Fast Facts

We looked at federal agencies’ efforts to hire and retain individuals with disabilities.

Agencies hired about 143,600 persons with disabilities from 2011-2015—exceeding the federal target of 100,000. Agencies made an additional 79,600 hires in 2016 and 2017.

About 39% of those with disabilities hired in 2011-2017 stayed less than a year, compared to about 43% of those without disabilities. About 60% of hires—both those with and without disabilities—stayed less than 2 years.

We made 6 recommendations, including that the Office of Personnel Management track and report retention data of employees with disabilities to help determine why they leave.

The federal government generally increased hiring of persons with disabilities, fiscal years 2011 through 2017

Bar chart showing number of persons with disabilities employed in full-time permanent positions and part-time or temporary positions

Bar chart showing number of persons with disabilities employed in full-time permanent positions and part-time or temporary positions

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Approximately 143,600 persons with disabilities were hired during 2011 through 2015—plus an additional 79,600 hires in 2016 and 2017—across the 24 Chief Financial Officers Act agencies, exceeding the stated goal of 100,000 by 2015.

The Federal Government Generally Increased Hiring of Persons with Disabilities, Fiscal Years 2011 through 2017

The Federal Government Generally Increased Hiring of Persons with Disabilities, Fiscal Years 2011 through 2017

About 39 percent of individuals with disabilities hired during 2011 through 2017 stayed less than 1 year and approximately 60 percent stayed less than 2 years. Of the total individuals without disabilities hired during that same time period, approximately 43 percent stayed less than 1 year and approximately 60 percent stayed less than 2 years.

Although targeted data tracking and analyses could help pinpoint root causes contributing to departure rates, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) does not track or report retention data on disabled employees. Doing so, and making such data available to agencies would facilitate more comprehensive analyses of the retention of employees with disabilities and identify needed improvements.

Officials at three agencies GAO examined—Department of Justice (DOJ), Small Business Administration (SBA), and Social Security Administration (SSA)—used various practices to increase hiring, such as training staff on Schedule A—a commonly used hiring authority to employ individuals with disabilities. However, the agencies neither assess the impact of training nor how it relates to contributing to performance goals of increasing the number of disabled hires.

Agencies are expected to track performance related to providing reasonable accommodations. The selected agencies reported having processes in place for receiving reasonable accommodations requests, but only SSA has procedures for obtaining feedback from employees after an accommodation is provided. Without such feedback, DOJ and SBA are limited in their ability to assess the continued effectiveness of reasonable accommodations provided to employees.

Why GAO Did This Study

Federal agencies are required to provide equal opportunity to qualified individuals with disabilities in all aspects of federal employment.

GAO was asked to examine agencies' efforts to increase the employment of individuals with disabilities. Among other objectives, this report examines: (1) the extent to which agencies met the 2010 federal goal to hire an additional 100,000 individuals with disabilities by 2015, and the retention rates of those employees between 2011 and 2017; and (2) practices selected agencies used to increase hiring and retention of individuals with disabilities.

GAO analyzed data and documents from OPM and interviewed agency officials. GAO interviewed officials from DOJ, SBA, and SSA about their efforts to enhance employment opportunities for disabled persons. GAO selected these three agencies because they represent a range of agency size and relatively high or low percentages of total employees with disabilities.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 6 recommendations: OPM should track and report retention data; DOJ, SBA, and SSA should assess training impacts; and DOJ and SBA should obtain employee feedback on reasonable accommodations. OPM and SSA concurred with GAO's recommendations; SBA concurred with one and partially concurred with one recommendation; DOJ did not agree or disagree with the recommendations. GAO continues to believe all recommendations are warranted.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Personnel Management The Director of OPM should routinely track and report retention data for employees with disabilities and make such data available to federal agencies, including EEOC, through a centralized web portal—such as MAX.gov. For example, OPM could track and report such data by General Schedule level pay groupings, which could help pinpoint root causes that contribute to retention rates, inform assessments of government-wide progress on employee retention, and identify needed improvements. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented
OPM concurred with this recommendation. In response, in December 2020, OPM stated it is tracking retention data for employees with disabilities and has made such data available to federal agencies, including EEOC, through a centralized web portal (https://community.max.gov/x/QYz4UQ). OPM provided screen shots from the web portal and documentation showing 2-year retention rates for employees with disabilities for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 by agency and by General Schedule level pay groupings. In April 2021, EEOC confirmed that its staff has access to the portal and was able to view these data. According to OPM, the agency plans to provide retention data for employees with disabilities in future Employment of People with Disabilities in the Federal Executive Branch Reports. As of April 2021, OPM stated that its 2017-2019 report is currently in draft form and the final report will include retention data.
Department of Justice The Attorney General of the United States should develop and implement policies and procedures for assessing the impact of training provided to agency hiring managers and human resources staff on Schedule A hiring authority. This includes assessing the impact of its training on agency performance goals related to increased hiring of individuals with disabilities and targeted disabilities. (Recommendation 2)
Open
DOJ has taken steps to ascertain whether the development of new policies and procedures to assess the impact of training provided to agency hiring managers and human resources staff on Schedule A hiring authority is possible and necessary. As of December 2020, DOJ stated that it surveyed component human resources directors to account for Schedule A training that is conducted or offered to hiring officials, human resources specialists, and selective placement coordinators. In addition, DOJ stated that component human resources directors were asked to provide information about the content of the training to establish whether it appropriately addresses key concepts of the hiring authority. The responses will provide DOJ with information to guide additional work, such as the development of a second survey for staff to measure knowledge gained after completing Schedule A training, and an assessment of the extent to which the hiring authority was considered and used when filling employment vacancies. When DOJ provides documentation in support of the actions it states it has taken, we will update the status of this recommendation accordingly.
Department of Justice The Attorney General of the United States should develop and implement policies and procedures for obtaining employee feedback about the agency's reasonable accommodations efforts and use such information to evaluate the ongoing effectiveness of the program. This may include identifying any effects on employee retention, identifying potential risks, and determining any improvements that may be warranted. (Recommendation 3)
Open
According to DOJ, to obtain feedback about the agency's reasonable accommodations efforts, it developed a survey comprised of 45 questions covering the following topics: reasonable accommodation (RA) process, assistive technology, general accessibility, and sign language interpreters. DOJ stated the survey was issued in December 2020 and employees who requested a reasonable accommodation within the preceding 3 years were encouraged to complete the survey. DOJ stated that the responses will be analyzed to identify possible strengths and weaknesses of the RA process; and when deemed appropriate, will further assess areas needing improvement. DOJ stated that it also developed a new email box to which employees can submit additional comments about their experience with the RA process. According to DOJ, it will aggregate and review comments, and engage appropriate DOJ component personnel to address issues or concerns. As of April 2021, DOJ stated that it is continuing to analyze the information collected through the survey. The Department plans to issue another RA survey in 2024. When DOJ provides documentation in support of the actions it states it has taken, we will update the status of this recommendation accordingly.
Small Business Administration The Administrator of SBA should develop and implement policies and procedures for assessing and tracking the impact of training provided to agency hiring managers and human resources staff on Schedule A hiring authority. This includes assessing the impact of its training on agency performance goals related to increased hiring of individuals with disabilities and targeted disabilities. (Recommendation 4)
Open
SBA concurred with our recommendation to assess and track the impact of training provided to agency hiring managers and human resources staff on Schedule A hiring authority. According to SBA, as of December 2020, its evaluation survey for its Supervisory Community of Practice indicated that supervisors (1) understood the use of the Schedule A hiring authority, and (2) felt comfortable leveraging the flexibility to hire individuals with disabilities. In addition, SBA stated that it regularly provides training to agency hiring managers and human resources staff on Schedule A hiring authority. Most recently, in September 2020, SBA provided such training to supervisors and hiring managers during a quarterly Supervisory Community of Practice. The training also covered SBA hiring authorities and goals for hiring persons with disabilities and targeted disabilities. When SBA provides documentation to support the actions it states it has taken, we will update the status of this recommendation accordingly.
Small Business Administration The Administrator of SBA should develop and implement policies and procedures for obtaining employee feedback about the agency's reasonable accommodations efforts and use such information to evaluate the ongoing effectiveness of the program. This may include identifying any effects on employee retention, identifying potential risks, and determining any improvements that may be warranted. (Recommendation 5)
Open
According to SBA, as of December 2020, it has implemented actions to evaluate the effectiveness of its Reasonable Accommodation (RA) program. For example, SBA stated that it implemented a revised Employee Exit Survey to solicit feedback relating to the agency's efforts to recruit, hire, and advance individuals with disabilities. According to SBA, survey results are assessed on a quarterly basis to determine whether there were any concerns related to being accommodated during their employment at the agency. SBA stated it developed an RA survey to solicit employees' and managers' feedback with the RA process. According to SBA, this is a survey that will be deployed to both managers and employees at the time a decision is made and implemented, and the case has been closed. The agency plans to deploy the survey starting in the second quarter of fiscal year 2021. In addition, SBA created a Reasonable Accommodation mailbox for employees and applicants to anonymously submit inquiries about any disability-related matters or reasonable accommodation requests, which may include medical documentation that they are uncomfortable sharing with their supervisors. When SBA provides documentation to support the actions it states it has taken, we will update the status of this recommendation accordingly.
Social Security Administration The Commissioner of SSA should develop and implement policies and procedures for assessing and tracking the impact of training provided to agency hiring managers and human resources staff on Schedule A hiring authority. This includes assessing the impact of its training on agency performance goals related to increased hiring of individuals with disabilities and targeted disabilities. (Recommendation 6)
Open
SSA concurred with our recommendation to assess and track the impact of training provided to agency hiring managers and human resources staff on Schedule A hiring authority. As of December 2020, the agency has taken actions to implement this recommendation. For example, SSA stated that it initiated an update to its mandatory employer awareness training which includes Schedule A training for managers and disability awareness training for all employees. SSA expects to complete this update in fiscal year 2021. In addition, the agency is developing a process to evaluate the effect its employer awareness training has on the recruitment and retention of employees with disabilities and targeted disabilities. According to SSA, this includes data collection materials (e.g., surveys, personnel data) and retention analyses. The agency also has a new key initiative to improve reasonable accommodation (RA) awareness with supporting milestones to update RA training for new supervisors and the annual RA training for all supervisors. We will continue to monitor SSA's actions in response to this recommendation.

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