The Obama administration wants to use the power of the federal pocketbook to dramatically increase hiring of people with disabilities.
Under a proposed rule announced Thursday by officials at the U.S. Department of Labor, the government would set a goal that at least 7 percent of workers employed by most federal contractors be individuals with disabilities.
Government officials are hailing the effort as one of the most significant civil rights developments since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
And, the impact could be significant. Federal contractors and subcontractors account for nearly a quarter of the American workforce and take in $700 billion in contracts.
Since the 1970s, federal law has required government contractors to use affirmative action efforts to include people with disabilities in their workforce. But, without any measurable goals, the law required nothing more than a reasonable effort.
The proposal would change that by setting clear benchmarks, officials said. Federal contractors would be asked to ensure that at least 7 percent of workers in every job group within their company are people with disabilities.
“For nearly 40 years, the rules have said that contractors simply need to make a ‘good faith’ effort to recruit and hire people with disabilities. Clearly, that’s not working,” said Patricia Shiu, who heads the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. “Our proposal would define specific goals, require real accountability and provide the clearest possible guidance for employers seeking to comply with the law.”
As of November, the Department of Labor said that Americans with disabilities faced a 13 percent unemployment rate and almost 80 percent were out of the labor force entirely.
The Obama administration plan would not establish a quota, but would call for increased data collection and require annual self-reviews, among other efforts, to encourage employers to meet hiring goals.
The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register on Friday and is up for public comment through Feb. 7.