Representation of Persons with Targeted Disabilities

An Analysis of Barriers to Employment in the Department of Defense Civilian Workforce

by Miriam Matthews, David Schulker, Kimberly Curry Hall, Abigail Haddad, Nelson Lim


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Research Questions

  1. Has DoD met the 2-percent representation goal for PWTD in the workforce in recent years?
  2. What are the employment barriers within the DoD civilian workforce that PWTD may experience?
  3. What knowledge and perceptions do DoD hiring managers and supervisors hold regarding the employment of PWTD?
  4. How can DoD increase representation of PWTD in its civilian workforce?

Although a representative federal workforce is a strategic personnel priority in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), certain demographic groups have historically been underrepresented and may continue to face employment barriers. One such group includes persons with targeted disabilities (PWTD), who are the focus of this report. The federal workforce has a 2-percent representation goal for the employment of persons with specific disabilities or health conditions. Previous assessments have shown that DoD has not met the federal employment goal for PWTD.

To address this issue, RAND researchers sought to identify and address current employment barriers within DoD that PWTD may experience and recommend actions DoD can take to increase employment of PWTD in its civilian workforce. To do so, they analyzed personnel records and data on applicants and applications. They also interviewed representatives from colleges and universities, DoD and its components, and other federal agencies. Finally, they surveyed DoD hiring managers and supervisors on topics addressing the employment of PWTD.

The analyses demonstrated that DoD did not meet the 2-percent representation goal during the years for which we have data (2008–2013). In addition, DoD had a lower representation of PWTD than the non-DoD federal workforce, and this difference in PTWD representation was not explained by workforce characteristics. Interviewees indicated that students lack awareness of DoD civilian job opportunities. Survey results suggested that DoD employees tend to hold positive perceptions of PWTD. However, limited knowledge regarding disability employment goals, programs, and resources might be an employment barrier for PWTD.

Key Findings

DoD did not meet the 2-percent federal representation goal for PWTD

  • DoD had a lower representation of PWTD than the non-DoD federal workforce, and this difference was not explained by workforce characteristics. However, for all persons with disabilities, levels of representation in DoD met or exceeded those in the non-DoD federal workforce, perhaps because of relatively high levels of DoD employment of veterans with disabilities.

Trends within the DoD civilian workforce show several barriers to representation for PWTD

  • PWTD in DoD enter at a lower rate than they separate, are promoted at lower rates than other persons in high-promoting occupations, and are more represented in lower grades and less represented in higher grades.
  • Potential challenges to the employment of PWTD include limited opportunities in certain occupations, issues with reasonable accommodations, and a lack of awareness about relevant hiring authorities among hiring managers.
  • University representatives noted that students with disabilities sometimes lack confidence about obtaining employment and that students are not aware of DoD civilian job opportunities.

Survey responses indicated that incivility toward PWTD is uncommon in DoD, but a lack of information persists

  • Respondents perceived that incivility toward PWTD is uncommon. However, only 17 percent of respondents correctly indicated that the employment goal for PWTD was 2 percent, supporting interview comments regarding limited awareness of this goal among hiring managers.
  • Although respondents did not show a strong consensus on the impact of specific barriers, limited knowledge and lack of information were perceived as stronger barriers than, for example, negative attitudes toward PWTD.


  • Use targeted outreach to increase awareness of DoD civilian opportunities for PWTD. DoD should expand existing programs at universities for students with disabilities and at universities with large populations of such students.
  • More effectively leverage vetted talent pools of potential job candidates with targeted disabilities beyond campus presence and outreach.
  • Better educate employers and applicants about the hiring process for PWTD. DoD may increase leadership and employee awareness of DoD disability policies, programs, and resources by incorporating additional information regarding these elements into current training provided to employees.
  • Inform supervisors and managers about disability representation goals and hold them accountable for meeting those goals. To be able to address disability representation goals, supervisors and managers must know what these goals are. Going forward, DoD should better educate those in leadership positions — including hiring managers and supervisors — on the goals for PTWD representation and disability representation in the federal government.
  • Increase understanding of the U.S. population with targeted disabilities. A significant limitation to understanding barriers to federal employment for PWTD is the lack of comparable, systematic knowledge of the characteristics of PWTD in the U.S. labor force. DoD can use survey research to collect this useful information.
  • Evaluate DoD efforts to promote employment of PWTD. DoD should systematically evaluate new or current efforts to address PWTD employment. Systematic evaluations can provide information regarding which elements within each effort are and are not effective in promoting employment of PWTD.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Definition and Data on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities in the United States

  • Chapter Three

    EEOC-Recommended Self-Assessment Involving Employment of PWTD

  • Chapter Four

    Results of EEOC-Based Barrier Analysis of Targeted Disability Representation in DoD and Its Components

  • Chapter Five

    Analysis of Disability Representation in DoD Agencies

  • Chapter Six

    Analysis of Job Applicant Data and Representation of PWTD in DoD

  • Chapter Seven

    Qualitative Assessment of Representation Gaps Among PWTD in the DoD Civilian Workforce: DoD Interviews

  • Chapter Eight

    Qualitative Assessment of Representation Gaps Among PWTD in the DoD Civilian Workforce: Interviews with University Representatives

  • Chapter Nine

    Review of the Content and Design of the Survey of PWTD

  • Chapter Ten

    Results of the Survey of PWTD

  • Chapter Eleven

    Conclusion and Recommendations

This research was sponsored by the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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