DLA continues winning streak in DoD disability awards

By Beth Reece

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Equal employment opportunity professionals throughout the Defense Logistics Agency proved their unwavering commitment to attracting the talent of people with disabilities by being named best mid-sized component for the third consecutive year during the 39th Annual Secretary of Defense Disability Awards ceremony at the Pentagon Oct. 3.

The agency has earned the honor 18 times – more than any other component – and was recognized alongside three other agencies for being leaders in the hiring, retention and advancement of people with disabilities. 

“The Department of the Army, Defense Logistics Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and Joint Staff have made great strides to build a total force that grows more diverse and more effective by the day,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during the ceremony.

Douglas Hurtado from DLA Distribution also received the 2019 Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding DoD Employees and Service Members with Disabilities.

People with disabilities are unemployed at twice the rate of the national average despite their training, skills and experience in fields like science, technology, engineering and math, Esper added.

“We must do our part across the department to harness those talents and help bridge the employment gap,” he said. “That means we must continue to eliminate barriers to recruitment across the force. We must give everyone the opportunity to succeed and support them as they advance in their careers.”

About 14.5% of DLA employees have a disability and 2.42% have a targeted disability such as blindness and deafness. The agency continues to expand employment opportunities through the Workforce Recruitment Program, which places prescreened college students and recent graduates with disabilities in 14-week internships with federal agencies. Of the 1,109 WRP interns DLA has temporarily hired since 1995, 150 had been permanently hired as of March.

In April, DLA partnered with Gallaudet University, which educates the deaf and hard of hearing, to extend fulltime employment opportunities to qualified graduates. The agency’s Pathways to Excellence Program is also designed to train entry-level personnel for subsequent advancement in fields like contracting and has been widely used by DLA major subordinate commands including DLA Troop Support. 

DLA EEO Director Janice Samuel credited EEO specialists throughout the agency for the DoD recognition.

“I have a fabulous diversity and inclusion team that does outstanding work,” she said. “They’re passionate about what they do and take special interest in finding new ways to reach people with disabilities.”

Her staff is working to create a program that educates middle school students on employment opportunities with the federal government. 

“This will help us tap into the millennials graduating from high school and college as we work to replace our aging workforce with new talent,” she said.

Federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Air Force’s Distributed Missions Operations Center have also sought input from Samuel’s team on how to grow their disability employment programs. 

“We’re proud to be a model for others in the successful employment and retention of people with disabilities,” she said.