GAO: ‘Little is Known’ About Effectiveness of Gov’t Jobs Programs for Disabled

By Matt Cover | July 3, 2012 | 4:46pm EDT

(AP Photo)

( – According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “little is known” about whether nearly three dozen federal jobs programs for the disabled are actually helping people find work, including programs designed to help disabled veterans.

“Little is known about the effectiveness of the programs we identified as supporting employment for people with disabilities because only about one-quarter reported having a performance review,” the GAO said in its June 29 report on the programs, which is entitled Employment for People With Disabilities: Little Is Known About the Effectiveness of Fragmented and Overlapping Programs.

The GAO surveyed 45 federal programs for fiscal year 2010 that aim to provide some form of employment support for people with disabilities, discovering that few of the programs actually track their results. The programs were administered by nine federal agencies and even more congressional committees, reported the GAO, and for that fiscal year they were obligated to pay out $4.1 billion in services.

The problem is not that the programs do not try to measure their own performance, the GAO said, but that the measures they use cannot demonstrate if a disabled person became employed because of the services they received.

This flaw means that the government does not really know whether its 45 disability services programs are actually helping disabled Americans find work or not. For those 45 programs, 14 are run by the Department of Labor; 10 by the Department of Defense; 9, Department of Education; 4, Department of Health and Human Services; 3, Social Security Administration; 4, Veterans Affairs; 1, Agriculture Department; 1, U.S. AbilityOne Commission; and 1, IRS.

The GAO found only one program – the Labor Department’s Job Corps program – that conducted an impact study, the kind of study the GAO said would allow the government to actually track its performance.

“Only one program in our scope—Labor’s Job Corps program—reported having a study that meets the criteria of an impact study,” said the GAO. “Impact studies examine what would have happened in the absence of a program to isolate its impact from other factors.”

“In addition,” said GAO, “only 10 of the 45 programs reported that an evaluation had been conducted in the last 5 years.”

Thirty-two of the 45 programs did track some kind of employment-related measure, the GAO said, with 28 programs keeping track of whether beneficiaries got a job of some kind after receiving federal aid. Employment-related measures include whether a beneficiary got a job after receiving federal aid; whether they saw increased wages;  whether they attained professional credentials, or were able to reduce their reliance on federal benefits.

“Given a list of typical employment measures, 32 of the 45 programs reported tracking at least one employment measure specifically for people with disabilities,” GAO reported.

(AP Photo)

The other 13 programs did not track employment data at all, in part because providing employment-related aid is only part of  their mission or because they are not required to track the data. For example, the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Waiver program reported no employment measures to GAO, saying that it is not required to keep track of such information. The program allows states to waive some Medicaid rules in order to provide a variety of home-based services to Medicaid beneficiaries, including employment-related services, such as providing in-home care or assistance that help keep disabled people employed.

The GAO also found that among the programs that track employment-related data, there are varying definitions of what qualifies as “employment.” Some programs counted working only a few hours a week as employment, while others only counted whether a disabled person could work enough to reduce their dependence on federal benefits.

“Further, some programs may use different thresholds for their employment outcome measures,” the GAO said.

“For example, although 28 programs reported tracking ‘participants who enter employment,’ officials told us that some programs may consider just a few hours of paid work per week as an employment outcome,” said the GAO, “while others set a higher bar and require a participant to be working at a level that would allow them to become self-sufficient and eliminate their dependence on federal disability benefits.”

The GAO recommended that the government establish common goals and evaluation methods for all of its disabled employment services programs, in order to better allocate scarce federal resources most effectively.

“We continue to believe that setting common goals across programs that support employment for people with disabilities could help spur greater coordination and more efficient and economical service delivery in overlapping program areas,” the GAO concluded.

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