Federal advisory agency recommends phase out, replacement of federal employment program for people with disabilities
For Immediate Release
Oct. 14, 2020
WASHINGTON–The National Council on Disability (NCD) today released its report examining a federal employment program long under scrutiny for its lack of transparency, compliance issues, and how it employs people with disabilities.
NCD conducted a comprehensive analysis of the AbilityOne program to determine whether it promotes Congress’ goal of improving employment opportunities for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. Though a little-known program, in Fiscal Year 2018 it generated approximately $3.6 billion in sales of products and services to the Federal Government through mandatory contracting preference.
In this report, the Council revisits its February 2019 report on the program, making a deeper assessment of the program in whole. The release coincides with this year marking the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The report flags the following concerns for federal policymakers:
- Despite increased program revenue earned through sales to the Federal Government, the employment of people who are blind has remained stagnant and the employment of people with significant disabilities has declined under the AbilityOne Program over the past eight years;
- The program undermines current national disability policy goals to create competitive integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities; and
- Repeated concerns about transparency and conflicts of interest remain unaddressed and undermine confidence in the program.
In the report, the Council called for the program’s phase out and replacement.
“The AbilityOne program is a federally sanctioned segregated jobs system,” said NCD Chairman Neil Romano. “Not only is its effectiveness in question based on our research, it is a policy relic in tension with current national disability policy,” he said. “It’s long past time to tackle modernization with a phase out and replacement.”
In its role as an independent federal agency making recommendations on national disability policy, NCD advises Congress to transition the outdated AbilityOne program into a new requirement under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act that will incentivize federal contractors to hire a percentage of people who are blind or have significant disabilities at competitive wages, and provides detailed recommendations to successfully transition the current 45,000 AbilityOne employees into competitive, integrated employment.
Related to these latest report recommendations is NCD’s prior research and report recommendations (2012 report; 2018 report) focused on subminimum wages for people with disabilities, known as Section 14(c) of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. A recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights also looked at this issue with recommendations consistent with those previously made by NCD.
Read the full AbilityOne report at https://ncd.gov/publications/2020/policies-past-modern-era