Intel agencies aim to be hiring ‘model’ for disabled employees

Much like the Defense Department, the federal intelligence community wants to further diversify its workforce by promoting the hiring of those with disabilities. According to recent guidance, intel agencies will focus more on hiring and retention as well as IT modernization, to meet the needs of disabled employees.

The IC hopes to be a model for the federal workforce, according to guidance from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The policy was first shared with Federal News Network by the Federation of American Scientists.

In conjunction with equal opportunity laws and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the IC has been encouraged by leadership to provide reasonable accommodation to their employees who suffer from physical or mental impairments that limit their activity.

“Equal opportunity in employment includes hiring, placement and advancement opportunities,” the guidance, signed on Feb. 26 by ODNI Director Dan Coats said.

Hiring, retention

Many federal agencies, including those in the intelligence sector, are making the commitment to equal opportunity employment by accepting employees from different walks of life. That includes those with disabilities, which make up the largest cross-section of unemployed citizens in the United States, according to a 2017 ODNI study.

In it’s Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Enterprise Strategy for 2015-2020, ODNI also made one of its objectives to develop programs to increase the recruitment, hiring, advancement, retention and engagement of individuals with disabilities. The strategy also suggests the agency’s goal to promote efforts that give all employees promotional opportunities at each agency by identifying and removing “barriers that may impede advancement of minorities, women and individuals with disabilities.”

ODNI will also further promote mentoring and coaching, as well as peer-to-peer programs, to promote development and advancement opportunities across the workforce. Under the strategy, those in leadership are held more accountable through performance quality checks. They are also required to complete unconscious bias training.

The 2017 study also showed a need for more disability assistance in four key areas:

  • Personal awareness of challenges that disabled employees face
  • Physical barriers, particularly at older sights, that don’t provide reasonable accommodation
  • Opportunities for advancement within jobs
  • Support resources and updated technology

Results of the study were based on the answers and data from more than 442 volunteers across the IC community. Seven percent of the total participated in the Phase I portion. The majority of the volunteers, about 83%, came from the top six intelligence agencies — Central Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“A disability can happen to anyone, at any point in life, and is the one variable that crosses all demographic lines,” the study said. “Greater diversity exists among persons with disabilities than for any other demographic group, but they may be the least understood by society at large, and by extension, by decision makers and the general workforce within the IC.”

ODNI also broke down its barriers to diversity and inclusion, as well as provided hiring and retention data, in its January 2017 final report.

IT modernization

Technology has become a useful asset for IC agencies to collect data, monitor systems and make important decisions faster. These systems also help to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities such as those who are sight, hearing or learning-impaired.

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The guidance policy said the intelligence community will take advantage of existing IT systems and software to help provide personal assistance to those employees with special needs.

They will also “endeavor to develop, procure, maintain and use electronic and information technology systems that are accessible to individuals with disabilities,” the guidance said. This initiative is in direct obedience to policies in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

In other words, the intelligence community will make it a priority to update and maintain technology that is consistent with mission needs, and provide access to and free use of the information and data to all employees equally, those with disabilities included. It also suggests that the community will be committed to developing systems that are up-to-date with those mission needs for individuals who suffer with disabilities.

Intel agencies have been working on this effort for more than 10 years, according to the 2017 study. Still, minority groups are underrepresented within ODNI, especially at senior levels. Between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of minorities fell between 23%-25%— of that number, employees with disabilities made up less than 8%.

While the trend is positive, ODNI said it will take employees and leadership at all levels to increase representation of employees with disabilities and other minorities.

“All employees are accountable for cultivating a performance-driven culture that encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness without the fear of reprisal,” ODNI said on its diversity page.

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