The federal government lacks a systematic way to track and investigate hiring complaints from the disabled, resulting in inconsistent enforcement of a law barring discrimination, investigators say.
The National Council on Disability, in a report to be released today, looked at five federal agencies to get a snapshot at how the government is complying with provisions of the 30-year-old Rehabilitation Act.
A section of the act says the government may not discriminate in hiring because of disability, nor may government contractors and grant recipients.
Overall, the report found that the agencies have not done a good job of policing the entities they fund and that Congress has been lax in its oversight of the agencies.
"Without effective enforcement and program initiatives, the federal government remains complicit in advancing disability discrimination," the report said.
The council examined the departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, State and Justice.
HHS received the highest marks for consistently devoting money to civil rights enforcement. It also had a user-friendly Web site that gave exemplary details and advice on the law.
The Education and Labor departments also were praised for information on their Web sites.
The State Department fared the worst in the report. The council said the agency lacks any kind of enforcement program and has never earmarked money for compliance efforts.
A spokeswoman for the State Department's human resources department said agency officials are reviewing the report.
The disability council recommended that the Bush administration increase funding for civil rights enforcement.
"Adequate staffing is the most critical factor in providing prompt and effective enforcement," the report said.
The council also said agencies should complete self-evaluations routinely to look for potential challenges to people with disabilities. When problems are found with contractors, the agencies should remove funding.
Cutting off money "remains perhaps the single most effective way to remedy discrimination," the report said.
The National Council on Disability is an independent federal agency made up of 15 members who are appointed by the president and must be confirmed by the Senate.