DOD CAP Correspondence from NCD Chairman

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November 23, 2020

Honorable Christopher C. Miller
Acting Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Honorable Matthew P. Donovan
Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Acting Secretary Miller and Under Secretary Donovan,

I write to you on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency charged with providing advice and recommendations regarding disability policy to the President, Congress, and other federal agencies, to strongly encourage that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) reconsider the significant recent budget cut made to the DOD-housed Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP). I recommend that this cut to CAP’s budget be delayed for one year and that you join NCD in seeking alternative options, including approaching Congress to instead call for additional funding.

There is no doubt that the DOD deserves thanks for the decades it has been helping to provide reasonable accommodations to countless federal employees across the federal government. Without that service many employees with disabilities might very well have been denied cost-effective reasonable accommodations; accommodations that are required by law under the Rehabilitation Act (29 USC §794). As you know, CAP recently became a procurement resource funded only to provide assistive technology to DOD employees, and active duty Service members. CAP had partnership agreements in place with 70 non-DOD federal agencies, and it was, in effect, serving as a centralized accommodation provider for those partner agencies.

The Federal Government’s ability to provide reasonable accommodations to its employees with disabilities is a fundamental obligation and is also aligned with the goals of hiring and retaining a qualified federal workforce. No doubt, centralized accommodations funds are not only cost-effective, they are also a de-stigmatizing means by which reasonable accommodations can be provided to employees. The inability of non-DOD agencies to use CAP as a way of providing accommodations to employees with disabilities after years of doing so marks a significant departure for those employees and the agencies that have relied on CAP for so long.

While CAP has stated that it will continue to conduct assessments, provide information, referrals and assist Non-DOD agencies in determining the appropriate assistive technology to purchase by those agencies,[1] it is vital that the cut to this accommodation program in no way adversely affect any federal employee’s legally mandated access to a reasonable accommodation.

Delays in obtaining accommodations can have an adverse effect on recruitment and retention of employees with disabilities. Agencies must rely on their own internal funds when CAP’s funding is depleted. For small agencies with limited funding, paying for accommodations can prove difficult. In the absence of sufficient funds, less optimal but more affordable accommodations are sometimes provided so that accommodations may be made within the statutorily required time frame. Providing less optimal accommodations does not fulfill the intent of the Rehabilitation Act or its accompanying regulations. An agency’s failure to provide any reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability would be an outright violation of the law.

We certainly can appreciate the need for budget cuts; however, as noted above, I ask that as opposed to cutting CAP’s ability to serve the larger federal workforce, you instead commit to and join with NCD in approaching Congress to pass funding bills that allow for a responsible centralized accommodation fund for federal workers that each federal agency can contribute to. In the meantime, again, we think it best and ask that DOD delay its decision to cut CAP’s budget for one year.

NCD acknowledges and continues to be grateful for the service of the DOD and CAP in helping federal government employees with disabilities obtain reasonable accommodations, and we believe our recommendations will be useful in that continued endeavor. Should you have any additional questions or comments concerning these recommendations, please do not hesitate to reach out to me through NCD by contacting Executive Director Lisa Grubb by email at lgrubb@ncd.gov, or Joan Durocher, General Counsel and Director of Policy, at jdurocher@ncd.gov.

Sincerely,

Neil Romano
Chairman

CC:

Mr. William H. Booth, Director, Defense Human Resources Activity
Mr. Brian Davis, Director, Defense Personnel and Family Support

 


[1] Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, “Change in CAP’s Scope.” https://www.cap.mil/AboutCAP/News.aspx?enc=9NkHgkJGA55g3MJJWgEh0w==. (Accessed November 9, 2020.)