Hiring must include disabled

The government has not done enough to hire people with disabilities, but that is set to change.

In October, President Clinton directed federal agencies to step up their efforts to recruit and hire people with disabilities and asked the government to serve as a model for private industry in this area.

A person with a disability is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning or working.

The Office of Personnel Management recently released a guide that provides specific instructions, including recruitment strategies and career management guidance, which should help agencies tap the highly talented, but underused, disabled work force.

Federal employers are directed to "recruit widely" and develop collaborative efforts with community outreach groups to attract highly qualified people with disabilities. For its part, OPM says it will develop a collection of public- and private-sector best practices on successful recruitment efforts of people with disabilities and share it with federal agencies. OPM plans to share information through OPM Service Center messengers, who will serve as liaisons between the plan and the community and federal departments and agencies.

Federal agencies must review their human resource policies to ensure that accommodative measures, such as alternative work schedules and job sharing, are in use whenever possible, OPM said. Agencies also must disseminate employment and other information in alternate formats - such as large print, audiocassette, Braille, computer disk or accessible Internet sites - and must determine if part-time employment opportunities could be created to accommodate employees with disabilities.

Agencies should use a variety of resources to recruit people with disabilities, OPM said. The Job Accommodation Network, which is a confidential service that enables any manager or employee to receive individualized information on his accommodation issue, is one resource. The network helps federal employers receive expert accommodation information before, during and after the recruitment process.

To help attract disabled workers, federal agencies will include language for vacancy announcements that states that reasonable accommodations will be made for qualified applicants or employees with disabilities, unless that would pose an undue hardship on the hiring agency. Agencies also can use special hiring authority from OPM to hire disabled individuals on a noncompetitive basis. Most of these special hiring provisions enable employers to hire individuals noncompetitively into temporary positions that later can be converted to permanent slots if the employee performs satisfactorily.

Agencies also are encouraged to do all they can to help disabled employees advance in their careers. One specific directive is for agencies to develop mentoring and training programs for disabled employees. Departments and agencies must regularly monitor their own work force data, especially elements concerning work force composition, as set out in prior Equal Employment Opportunity Commission management directives.

Although OPM doesn't say so explicitly, it looks like agencies will be "scored" on their progress in recruiting and promoting disabled employees. OPM says it will "collect and maintain data to monitor the success in achieving a higher percentage of adults with disabilities in the federal work force. Periodic surveying of the work force and evaluating the resulting data will determine progress and successes. In turn, the data may be used to develop internal recruiting strategies and work force planning initiatives."

To bolster the program, federal agencies are told they must review efforts and successes of their managers in diversity hiring in their performance management programs. That aspect of a supervisor's performance will be an element in his or her performance plan. During performance reviews, supervisor's efforts to achieve diversity in the organization will be evaluated, including efforts to hire people with disabilities.

Although the goal of the program is laudable, it's likely that white males will allege reverse discrimination. Whether that proves to be the case remains to be seen. Whenever agencies begin a program to help a specific class of employees, the program inevitably crowds those who are not members of that class, and they don't like it. However, it's difficult to be sensitive to everyone's needs.

My experience has been that eventually tacit quotas are used to ensure compliance with a program's objectives. Often, reports identify the offices whose record for hiring and promoting members of a "preferred group" needs improvement. That leads to a meeting behind closed doors where an individual manager is told of shortcomings and encouraged to improve his performance. Sometimes, the message is presented diplomatically while at other times it's presented bluntly. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what happens next.

--Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who contributes regularly to Federal Computer Week.

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