The Income Umbrella (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Managers in the federal government really want to hire both veterans and civilians with disabilities.

Federal agencies are supposed to be meeting ambitious goals for hiring workers with disabilities.

But officials at the U.S. Government Accountability Office say the agencies are falling short of the goals and aren’t even sure how far short, in part because talented workers with disabilities who fear discrimination may give incorrect or incomplete information about the challenges they face.

In July 2010, President Obama signed an executive order calling for the federal government to hire 100,000 workers with disabilities over the next 5 years. He put the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the U.S. Labor Department in charge of implementing the order.

Like private disability insurers, the federal government has a big financial incentive to expand hiring of people with disabilities. The government itself runs the mammoth Social Security Disability Insurance program and a big benefits program for disabled veterans.

OPM found that the government is not on track to meet the administration’s goals. It asked the GAO to study the problem.

GAO investigators looked at agency documents and conducted interviews to see what was going on.

Many agencies do not have good plans for recruiting, hiring and keeping employees with disabilities, Yvonne Jones, a GAO director, writes in a letter describing the GAO’s findings.

OPM officials and other agency officials said one challenge is getting good data. Some employees and prospects with disabilities may not tell anyone that they have a disability, Jones says.

The hiring and retention programs also lack quality control data, Jones says.

The GAO is recommending that OPM include information about problems with agencies’ hiring and retention plans in reports on implementation of the disability hiring executive order; move quickly to develop mandatory training programs required by the order; and do more to find out how many federal employees have disabilities.

Simplicity

Meanwhile, out in the private sector, Principal Financial Group Inc., Des Moines, Iowa (NYSE:PFG), says it sees strong market demand for a traditional type of product: basic, low-cost, no-frills short-term disability insurance.

Tyler Matheny, a disability product specialist at Principal, says even a benefit as low as $500 per week could help employees cover essential bills while out on short-term disability leave.

“Disability insurance doesn’t need to be complicated,” Matheny says.

A Numbers Guy

Brian Dunham is the new chief actuary at the group benefits arm of Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Boston. Before he went to work for Liberty Mutual, he was responsible for managing the large-case group life and group disability business at Unum Group Corp., Chattanooga, Tenn. (NYSE:UNM). He’s a fellow of the Society of Actuaries and a member of the American Academy of Actuaries.