The Obameter

Set goals and timetables for implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act

"Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act requires the federal government and employers who are federal contractors to 'take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities.' Yet, affirmative action in employment for adults with disabilities is not enforced with goals and timetables like the affirmative action requirements for people of color and women found in Executive Order No. 11246 and its progeny. As a result, affirmative action under the Rehabilitation Act is largely ineffective. Barack Obama will direct his Secretary of Labor to make changes to the regulations implementing Section 503 so that they more closely resemble those implementing Executive Order No. 11246."


Goals, timetables on the way

As dreary as the unemployment rate may look for the average American, it's about one and a half times as high for those with disabilities. As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama said he would push for regulations that would give workers with disabilities a fairer shot at employment with the federal government.

Since we last updated this promise, President Obama issued an executive order requiring each federal agency to draft its own plan for hiring and retaining more workers with disabilities, with performance targets and numerical goals. That action dealt with direct federal employment, rather than contractors who employ workers with disabilities.

The Labor Department is also revising existing rules related to workers with disabilities who are employed by federal contractors and subcontractors. Such workers already receive equal employment opportunity protections under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. Obama said it wasn't working, because it lacked accountability measures, such as timetables and goals.

The department has proposed a performance benchmark where federal contractors and subcontractors must try to have 7 percent of their workforce be employees with disabilities. The 7-percent figure represents the percentage of civilian workers in the labor force with disabilities and the percentage not in the labor force with disabilities who might want a job.

The revisions also include "measurable objectives, quantitative analyses, and internal auditing and reporting systems.” The department is reviewing public feedback on a draft of the proposal.

Though the new rules for federal contractors and subcontractors aren't published yet, it appears to be a matter of when, not if the promised changes will take place. We rate this a Promise Kept for now, but we will monitor for any hiccups that steer this process off course.


The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Executive Order 13548: Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities, July 26, 2010

Federal Register, Affirmative Action and Nondiscrimination Obligations of Contractors and Subcontractors Regarding Individuals With Disabilities, Dec. 9, 2011

The Washington Post, Contractors air concerns about hiring proposal, May 27, 2012

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population by disability status and age, 2010 and 2011 annual averages, June 8, 2012

Office of Personnel Management, OPM Hosts Disability Employment Training, Oct. 26, 2010

Labor Department puts disability provision on its to-do list

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged to provide stricter enforcement of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires the federal government and federal contractors to "take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities." Obama said that without goals and timetables, which are provided for people of color and women by executive order, the provision for people with disabilities "is largely ineffective."

Obama said he would direct the Labor Department to make the implementation of Section 503 more like the executive orders addressing affirmative action for minorities and women.

On Dec. 7, 2009, the Labor Department published its revised regulatory agenda, and an overhaul of Section 503 was included.

According to that agenda, the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs "is highlighting three regulatory initiatives that reflect [Labor Secretary Hilda Solis'] vision of good jobs for everyone. The Evaluation of Recruitment and Placement Results under Section 503 [Advance Notice of Proposed Rule Making] will invite the public to provide input on how the Department can strengthen affirmative action requirements by requiring Federal contractors and subcontractors to conduct more substantive analyses and monitoring of their recruitment and placement efforts targeted to individuals with disabilities."

This action only represents the first step of fulfilling this promise, so we rate it In the Works.


Labor Department, " Statement of Regulatory and Deregulatory Priorities ," Dec. 7, 2009