In 1938, the Wagner-O'Day Act was passed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in order to provide employment opportunities for people who are blind by authorizing them to manufacture mops and brooms to sell to the Federal Government. In 1971, under the leadership of Senator Jacob Javits, Congress amended this Act (41 U.S.C. 46-48c) to include people with severe disabilities and allow the program to also provide services to the Federal Government. Under the oversight of the AbilityOne Commission (Commission), and over 70 years later, this extraordinary socioeconomic program provides federal customers with a wide array of quality products and services, while providing employment for thousands of people with severe disabilities.
The AbilityOne Program (Program) sales and services to the Federal Government are valued at more than $2 billion. While the Program continues to experience growth in wages paid to its more than 50,000 employees, Program sales to the Federal Government account for less than one percent of all federal procurement dollars spent. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a 2013 report that the Program is the single largest source of employment for blind and others with severe disabilities.
Recent events have raised issues that have set into motion program changes that could adversely affect opportunities for AbilityOne employees and their employers who are disability service providers. In 2012, a court case called into question the processes and procedures used by the AbilityOne Commission to determine who is eligible to be an employee and the suitability of contracts that should be acquired. Also, the GAO issued a report in 2013 finding that the Commission has limited control over some aspects of operations; relies heavily on its Central Nonprofit Agencies (CNA), NIB and SourceAmerica, to recommend projects for the Program, but has not resolved concerns about how CNAs assign projects to producing affiliates; and, has final approval of project prices, but procedures could be strengthened.
As result, the AbilityOne Program is undergoing scrutiny from additional Federal government agencies and leading to proposed changes in definitions, processes and standards. ACCSES is concerned that some groups may attempt to alter the Program in ways whereby jobs for individuals with significant disabilities could be unnecessarily put at risk.
ACCSES believes the AbilityOne program is a viable means for creating job opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities. The vision of Congress and the mission of the Program should be preserved and updated within the context of current trends and circumstances. Maintaining the purpose and integrity of the Program are critical to enable thousands of individuals with significant disabilities the opportunity for good jobs at good wages.
ACCSES will lead efforts to modernize and advance the AbilityOne program and comparable state use programs and work to improve jobs opportunities, wages and working conditions.
ACCSES will support expanding opportunities for veteran-owned small businesses and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. At the same time, ACCSES will oppose any efforts to curtail protections and priorities for procurement contracts with the Federal government awarded through the AbilityOne program designed to enhance employment opportunities for individuals with the most significant disabilities, and oppose any related efforts to curtail state preferred source programs.
ACCSES will support efforts to implement the revised rule regarding affirmative action provisions of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act applicable to government contractors.