. One area in which Education has not provided sufficient guidance is the circumstances under which federal agencies may charge fees to licensed vendors operating vending facilities on their properties. As a result, vendors in some locations were paying commissions or fees but those in other locationswere not. Finally, the Committee for Purchase delegates most of its oversight responsibilities to two central nonprofit agencies that also represent the interests of the JWOD nonprofit agencies they oversee. This arrangement, as well as the fact that they receive a percentage of the total value of the contracts from the JWOD nonprofit agencies, raises questions about their independence and gives them little incentive to identify instances of noncompliance that could result in the JWOD nonprofit agency losing its federal contract.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2010, ED reported that it completed its development of performance goals and outcome measures for the Randolph-Sheppard program in June 2007. These performance goals are related to the three explicit purposes of the program: (1) providing blind persons with remunerative employment, (2) enlarging economic opportunities for persons who are blind, and (3) stimulating self-support by persons who are blind. The Department revised and expanded the program's data collection instrument to obtain information necessary to measure program performance. The data collection instrument allows for ad hoc queries and data analysis in a more timely and efficient manner, and provides for greater transparency to the public. In the Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration 2006 Performance Report, published March 17, 2011, The agency establishes standards and performance indicators designed to encourage state agencies to increase average earnings of individuals in the program, and provides data on selected outcomes for 2005 and 2006.

    Recommendation: To improve program performance management and oversight, the Secretary of Education should provide more effective leadership of the Randolph-Sheppard program by establishing performance goals to identify desired programwide outcomes that assess states' licensed vendor programs performance as a whole in achieving established goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education initially reported that it is reviewing guidance for the Randolph-Sheppard (R-S) program, is engaged in rulemaking to clarify program requirements in the key area of operation of military food service facilities, and is working with DOD and the Committee for Purchase to obtain a common federal understanding of how state vocational rehabilitation agencies and blind individuals may compete for military cafeteria contracts under the priority afforded by the Randolph-Sheppard Act. On October 21, 2009, Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) staff participated in a GAO-sponsored roundtable on healthy food initiatives and provided input and training on the impact on the R-S program with respect to the implementation of this initiative. RSA has continued to maintain the Randolph-Sheppard listservs for state agencies and elected committee chairs, and has disseminated arbitration decisions annually to the states as well. In September 2010, ED reported that, through a series of joint meetings with DOD, ED responded to the development of 32 CFR Part 260, DOD regulations governing Vending Facilities on DOD property. Final regulations were published on November 27, 2009 (62234 Federal Register/ Vol. 74, No. 227/Friday, November 27, 2009/Rules and Regulations). Additionally, RSA staff reviewed proposed guidance updates for the United States Postal Service (EL-602), which was issued in final form in August 2010. RSA staff participated in the training of approximately 100 USPS personnel from throughout the country on RSA and regulations on August 11, 2010. In addition to quarterly guidance provided to SLAs and Federal Property Managing Agencies, RSA hosted a National Randolph-Sheppard Training and Leadership Conference for nearly 400 attendees from state and federal agencies June 2010.

    Recommendation: To improve program performance management and oversight, the Secretary of Education should provide more effective leadership of the Randolph-Sheppard program by being more proactive in disseminating clear, consistent and routine guidance about program requirements and prohibited practices to federal agencies and states.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2010, ED reported that it issued the Randolph-Sheppard Self-Assessment Guide to state licensing agencies in the R-S program to help states comply with and prepare for Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) on-site monitoring and other monitoring activities. In July 2010, RSA filled the staff vacancy in the R-S program, allowing it to resume on-site monitoring activities as scheduled in September 2010.

    Recommendation: To improve program performance management and oversight, the Secretary of Education should provide more effective leadership of the Randolph-Sheppard program by strengthening their monitoring of State Licensing Agency (SLA) and Randolph-Sheppard program performance in a cost-effective manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Committee for Purchase has taken a number of actions to address our recommendation. In July 2007, the Committee held a two-day strategic planning conference that, based on GAO's findings and recommendations, focused on updating its 2007-2009 strategic plan. This effort reduced the number of objectives and measures from approximately 30 to 9 and refined associated metrics that were both realistic and measurable. In April 2009, the Committee further reduced the number of agency goals to 3, along with measurable and achievable objectives. The Committee's current Strategic Plan is streamlined and includes measurable goals and objectives for key aspects of program performance.

    Recommendation: To improve program performance management, the Chairperson for the Committee for Purchase should assess goals and measures for JWOD to ensure that they are clear, measurable and continue to capture key aspects of program performance as the Committee for Purchase continues to develop its performance management system.

    Agency Affected: Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: While the Committee plans to consider regulatory changes to withdraw some of the oversight responsibility of the central nonprofit agencies and reaffirm the Committee's oversight role for the program, it has not pursued proposed regulatory changes to address concerns about the central nonprofit agencies' independence and potential conflict of interest. However, the Committee for Purchase has included a goal for "Stewardship, Program Integrity, and Leadership" in its current Strategic Plan.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that JWOD nonprofit agencies comply with program laws and regulations, the Chairperson of the Committee for Purchase should improve procedures for overseeing these agencies. This could include requiring the central nonprofit agencies to enter into written contracts with the Committee for Purchase that clearly lay out their oversight responsibilities and the consequences for failing to fulfill them, providing a means of compensating the central nonprofit agencies for their services that provides an incentive for effective enforcement, or having the Committee for Purchase assume greater responsibility for oversight of JWOD nonprofit agencies, by performing more on-site compliance reviews.

    Agency Affected: Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled


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