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|Disability Rights Nation|
Does Task Force Have Teeth?
by Leye Jeannette Chrzanowski.
© Disability News Service.
WASHINGTON - On March 13, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order establishing a National Task Force on Employ-ment of Adults With Disabilities. Department of Labor Secretary Alexis Herman was appointed chair of the group, whose purpose is to create an aggressive and coordinated national policy to bring working-age individuals with disabilities into gainful employment at a rate approximating that of the general population. The Task Force is directed to submit interim reports to the president with a final report due by July 26, 2002 - ten years after the employment provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) became effective.
The executive order establishing the Task Force stems, in part, from a recommendation published in the National Council on Disa-bility report, Achieving Inde-pendence: The Challenge for the 21st Century. The 1996 report recommended that the president issue an executive order directing the Secretary of Labor to promote the employment of people with disabilities and establish employment goals. Disabled appointees in the Clinton administration as well as other disabled federal executives have worked for some time to bring this executive order to fruition.
In addition to Herman, other Task Force members include the secretaries of Education, Health and Human Services, Treasury, Commerce, Transportation and Veterans Affairs; the administrator of the Small Business Administration; the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); the chair of the National Council on Disability; the director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM); the commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA); and other senior federal executives. Tony Coelho, chair of the President's Committee on Employment of People With Disabilities (PCEPD) was appointed vice-chair of the Task Force. It appears to be a stellar group.
But does this Task Force have real commitment? Certainly coordination was lacking in the days immediately before and after Clinton issued the executive order - a possible indication that the initiative will be more bark and very little bite. The first discouraging sign appeared when the disability media were not invited to the White House signing ceremony. While the PCEPD and the NCD issued widely distributed press releases on the event throughout the disability community, the official White House press release received minimal distribution. It wasn't included in the daily press releases available to the general media from the White House fax line. NCD referred questions about the Task Force to the Department of Labor. At the White House signing ceremony, Herman indicated that carrying out this work will be a top priority at the Department.
But when asked about the executive order and the Task Force, Department spokesperson Bennett Gamble said, "To be honest with you...this is the first time I am hearing about this...You mentioned something about an executive order that appointed [Herman]?". PCEPD was the one agency affiliated with the Task Force that had at least some answers. According to John Lancaster, PCEPD's executive director, the frequency of the group meetings hasn't been decided, and probably won't be until the first Task Force meeting, which will probably take place in late April.
Lancaster asserts that defined goals and strategies won't wait for the final report in 2002. "This is an ongoing thing and [the Task Force members] are not going to wait until it is over to implement recommendations." And although consumers from the private sector, were not appointed to the Task Force, Lancaster is confident that group members will call upon people with disabilities from inside and outside of the federal government for input.
"The people outside of government [may] disagree, but there is a fairly strong feeling within government that the National Council on Disability has very strong ties with the [disability] community," notes Lancaster. "This whole effort is a direct result of the grassroots work [NCD] did with people in Texas [for the NCD 1996 report]. Also, you can almost guarantee that everyone on the [Task Force] staff will have a disability," he adds. "They are going to be picked, in part, because of their knowledge of disability and their ties to the community." For example, Lancaster says Howard Moses, a Clinton appointee, has been detailed to work on the Task Force staff from the Department of Education (DoEd.). Becky Ogle, an activist from Justice For All and a Clinton disability consultant during the 1996 presidential election, received a 120-day appointment to join the Task Force staff. Both Moses and Ogle are disabled. Task Force funding provides for a staff of up to ten people; the search is on to fill the executive director position.
"To ensure that the federal government is a model employer of adults with disabilities, by November 15, 1998," the executive order directs OPM, DOL and EEOC to submit a review of federal personnel laws, regulations and policies and, as appropriate, recommend or implement changes necessary to improve federal employment policy for such practices as hiring, promoting, accommodating and retaining disabled workers. Also by November 15, DoEd., DOL, HHS, the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration (SBA) and PCEPD must report on their work to develop small business and entrepreneurial opportunities for adults with disabilities, as well as strategies for assisting low-income adults, including those with disabilities, to create small businesses and micro-enterprises.
These same agencies are required to consult with the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled and to assess the impact of the Randolph-Sheppard Act vending program and the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act on employment and small business opportunities for disabled people.
The Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development must also report to the Task Force on whether their programs can be used to create new work incentives and to remove barriers to work for adults with disabilities. By November 15, 1998, DoEd., DOL, EEOC, SSA and the Department of Justice must propose remedies to those factors that prevent disabled people from successfully exercising their employment rights under the ADA because they receive disability benefits such as Social Security Disability Income and have had past problems obtaining gainful employment.
A senior official from within the Clinton administration who is disabled - and who was not invited to the White House signing ceremony - notes the Task Force may be hard-pressed to gather input from policymakers with disabilities. Only one policymaker with a disability has been appointed to any of the departments included in the president's executive order.
The Task Force will:
Analyze existing programs and policies to determine what changes, modifications and innovations are necessary to remove barriers to employment;
Develop and recommend options to address barriers to health insurance coverage;
(subject to the availability of appropriations) analyze state and private disability systems and their effect on federal programs and employment of adults with disabilities;
Consider statistical and data analysis, cost data, research and policy studies on public subsidies, employment, employment discrimination and rates of return-to-work for people with disabilities;
Evaluate and, where appropriate, coordinate and collaborate on research and demonstration priorities of Task Force member agencies related to employment of adults with disabilities;
Evaluate whether federal studies related to employment and training can - and should - include a statistically significant sample of adults with disabilities;
(subject to the availability of appropriations) Analyze youth programs related to employment and the outcomes of those programs for young people with disabilities;
Evaluate whether a single governmental entity or program should be established to provide computer and electronic accommodations for federal employees with disabilities; and
Recommend any additional steps that can be taken to advance the employment of adults with disabilities, including legislative proposals, regulatory changes and program and budget initiatives.
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