NCD letter regarding DoD Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program

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January 23, 2020

Senator James Inhofe
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

Senator Jack Reed
Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

Representative Adam Smith
Chairman, House Committee on Armed Services

Representative Mac Thornberry
Ranking Member, House Committee on Armed Services

Dear Senators Inhofe and Reed, and Congressmen Smith and Thornberry:

I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent, nonpartisan federal agency charged with advising Congress and the President on disability policy, to offer recommendations concerning the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) located within the US Department of Defense (DOD), the vital resources of which is used by multiple federal agencies.

The Federal Government’s ability to provide reasonable accommodations to its employees with disabilities is a central obligation under the Rehabilitation Act (29 USC §794) and is also aligned with the goals of hiring and retaining a qualified federal workforce. No doubt, centralized accommodations funds are a cost-effective and de-stigmatizing means by which reasonable accommodations can be provided to employees. With that understanding in mind, NCD has been examining the role of CAP - a federal reasonable accommodations provider program that has evolved from providing its services exclusively within DOD to providing services to 69 partner agencies within the Federal Government.

During our examination, NCD learned CAP often runs out of funding by July or August of each year, prior to the end of the federal fiscal year, thereby limiting its ability to provide accommodations. 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, and in some instances, agencies may not have budgeted for this expense. Particularly, for small agencies with limited funding, paying for accommodations can prove difficult. As one example, a representative from the Corporation for the National Community Service noted that when CAP’s funds are depleted, less optimal but more affordable accommodations are provided so that accommodations may be made within the statutorily required time frame.

In order to better understand the experiences of federal agencies’ provision of accommodations to their employees with disabilities, including barriers encountered, NCD met with representatives of CAP and also formed two working groups comprised of staff of various federal agencies, both large and small, who are responsible for providing reasonable accommodations to employees and have experience using CAP’s services. NCD met with the working groups and gained numerous insights from which NCD bases its recommendation.

NCD recommends that Congress increase funding to CAP:

1. This increase should be based on trendline data from its premature depletion over the last five years, and regularly reevaluate funding levels considering a hopeful increase in employees with disabilities in the Federal Government in years to come in line with other governmentwide initiatives to increase the hire of people with disabilities.

2. CAP needs more effective knowledge of specific occupations to better ascertain the best and most up-to-date accommodations for those occupations; Congress should direct that a portion of the increased funding be used to enable CAP to develop this specific research.

Separately, NCD plans to advise CAP to convene an annual meeting at which agencies’ accommodations staff can discuss best practices with CAP’s staff and facilitate improved routine communications between CAP and agencies’ accommodations staff. We also intend to send a letter to the Chief Information Officers Council, urging the Executive Committee to appoint a representative from CAP, given the many technology accommodations that are now available and the need for CAP to determine best practices.

NCD is available to share further information with your respective Committees regarding our examination of CAP and our recommendations to strengthen accommodations for federal employees throughout the Federal Government. Should you have questions, or wish to discuss, please contact Amged M. Soliman, NCD Attorney-Advisor, at asoliman@ncd.gov or (202) 272-2116.

Sincerely,

Neil Romano
Chairman