Vocational Rehabilitation:

Additional Federal Information Could Help States Serve Employers and Find Jobs for People with Disabilities

GAO-18-577: Published: Sep 6, 2018. Publicly Released: Oct 10, 2018.

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What GAO Found

State vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies reported expanding services for employers in order to promote hiring individuals with disabilities in mainstream employment (where they are integrated with employees without disabilities and earn competitive wages), but the Department of Education (Education) has not fully addressed related challenges. Most VR agencies in GAO's survey reported providing specific employer services under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) (see figure). However, many agencies reported challenges meeting employers' needs and promoting mainstream employment. For example, some did not fully understand when they are allowed to help employed individuals with career advancement. Education has provided related guidance, including disseminating information at conferences. However, officials at two of three VR agencies GAO spoke with said more information would be helpful. Increasing access to this information may help more VR agencies understand when they have the option of using VR funds for such services.

Types of Employer Services Provided by Most State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies

Types of Employer Services Provided by Most State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies

Most VR agencies GAO surveyed reported increasing coordination with other workforce agencies, but some gaps exist in federal guidance intended to enhance coordination. Employers GAO spoke with cited challenges navigating workforce programs, yet few agencies reported documenting roles and responsibilities of the agencies they partner with to work with employers. While Education and the Department of Labor (DOL) have provided some related technical assistance, they have not provided examples of documentation of roles and responsibilities. GAO's prior work has found that such documentation can help improve coordination by clarifying who does what in a partnership.

Education and DOL are piloting three measures of the effectiveness of workforce programs in serving employers: employer penetration (i.e., percentage of employers receiving a service), retention with the same employer, and repeat business customers. However, some VR agencies cited concerns with piloted measures, such as the employer penetration measure not being sufficiently linked to VR core program activities. Taking such concerns into account when finalizing performance measures may result in performance metrics and targets that encourage VR agencies to more effectively serve employers.

Why GAO Did This Study

The VR program, administered by Education and state VR agencies, helps people with disabilities obtain employment. In 2014, WIOA made changes to the VR program, increasing its focus on serving employers, promoting career advancement as part of the broader goal of mainstream employment, and coordinating with other workforce programs. GAO was asked to review the VR program under WIOA.

This report examines (1) the steps VR agencies have taken under WIOA to work with employers and place individuals in mainstream employment, and the extent Education has addressed any challenges; (2) how VR agencies have coordinated with other workforce programs and the extent federal agencies have addressed any challenges; and (3) how federal agencies have measured state VR agencies' efforts to serve employers. GAO surveyed all 79 VR agencies (74 responded); conducted three discussion groups with 36 state VR officials and four with 29 employers that worked with VR; interviewed VR and other workforce officials in three states, selected for geographic dispersion, among other factors; and reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making seven recommendations, including improving information on career advancement and partnerships, and aligning performance measures with activities. DOL agreed, while Education neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations, but said it will consider taking steps in response.

For more information, contact Elizabeth H. Curda at (202) 512-7215 or curdae@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: Education disagreed with this recommendation, noting that state VR agencies have the primary responsibility for determining how best to meet employers' needs, promote mainstream employment, and collaborate with other workforce programs in their states. Education recognized the importance of providing information and technical assistance to state VR agencies to help them serve employers, while stressing that it is a state matter how to best meet the training needs of employers.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration should work with state VR agencies to determine whether and what additional information and assistance VR agencies may find helpful regarding on-demand training, such as online videos, to employers on disability issues. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: Education disagreed with this recommendation, noting that state VR agencies have the primary responsibility for determining how best to meet employers' needs, promote mainstream employment, and collaborate with other workforce programs in their states. The agency recognized the importance of expanding career advancement opportunities for individuals with disabilities in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act as amended by WIOA. At the same time, Education said it is up to states to determine how to most effectively disseminate information about their services. Education noted it will continue to work with state VR agencies to determine what additional information may be necessary about the circumstances in which individuals who are employed may be eligible for career advancement services.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration should work with state VR agencies to determine how to most effectively disseminate information about the circumstances in which individuals who are employed may be eligible for career advancement services. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: Education disagreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that it is a state matter to determine whether an employment location qualifies as an "integrated setting" for the purpose of the VR program, and that it is not Education's role to inform states as to when and how to make such determinations. Nevertheless, Education said it will continue to work with the states to determine if additional information would help them assess employment locations.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration should work with state VR agencies to develop more complete information on when and how VR agencies should assess employment settings, including settings supported by the AbilityOne program, to determine if they meet the definition of competitive integrated employment. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: Education neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Education said it believes that state workforce development agencies are in the best position to lead employer engagement efforts, but will continue to collaborate with other federal partners to provide technical assistance to states in this area, including examples of state- and local-level collaboration on employer engagement.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration should encourage local areas to clarify and document the roles and responsibilities of partner agencies in working with employers and provide sample language of how local areas may document roles and responsibilities in their MOUs. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: Education neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Education said it will work with DOL to ensure that state VR agencies' concerns are considered when the performance measure for effectiveness in serving employers is finalized.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration should, in setting the employer performance measurement approaches with DOL after the pilot is concluded, take into account VR agencies' concerns and key attributes of successful performance measures, including clarity in what is meant by employer services, coverage of the VR agencies' core program activities, and consideration of factors outside of VR agencies' control. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: DOL agreed with this recommendation. The agency said that local workforce boards and one-stop partners are in the best position to lead employer engagement, but that it will collaborate with federal partners in providing related technical assistance.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of DOL's Employment and Training Administration should encourage local areas to clarify and document the roles and responsibilities of partner agencies in working with employers and provide sample language of how local areas may document roles and responsibilities in their MOUs. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: DOL agreed with this recommendation and said it will coordinate with Education to ensure state VR agencies' concerns are considered in defining the performance measure.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of DOL's Employment and Training Administration should, in setting the employer performance measurement approaches with Education after the pilot is concluded, take into account VR agencies' concerns and key attributes of successful performance measures, including clarity in what is meant by employer services, coverage of the VR agencies' core program activities, and consideration of factors outside of VR agencies' control. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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