News | Aug. 28, 2016

Attracting Talent

By Beth Reece

Some can’t see. Others are haunted by post-traumatic stress disorder or need a wheelchair to move around. They make up a growing part of the Defense Logistics Agency workforce, one that contributes to the daily mission in spite of disabling conditions ranging from deafness to paralysis.

By the end of fiscal 2015, DLA had 2,769 employees with reportable disabilities and 399 with targeted disabilities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s list of targeted disabilities includes deafness, blindness and other significant limitations. Reportable disabilities include diabetes and Crohn’s Disease.

A 2010 executive order signed by President Barack Obama requires federal agencies to increase the hiring of people with disabilities, but DLA has long been recognized by the Department of Defense as a model agency in that endeavor. People with targeted disabilities make up 2.0 percent of DLA’s staff, although DoD’s current goal is 0.96 percent, said Eric Spanbauer, DLA’s disability program manager. Officials suspect the number of DLA employees with disabilities is actually much higher, however, since not all employees with disabilities have identified themselves as such through civilian personnel’s My Biz.

DLA’s participation in the Department of Labor’s Workforce Recruitment Program is one example of the agency’s commitment to employing people with disabilities. The program places prescreened college students and recent graduates with disabilities in 14-week internships at federal agencies. DLA’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office significantly increased the number of interns it hired this year, going from 42 in 2015 to 57 in 2016. Interns were placed throughout the agency in positions including management assistant, supply technician and mobile vehicle dispatcher. Two were also placed in the Pathways to Career Excellence Program, or PaCEP, a two-year program to train entry-level personnel for advancement to the journeyman level in professional, administrative and technological career fields. Although interns are on DLA rolls, their salaries are paid by DoD.

“WRP is an excellent program that helps offset personnel shortages while benefiting from the many talents of students and recent graduates. And with 14 weeks, managers have enough time to evaluate individuals for possible permanent hiring,” said Carl Downey, EEO’s diversity-inclusion team lead.

Tamala Jackson was attending Temple University when she interviewed for the program. Based on her studies, she was matched with the finance department at DLA Troop Support for what she called her “first real job.”

“It was tedious and demanded a lot, but it helped me open my mind and explore avenues that I didn’t have the chance to consider in college,” Jackson said.

She loved it and was encouraged by her supervisor to apply for PaCEP. She completed the program in 2006 and is now a tailored-vendor logistics specialist at DLA Troop Support, where she ensures military customers and schools receive regular deliveries of fresh bread, dairy products and soda.

“The WRP was a great stepping stone for me. Ever since, I’ve been climbing this ladder of success,” she said.

Managers can also use a special authority called Schedule A to attract and hire employees with disabilities. Schedule A is often considered a fast track to employment because applicants can be hired without public notice. Michael Cowley, WRP manager at DLA Troop Support, said his activity is a frequent user.

“This gives us immediate access to some of the best qualified and brightest applicants. Some of these folks have credentials that are through the roof,” he said, adding that approximately one-third of all WRP participants at DLA Troop Support become permanent hires.

Mason Chronister completed two internships with DLA Distribution before he was permanently hired by the activity’s Organization Management Directorate. Working for the federal government was a dream come true for Chronister, who has Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that results in hearing loss and visual impairment. His supervisor, Polly Charbonneau, said her team is fortunate to have him.

“One of our responsibilities is processing honorary awards for our civilian workforce, which is quite large at nearly 7,000 people. There is a great deal of paperwork required for each award, from nomination to selection to recognition. Mason helps ensure we get everything right on every document. He misses nothing,” she said.

DLA also helps employees with disabilities take advantage of DoD’s Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, which provides assistive technology and reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Jackson was given Zoom Text, a magnification and screen-reading program that enlarges, enhances and reads out loud what is displayed on her computer screen. Joe Lehman, an investigator for the DLA Office of the Inspector General, also benefited from the program when he returned to work after a motorcycle accident that resulted in traumatic brain injury and a permanently bent finger. He was given Dragon NaturallySpeaking, speech-recognition software that lets users create documents and emails just by speaking. (See Road to Recovery)

Although the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 and the Americans with Disabilities Act require federal employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees who are disabled, DLA managers have gone out of their way to ensure employees with disabilities have the tools they need to succeed. When Debra Simpson, chief of DLA Energy’s analysis master planning branch, noticed that communication was becoming a barrier for three deaf employees on her team, she led an effort that enabled them and other deaf employees to receive tablet- and desktop-based remote interpretive services, called virtual remote interpreting.

“This was the single most important thing I will ever do for DLA,” she said.

Other reasonable accommodations available to DLA employees include alternate work schedules, modified work stations, wheelchair ramps and elevators. Such accommodations don’t mean people with disabilities contribute less, Jackson said.

“We work hard, and most of us feel like we have to prove ourselves,” she said, adding that DLA’s commitment to employing people with disabilities results in dedicated, loyal employees.