NCD Letter to Senate HELP Committee Opposing Proposal to Reduce NCD Membership from 15 to 9

July 22, 2013

The Honorable Tom Harkin
Chairman
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Lamar Alexander
Ranking Member
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510


Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Alexander:

On behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent, nonpartisan federal agency charged with providing advice to Congress and the President on disability policy, I write to briefly respond to the discussion draft of the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Title of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) reauthorization to register our disagreement with the proposed changes to NCD. Given the abbreviated opportunity for review of the draft, we take this immediate opportunity to respond only to the proposed changes to NCD. However, NCD looks forward to undertaking a thorough review of the entire discussion draft and development of its views regarding many of the significant changes being proposed.

NCD disagrees with the proposed legislative changes that would reduce the membership of NCD’s Presidentially-appointed Council from 15 to 9 members. NCD has a critical role to play in preserving and strengthening the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in our nation’s policies and programs. NCD serves a unique role among federal agencies given its independent and nonpartisan status and because its mission reflects the breadth and diversity of the disability community itself – for all topics, for all ages, for all disabilities. One way NCD ensures that it honors the diversity of experiences within the disability community is by having a 15-member board representative of that diversity. Indeed, one of the Council’s greatest strengths over the years has been the contributions of its board members, who contribute to formulating well-rounded and inclusive policy positions and advice to Congress and the Administration. Although NCD could certainly benefit from even greater diversity, having 15 members has afforded the agency the ability to ensure that diverse race, ethnicity, age, disability experiences, and issue expertise are well-represented. Any reduction in the number of its members has a direct impact on its capacity to adequately address the broad range of issues that affect people with disabilities.

In addition to ensuring representation of the diversity of the disability community and the myriad issues the community faces, the Council members have been an invaluable resource in doing the substantive work of the agency. When fully staffed, NCD has 12 full-time career professional staff, with a third of those staff members fulfilling the basic administrative and financial responsibilities of any federal agency. Although most Council members balance their service on NCD with full-time careers, Council members have been extensively engaged, alongside the professional staff, in shepherding major projects to completion, as well as crafting nimble short responses to pressing concerns that arise. Reducing the number of Council Members would directly negatively impact the manner in which the NCD team executes its responsibilities and is able to cover so much ground with such lean resources. Furthermore, with so many Council Members having full-time day jobs, reducing the number of Council Members increases the likelihood that temporary fluxes and reductions in individual member participation on account of day-job responsibilities will negatively impact the productivity of the agency.

Furthermore, as a result of other significant proposed changes to VR and Independent Living (IL) – changes about which we look forward to offering fuller comment on in the next draft – it is foreseeable that NCD will have substantial additional work to undertake to support our mission of gathering information and reviewing and evaluating on a continuing basis all “policies, programs, practices, and procedures concerning individuals with disabilities conducted or assisted by Federal departments and agencies…,” and “all statutes and regulations pertaining to Federal programs which assist such individuals with disabilities….” Accordingly, it is likely we will commit resources to monitoring these changes to assure they are implemented effectively for all people with disabilities. This monitoring work will be in addition to fulfilling our existing responsibilities on behalf of all people with disabilities. Assuming additional work while simultaneously reducing the number of NCD’s team available to assist in sharing the new responsibilities will have a deleterious effect on the agency’s ability to provide depth of analysis while also remaining nimble.

The projected cost savings of reducing the number of Council Members from 15 to 9 –cited at $60,000 annually – is outlined as intended for reapplication to research and policy work of the agency, however, that amount, as currently allocated toward Council Member salary, returns far more in way of both than would that same amount applied toward a research contract or an additional, lesser paid General Schedule (GS) federal employee, whose salary and benefits would rise over time. Said differently, the cost savings in reducing the number of Council Members is inconsequential as compared to the benefits of their participation.

We would welcome the opportunity to engage in a further discussion on these proposed changes with members of Committee staff and better understanding what concerns may have prompted them and alternative ways of addressing them. Thank you for the opportunity to provide our comments.

Respectfully,


Jeff Rosen
Chairperson

National Council on Disability • 1331 F Street, NW, Suite 850 • Washington, DC 20004