GAO: Recruitment of disabled grows, but retention lags
- By Nathan Abse
- Jun 22, 2020
A new Government Accountability Office review of recruiting and retention efforts to increase the number of employees with disabilities at federal agencies shows some bright spots, such as improved recruiting, but also finds ample room for improvement, most pointedly in retention.
In 2010, the Obama administration set out to recruit 100,000 new employees with at least one disability. This aim was not just to further long-running legal obligation or achieve a noble goal, but also to improve the federal workforce.
Research shows that approximately one out of eight persons has some disability -- a pool of talent that cannot reasonably be overlooked. Further, studies show that such persons contribute to more high-functioning work cultures, with the costs of accommodation far lower than the substantial gains and benefits they can bring. For example, workers with at least one disability show higher performance and lower absenteeism.
In fact, federal agencies hired over 200,000 such persons over the remainder of the Obama administration’s two terms -- more than double the goal.
“Agencies hired about 143,600 persons with disabilities from 2011-2015 -- exceeding the federal target of 100,000,” GAO said. “Agencies made an additional 79,600 hires in 2016 and 2017.”
The less savory news is that about 61% of those recruits stayed less than two years. That seems abysmal, but not too far out of line compared with the marginally worse federal average of only 57% sticking around even that short time.
Many of the new employees with at least one disability were hired part-time -- their numbers climbing about 63%, from 11,306 in 2011 to 17,896 by 2017.
The effort appears to have had significant impact on the full-time workforce, too. Looking at the increase of those with at least one disability, the absolute number went up from 15,970 in 2011 to 24,125 in 2017, a 66% rise.
GAO made half a dozen recommendations to improve retention especially. For example, the Office of Personnel Management “should track and report retention data,” the report said. It also recommended multiple agencies study their training regimens for new employees and their impact on retention. The report breaks out specific data on a handful of departments and their performance.
The bottom line is that, using the most recent documented evidence, the federal government appears to be doing a pretty good job of recruiting and retaining disabled persons across its widely varied workforce. But federal agencies could improve retention generally -- very much so -- as discussed in other GAO audits.