Less than half of all federal departments achieved government-wide permanent hiring goals for people with disabilities and targeted disabilities, according to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report posted on May 19.

The EEO issued a final rule in 2017 that clarified the obligations of federal agencies under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Since then, departments have been required to adopt an affirmative action plan that worked towards the goals that 12% of their permanent hires be comprised of persons with disabilities and 2% be persons with targeted disabilities.

The White House is pushing to increase diversity within the federal government. President Joe Biden signed executive orders toward this aim since taking office and made several “first” diversity appointments, most recently including the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black female Supreme Court justice.

The report analyzed self-reported employee disability data, internal movement trends and discrimination complaints from 2014 to 2018. It showed that of the 15 departments, 53.3% failed to meet the PWD hiring target and 60% failed to achieve the PWTD goal. When broken down by department subcomponents, the trend worsens with two-thirds of those surveyed failing to achieve either hiring goal in the same year.

“The status of each agency is important as personnel actions occur at the agency level,” the EEO said in the report. “The permanent hiring of PWD and PWTD is still a challenge for most civilian Federal government employers.”

Despite the lackluster performance at the subcomponent level, the report went on to say that on the whole, the federal government achieved the 2% persons with targeted disabilities permanent hire goal in 2018 and fell just short of the persons with disabilities goal. The EEO recommended that agencies recruit persons with a broad range of disabilities in order to improve hiring rates.

Along with hiring issues, the federal government also has trouble retaining employees with disabilities. According to the report, from 2014 to 2018, both PWDs and PWTDs voluntarily left the workforce at a higher rate than their non-disabled peers. Both groups of people also faced involuntary separations at a substantially higher rate with PWTD being more than twice as likely to be forced out.

The report did not explore the cause of either voluntary or involuntary separations but recommended that agencies improve their workplace culture and conduct internal studies to determine the leading causes of separations.

About 5.5% of the federal workforce chose not to identify their disability status in 2018, selecting the opt-out option on their employment application. The EEO recommended agencies ensure the confidentiality of the self-identification to increase reporting.

“The federal government should continue to strive towards developing a workforce that broadly reflects the diversity of our society, one that is inclusive of workers with disabilities,” the report said. “This will serve to enhance the capabilities of the Federal government, as well as to empower PWD with economic self-sufficiency, independence, and integration into society.”

Ryan White is a reporting intern at Sightline Media. He is currently a senior at The University of Maryland, College Park studying journalism.

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