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GAO Questions Effectiveness of Federal Disability Work Programs

A new Government Accountability Office report found that there are 45 separate federal government programs designed to help people with disabilities find work.

From an education perspective, this could be heartening: The last 15 years or so have marked a turning point in expectations of students with disabilities. The goals for these students are more likely to include finding a job after high school or college than at any time in the past—a job in an integrated setting.

But consider that despite those increased expectations and all those employment programs, far more people with disabilities are unemployed than people without disabilities. Almost one in five Americans has a disability, the Census shows.

So perhaps its not surprising that the GAO wasn't impressed by the array of 45 programs attempting to improve employment for people with disabilities. A total of nine federal agencies oversee the different programs that are overseen by even more congressional committees, the GAO found. (The U.S. Education Department is home to nine of these programs.)

And the agency couldn't say whether or not the programs are actually effective at helping people with disabilities become employed.

In an earlier report about the hodgepodge of employment programs, the GAO said the federal Office of Management and Budget should consider establishing measurable, government-wide goals for the employment of people with disabilities, and continue work with executive agencies that administer overlapping programs to discern whether consolidating their programs could boost their effectiveness and save money.

"In fact, several of the programs we identified were created in order to help people with disabilities navigate this fragmented system," the GAO report notes. "In our February 2012 report on duplication and overlap in government programs, we suggested that OMB continue to work with executive agencies that administer overlapping programs to identify any opportunities for cost savings or streamlining, such as program consolidation. We continue to believe that such a review could result in more effective and efficient delivery of services to help people with disabilities obtain and retain employment."

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