People with disabilities make up larger share of federal workforce, but agency hiring still lags

Thursday - 12/19/2013, 3:20pm EST

By Ellen Kortesoja
Federal News Radio

The federal government is employing the highest percentage of people with disabilities than any time in the last 32 years. People with target disabilities are getting hired at the highest percentage in the last 17 years.

The Office of Personnel Management announced in a news release that these historic benchmarks represent important steps toward the President's goals outlined in Executive Order 13548 - Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities.

Ending fiscal 2012, people with disabilities made up 12 percent of the federal workforce, according to the report. That was a 1 percent increase from the previous year. Of the 220,000 individuals with disabilities working in federal service, 18,000 had a target disability, such as blindness, deafness or an intellectual disability.

However, despite the progress, the government appears to be slightly off track in meeting the goals of the 2010 executive order from President Barack Obama calling on agencies to hire 100,000 people with disabilities in the following five years.

To meet the goals of the executive order, agencies would have to be onboarding about 20,000 people with disabilities each year — a threshold that hasn't been met since Obama issued the executive order.

In fact, the total number of people with disabilities hired in 2012 — 16,653 — is a drop, in absolute terms, from the 18,738 people with disabilities hired in fiscal 2011. However, because overall hiring declined in 2012, the number of people with disabilities hired last year as a percentage of all new hires increased to more than 16 percent.

'Vital part' of the federal workforce

OPM Director, Katherine Archuleta said agencies have made great progress in implementing the executive order.

"People with disabilities are a vital part of the federal workforce," said Archuleta. "We are better able to serve the American people because of the talents and experience they bring to the table."

OPM is tasked with giving regular updates to the President about the status of federal hiring of those with disabilities. Its report breaks down the hiring data from fiscal 2012 compared to 2011 and 2010.

The Defense Department employed the largest number of people with disabilities in 2012. The "DoD-Combined" category made up almost half of all employees governmentwide with a disability, about 100,000. After DoD-related and Veterans Affairs, the Homeland Security Department employed about 12,000 people with a disability.

In fiscal 2012, out of the 100,000 new hires in executive branch agencies, about 16 percent were individuals with a disability. Notably, 25 percent of the Veterans Affairs Department's new hires were people with a disability.

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